The search for peace for Sudan is becoming a strenuous and an arduous task.

Following the failure of the second round peace talks in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria in May 1993, the leaders of the countries in the Horn of Africa known as Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) at their summit meeting in Kampala in November 1993 decided to be involved in Sudan’s conflict and to seek a peaceful solution to the war in the Sudan. During that meeting IGAD mediation committee was set up, which comprises of four African heads of states, namely President Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, President Museveni of Uganda, President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and President Isayas Afewerki of Eritrea. President Daniel arap Moi was chosen to be the Chairman of the Committee. It was hoped that the IGAD committee would be able to bring about a peace settlement because the majority of the IGAD Committee has experience with the Sudan’s conflict and are interested in a peace settlement. This is one of the prime reason that an initiative by these countries is of significant importance. In addition three in the IGAD mediation Committee have recently emerged from war of liberation.

The IGAD Committee did not waste any time and went straight into the core of the problem. It commenced first with six main points in the agenda which has come to be known as "May Declaration of Principles", which address the root causes of the conflict in the Sudan. The first principle is that state and religion should be separated. If the two parties fail to agree on this point, the second principle comes into effect: self-determination for those struggling in the South. The Committee also took upon itself to be concerned with the details and implementation of any peace agreement.

The agenda were put to both the Government and the SPLA factions. At this stage the peace talks were slow and tough, for the IGAD Committee did not want to fall into the same trap as in Abuja. The Government negotiators were reluctant and threatened to pull out of the talks, particularly when the discussion became serious and the agenda of discussion got stuck on two main issues: secularism and a referendum for the Southern people. The Government found it difficult to accept one of the two issues, and it pulled out of the negotiations.

However, pressure was put on the Government and it was forced to come back to the negotiating table in 1997. And yet, despite several meetings, the Government has yet to come up with an answer to the simple question: should religion and the state be separated? Surely the time has now come when the IGAD member states can draw their own conclusions from this non-answer which is that the Sudan Government does not wish to separate the two. The second main issue of debate has been the question of whether the peace process is concerned only with the South (according to the border of 1956) or with all the war-effected areas, including Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. So far there has been no breakthrough on this issue either.

We know making peace has never been an easy task. But the IGAD mediation has taken a very long time, and so far it has delivered precisely nothing for the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile—not even a ceasefire.

The high hopes of many Sudanese people, that IGAD could bring a just and lasting peace to Sudan, seems to be dwindling. On the other hand the Government appears to succeed in its "cat and mouse game" for buying time. This has been clear all the way through the peace talks. The Governments stratagems include e.g. accepting self-determination for the South in principle but refusing any mechanism for implementation, or wanting a united Sudan but refusing to separate religion from the state. In general, negotiations with the Government have proven to be difficult and it is the obstacle to peace.

What can be done to rescue IGAD from collapsing like Abuja? The restructuring of the IGAD process at the Nairobi meeting in July provides an opportunity. At last IGAD has a full-time Special Envoy, Ambassador Daniel Mboya, has been specifically tasked with heading the peace effort, so that it no longer has to wait for full meetings. Three committees have been set up with a mandate to examine the major issues, namely (1) state and religion, (2) self-determination and (3) interim arrangements. This is really the last chance for IGAD: this new initiative must work, and show some results quickly, or all Sudanese will completely lose faith. The responsibility lies with the Special Envoy, the IGAD Secretariat and the Kenyan Chairman to breathe life into the initiative; to make sure the Envoy is energetic and creative, and to ensure the committees do their work professionally and fast.

Responsibility also lies with the SPLM to participate effectively in this new structure. The SPLM must come with its own clear and detailed proposals for each of the committees’ work. Everyone knows the SPLM is totally and unconditionally opposed to an Islamic state—so the answer for Committee 1 is simple. For Committees 2 and 3 more work needs to be done. In the last issue of NAFIR, Governor Yousif Kuwa made a vitally important clarification to the SPLM position on self-determination and interim arrangements. But there are many other details in need to be addressed. When these details are on paper, then the world will see who wants peace, and who wants war.

Can the recent Arab reconciling initiatives between the government and the NDA strengthen the peace process? Egypt who has vast interest in Sudan is one of the first Arab neighbouring countries that became involved in reconciling between the Government and the political opposition forces under the umbrella of National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Recently Egyptian Government officials met separately members of the NDA and Sudanese Government for more than once. However, it appears that the NDA was not happy about the way the Egyptians are conducting the reconciliation process. Maybe they have the impression the Egyptians are laying down conditions favouring the NIF regime in Khartoum. Some see this reconciliation as a platform on which the northern politician leaders patch up their differences and nothing more. The Egyptians are anyway completely opposed to the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan. Some observers tend to believe that Egypt’s idea of reconciliation is first to reconcile between the northern political opposition forces dominated by the Umma Party on one side and the Democratic National Party on the other. Once this has happened internal and external pressure could be put on the SPLA to accept the peace deal, which could eventually worked out. Once the northern parties have returned to Khartoum, the SPLA would be in a much weaker position and would be forced to trade away many of its claims.

The Libyans who recently came out of a long isolation want to play an important role in Africa. At the end of July the Libyan leader, Muamer al-Ghadafi invited all NDA members to Libya and he offered to mediate between the NDA and the Government. The Libyan put to the NDA their proposal for reconciliation, which composed of five main points, including (1) an immediate cease-fire, (2) a halt to any press campaigns, (3) dialogue to bring about a comprehensive political solution in the context of a united, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural country, (4) a preparatory committee consisting of representatives of the Government and NDA to organise the dialogue, and (5) Libyan to make contact with the IGAD member countries and coordinate with them.

The NDA met for three days in Tripoli, and the outcome was the acceptance of the Libyan proposal. The NDA issued what is called the "Tripoli Declaration", composed of eight points. After welcoming the proposal and the Libyan mediation the NDA stated that a comprehensive ceasefire depended on a political agreement being reached and endorsed the proposal. The NDA seems to welcome the Libyan approach.

Many were surprised to see that the government accepted all the conditions laid down by the NDA to commence national dialogue with the opposition. If the dialogue goes ahead with the NIF genuinely giving away its Islamic programme, i.e. accepting the separation of religion from the state and freezing its Islamic constitution and al-Tawali, then one can say that peace in Sudan is not far away. However, some questions remain which need to be answered and they are: where are the marginalised people of Sudan represented in all these initiatives? What guarantees are there for the Southerners, the Nuba, the Beja, the people of Southern Blue Nile, and others who have been marginalised over the years? After years of struggle, are these people prepared to lay down their arms simply on the basis of a promise of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious united Sudan?

The key agenda item is self-determination. The people of Southern Sudan demand self-determination, as do the Nuba. As a result of the Conference on Human Rights and Transition in Sudan, held in Kampala in February 1999, the principle of self-determination foall peoples in Sudan has been affirmed. Self-determination does not mean secession: it means the right for a people to decide their future. It is vitally important that the SPLM, and all parties representing the marginalised peoples of Sudan, continue to emphasise and insist on this point in all peace forums.