There is no doubt that the concept of peaceful co-existence among people has always been a desirable goal for every individual on earth throughout human history at all levels. It is exactly because peace is God's given virtue to the human being, whom he created in his own image, that it should become a necessary tool for obtaining and maintaining peaceful regulations and laws which govern human relations. In fact, all the major world religions do preach the need for peaceful co-existence among nations; to live first in peace with their creator, and then with each other as Children of God.
That is why, I think, whenever a conflict escalates into violent or a destructive stage, as is the case in North-South Sudanese conflict, it is often believed that peaceful means through understanding and mutual trust of one another, is the best manner in dealing with such conflicts.
From historical and political view point, the North-South Sudan conflict has a long history. Several attempts, by colonial rulers, regional and international organizations, were attempted to resolve it, but all these attempts were either rejected by the Sudanese parties to the conflict or all the agreements signed were dishonored by the Northern political groups. The British colonial government decision to rule separately the North and the South in 1930, in which the people of the two regions were banned to move from one place to another, in addition to the limitation of cultural interaction across the North-South borders. In June 1947 the British administration abandoned the separate administration and development system, and another policy was introduced, in which the South was to be integrated with the North, giving it a special status, within one united country. The South was promised socio-economic development. The third attempt to resolve the North-South conflict was on the eve of the independence, 19 December 1955, when the Sudanese Parliament passed the independence resolution that declared the north and the South as one united sovereign state. Once again, the conditioned provided for this unity was anchored on the promised that a federal system of rule will be introduced in the country as soon as it attained its independence. However, it soon became clear that even the political arrangements towards implementation of the agreement, including granting the South political powers and to maintain its cultural identity, were dishonored by the Northern politicians.
The fourth serious attempt to resolve the Sudanese conflict was in February 1972, when the South attained an autonomous political status with united state. There were five important outstanding issues which the Addis Ababa Agreement tried to tackle. First, the security arrangements which were agreed upon between the North and the South, guaranteed and opened the entrance of Southerners into the national army and reestablished the Southern Military Command, which was disbanded in August 1955 after the mutiny of Southern soldiers in Torit. Secondly, the South was recognized as one united political entity. Thirdly, the financial and economic relations between the Central Government in Khartoum and the South were defined, in which the South was granted substantial economic and financial powers. Fourth, The Addis Ababa Agreement stipulated that any proposed amendment to the Agreement would have to follow certain procedures, including popular vote in a referendum in the South. Finally, constitutional and democratic institutions were to be established in the South, in form of an elected legislature and Executive, to be responsible and accountable to the people of the region.
Unfortunately, the Addis Ababa Agreement was abrogated by President Jaafar Numeiri, when he issued his famous Decree No. 1 in May 1983, by which the South was re-divided into three mini-regions. In a similar move, he decreed the application of Islamic laws in the country in September 1983, including the non-Muslim South. Although there were numerous reasons which forced Numeiri to abrogate the Agreement, the fact that almost all the North political groups were not party to the Agreement, seemed to be the most obvious. For these political parties, the Addis Ababa Agreement was an empowering tool for President Numeiri; so they were set to destroy it by all means.
Unfortunately, as it turned out later, the person they chose to carry out the destruction process of the Agreement was no other person than Numeiri himself! Some of the important parties who contributed most towards the destruction of the Agreement were the Islamic Charter Front (Which later became in June 1986 the National Islamic Front and in January 1999, the National Congress Party) under the leadership of Dr. Hasan Abdullah al-Turabi, the Umma Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and the Sudan Communist Party.
From the above discussions, it seems that the pertinent and the crucial question to ask is, considering the continuous Northern policy of dishonoring agreements with the South, should the South venture again for settlement conflict with the North within the united Sudan formula? There is no doubt that this question has been raised several times ever since President Numeiri abrogated the Addis Ababa Agreement, and has gained a persistent and an increasing popular serious interest among Southerners. It would seem to me that this past bitter experience ought to be a matter of special concern to the South as it searches for suitable future settlement to the conflict. Another serious question is should Southern political leaders decide alone for the second time, the future destiny of the South or should the people of the South be intimately and fully involved in such a historic and important political decision? In my humble opinion, its seems that the popular involvement of the entire Southern Sudanese Peoples in deciding their future, would be the best option.
The on-going political debate on South Sudan, which began seriously since 1991, has shown that the principle of self-determination for the people of the South, is receiving a wide range of political support in the South as well as in the North. This trend was demonstrated in the support given by the South Sudan Independence Movement Army and the SPLM/A to the Declaration of Principles (DOP) under IGADD in Nairobi in May 1994. Similar views were expressed in other forums by the Southern and Northern political roups such as the Washington Declaration, signed by Col. Dr. John Garang and Dr. Riek Machar in October 1993; the support given to the idea of the self-determination by the Sudanese opposition groups in Bonn, 1994; the Open Appeal made in October 1995 by the Southern Sudanese Concerned; the declaration signed by the leaders of the Umma Party and the SPLM in December 1994 in Chukudum, Southern Sudan; the DUP leadership also affirmed such a right in Asmara, Eritrea on 27 December 1994; the National Democratic Alliance, NDA, supported the self-determination for the South in June 1995 and in January 1996; The Political Charter which was signed on 10 April 1996, between the Sudan Government and the SSIM, SPLM/BGG contained a provision for referendum in the South. Some commentators interpreted the referendum clause in the Charter to be contradiction in word, and does not include the idea of 'separation' since the parties to that document recognized and affirmed unity of the Sudan in its present borders. Articles 2 and 6 of the Charter confirmed Sharia and customs as the main sources of the law. The two articles were the focus of criticism of many Southern politicians because they represented the cornerstones of the Sudanese Constitution.. Others interpreted referendum to be equivalent to self -determination.
The SSIM leader, Dr. Riek Machar, is on record in maintaining that self-determination is provided for in April 1996 Charter. He says referendum clause is equivalent of 'political aspiration' of the Southern Sudanese. In argues that the fat that the government of the National Salvation opted for a provision that is ambiguous and not explicitly against the right to self-determination is in itself indicative of the trend, however hesitant in favor of self-determination. On 21 April 1997, the Charter was transformed into Khartoum Peace Agreement which stipulated, among other things, the commence of an interim period of four years (August 1997- 2001), after which Southerners will vote for unity or independence and the formation of South Sudan Coordinating Council, which suppose to rule the ten Southern states during the four-year period.
Unfortunately, it seems that even if the right to self-determination is recognized by all the political forces in the Sudan,especially the Northen politicians as they consented in the above mentioned agreements, there is still serious doubt whether the Northern groups, both in the government and in opposition, are committed fully to the principle of self-determination, that is to say, the Southern peoples' right to choose freely between unity and independence. Still one can feel and see the confusion between the meanings of the two widely circulated terms in the Sudanese political language these days, namely self-determination and referendum. It seems that some politicians in the Sudan regard the two words to mean the same thing and there inter-changeable as political expressions of one principle.
Self-determination means the right of a national group or groups to decide whether to remain part of an existing state or to opt to become a sovereign independent state. On the other hand, referendum means reference of a political issue(s) to the voters for decision. In other words, in exercising the right to self-determination, the electorates are called upon to choose between unity and independence. It would seem to me that the political forces in Northern Sudan seem to associate with self-determination as a delaying tactic, an expression of their tactical move, either to retain power, in case of the NIF leadership current in power, or to acquire that power in the case of the oppositions in exile.
It is possible that both the Asmara resolution and the Khartoum Peace Agreement may turn out in the short run to be evident of such tactical maneuvers. I strongly believe that, in order for the Southern Sudanese not to repeat the same mistake of February 1972, it is very important that the current Islamists regime in power in Khartoum, the Northern opposition groups in exile, the SPLM, SSIM and other Southern groups should all be involved in any attempt to resolve the North-South conflict. There is no doubt that what we need in the Sudan is a full, a just and a lasting peace; there can never be a half or a quarter peace. I would also like to urge all the parties involved that, during the interim period which the two agreements stipulated, it is necessary to install a plural democratic system of government in which the political, religious and the civil rights of all citizens shall be guaranteed, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.