SUDAN: With peace, Sudan enters a new and promising era
After 20 years of civil war, Sudan is on the brink of peace. If all goes according to plan, and the final efforts to nail down the remaining details of an accord bear the desired fruit, March 2004 could become the month when a comprehensive peace agreement is settled.
The main issues have already been agreed upon. These include a power-sharing formula for a six-year transition period until a referendum allows the people of the south to decide if they want to opt for independence, and an equal split of oil revenues between the north and south. During the transition, the south will be largely autonomous, and allowed to operate under a different legal system from the north, essentially freeing it from any obligations to adhere to sharia. Although the war started five months before the imposition of sharia, which was during the Nimeiri regime in 1983, many believed it aggravated the north-south conflict.
The remaining sticking points to be resolved have to do with the status of three areas, southern Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains and Abiye in Khordofan, all of which are part of the north according to the original boundaries determined by the British and accepted by the government in Khartoum as well as the Sudan's People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which has been its main rival in the civil war and now is its main partner in the peace process. These areas have local elements pushing for special treatment and an autonomy option as part of a final agreement.
Khartoum's representative in Washington is Khidir Haroun Ahmed. Having spent three years in the post during a period of sanctions and frequent criticism of Khartoum by the U.S. government, he now looks forward to a new era of good bilateral relations.
He believes the outstanding issues will be resolved because all the main parties are committed to an early solution, and Washington is persuading the two parties to strike a deal.
He says if various parts of Sudan are allowed to go their own way, "It will open a Pandora's Box" of independence movements, tearing the country apart. This is not desired by any of the major players. "We feel this would be a reason for a new war," warns the ambassador.
He says the United States and Britain are "working on a formula that satisfies all." The ambassador also points out that "for peace to prevail, it will require two strong, committed partners" working together.
For the transition period, independent reports indicate the agreement envisions a rotating presidency or the current president, Omar Al Bashir continuing in his post, while the leader of the SPLM, John Garang, would become the sole vice president. Either way, Garang would also be the leader of the largely autonomous south, which will have its own legislative body and might even relocate from the traditional southern 'capital' city, Juba, to a new capital at Rumbek, where the SPLM and its military wing, the Southern People's Liberation Army, have been based for several years. A substantial percentage of civil servants in the national administration will be southerners.
Ambassador Ahmed notes that both President Bashir and John Garang have declared that the peace initiative they have embarked on is now an "irreversible process."
The notion of splitting Sudan in two, long the ambition of the south, where the population is dominated by Christians and animists, but fiercely opposed by the largely Muslim north, has now become a real possibility.
"It is in our national interest to have a unified Sudan," the ambassador says. "But we believe we can no longer dictate this to the south."
Egypt, in particular, has always wanted Sudan to remain one nation, in part believing this provides the best security arrangement for the uninterrupted flow of Nile water, literally Egypt's lifeline. Cairo is going along with the peace agreement now, but also working actively through the Arab League to implement a $500 million budget for rebuilding the south, hoping this will encourage the southerners not to break away from the north in six years.
The ambassador points out that with peace and the lifting of US sanctions, Sudan will be a good place for American companies to invest. Chevron first discovered oil there, and was developing the find until fighting drove them away. Ambassador Ahmed says that American companies know Sudan's mineral and hydrocarbon riches better than anyone, and that their capital and technological know-how are much needed to develop his country.
Sudan also has vast agricultural potential, only partly exploited today. Sudan is a major sugar producer and the world's leading source of Gum Arabic. America is the largest importer of Gum Arabic, an essential ingredient in soft drinks and other food and health products. Among Sudan's nine neighbors are several countries, especially Ethiopia and Chad, which have frequent food supply problems due to droughts, desertification and related problems. Developing Sudan's agriculture "can end the cycle of hunger and starvation in the region," the ambassador says.
He points out that, "Stabilizing Sudan will help a lot in achieving regional stability."
Since 2000 Sudan has cooperated on security matters with the United States, a relationship that developed at the very end of the Clinton administration, which for most of its term had "a very one-sided policy" towards Sudan, which "focused on regime-change" in Khartoum, the ambassador says.
He points out that during the cold war Sudan was an American ally, and that its army participated in the joint Bright Star exercises. "We would like to build on that," he says.
He says Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) made a significant contribution to getting the peace process moving through a study of the Sudan situation and a report it published in 2000, which proposed a shift towards a more even-handed approach by Washington, essentially recommending support for a one country-two systems solution.
To its credit, the Bush administration largely accepted this proposal as its blueprint for Sudan, and has made steady progress towards a solution since, the ambassador says.
He notes that, "Sometimes it is very painful for Western-educated Sudanese, such as myself, to see Sudan labeled with clichés that describe it as a state sponsor for terrorists and the like."
The ambassador would also like to draw international attention away from its conflicts to some of its cultural treasures. A large hydroelectric dam is to be built on the Nile at Merowe, north of Khartoum, creating a lake that will flood the one-time home of Nubian kings. Already several archeological teams have made some stunning discoveries in the area, and the race is on to save as much as possible of these treasures. Ambassador Ahmed wants to world to know about these finds and to discover this and other features of the rich cultural heritage of his country.
Curriculum Vitae of Khidir Haroun Ahmed
NAME: Khidir Haroun Ahmed
DATE OF BIRTH: 01:01:1951
PLACE OF BIRTH: Meroe Province, Northern State, Sudan
MARITAL STATUS: Married with six children
NAME OF SPOUSE: Howaida Abdulkarim Mahmoud (Born in Omdurman on February 12, 1962)
PRESENT POSITION: Ambassador - Sudan Embassy in Washington, D.C., functions as Charge d'Affaires.
July, 2001: Traveled to Brazil to represent the Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Conference on Arab-Brazil Trade
January 1st, 2003: Traveled to Brazil to represent the Government of Sudan at the Inauguration of His Excellency Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil
August, 2003: Nomination as Ambassador
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federative Republic of Brazil, with resident in Washington, D.C., was accepted.
B.A. - Philosophy
M.A. - Cultural Anthropology
- The Role of Religion in the Adaptation Process among Sudanese in Houston [in English];
- The Concept of Globalization [published by Strategic Studies Center, Khartoum];
- The Impact of Globalization on Arabic Culture [for National UNICEF Office]
- The Impact of Berber Question on Culture in Algeria;
- Religious Extremism, A Sociological Approach;
- Writer in local and regional press.
- A published novel entitled "Urban Dwellers" [in Arabic]
- A number of short stories.
· Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Sudan to Japan from 1999 to April, 2001;
· Head of the American Affairs Department, (included North, Central & South America) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Khartoum from Sept. 1996 to June, 1999;
· Promoted to Ambassadorial level in May, 1996 [Algeria];
· Minister Plenipotentiary in 1991 and Charge d'Affaires up to 1996 - Algiers;
· Counsellor at Sudan Embassy in Algiers.
Press Officer, a translator and cultural advisor before becoming a diplomat.