Andrew Natsios on "The Sudan in Crisis and the International Response"

On January 24, 2008, CIRS sponsored a Distinguished Lecture by Andrew Natsios, Professor on the Practice of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and former U.S. Special Envoy to Darfur. The lecture was titled "The Sudan in Crisis and the International Response" and took place at the Al Sharq Village Hotel. It was attended by fifty invited guests who were treated to dinner and insight into one of the world's most prominent crises. Earlier in the day, Natsios also spoke on the Sudan in a keynote address to some 350 high school students gathered at the Opening Ceremony of the CIRS-sponsored annual Model United Nations conference.

Commenting on the ongoing crisis in the Sudan, Natsios detailed the complex tensions that have fueled violent conflicts in the Darfur region, building on his firsthand knowledge of the Sudan and its political actors. Beside the tense relations that exist between Sudanese of Arab and African descent, Natsios' discussion touched upon a series of lesser-known issues, such as the strained relations between the central government and the Janjaweed (tribal militias).

Natsios highlighted the real danger regarding the collapse of central authority in Africa's largest country should the country return to war between the North and the South which nearly happened in October and November 2007. The ethnic cleansing of Darfur represents only one aspect of a much larger crisis that could lead to the disintegration of the Sudan, with even more tragic political and humanitarian consequences for the whole of eastern Africa. Unless the international community realizes the gravity of the situation and the fragility of central authority in Khartoum, and enjoins all of the political actors involved to alter their current course of action, the country is likely to break up under the pressure of various centrifugal forces.

Natsios argued that the central government in Khartoum has managed to alienate several previously non-political Sudanese social groups. It has, among other things, failed to honor all the articles of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, which was intended to put an end to the long civil conflict between the predominantly Muslim North and the oil-rich Christian South. As a result, the most serious conflict in recent Sudanese history—with casualties ten times those of the Darfur crisis—remains a partially unresolved issue that continues to threaten the stability of the entire country. With high levels of discontent and resentment among the population and a high proportion of government officials who are unwilling to defuse the situation peacefully for fear of a coup or of standing trial for war crimes, the Sudan is becoming increasingly unstable and should the North and South return to war, might well disintegrate as a state.

To bring the current crises to an end and avoid future degradation, Natsios argued that the international community must first and foremost encourage the parties to enforce the Comprehensive Peace Agreement it originally supported, and must normalize political relations with the Sudanese government. Because the International Criminal Court is a sword of Damocles hanging over Sudanese officials, it has become an impediment to conflict resolution. For this reason, Natsios recommended that the international community forgo the right to bring suspected war criminals to justice in exchange for peace and stability. The Sudanese government, for its part, would have to share oil revenues equitably, restrain the hardliners within its own ranks, and give greater regional autonomy to Darfur. These measures, combined with free, fair and open elections, present the only viable options for saving Sudan from fragmenting into its various provinces and bringing the Darfur crisis to an end.

Summary prepared by Henri Lauziere. Henri is a Teaching Assistant at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.