Expectations & Implications: A Discussion on the Southern Sudan Referendum
Special Envoy to Sudan
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs
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MR. CROWLEY: Hello and welcome to the Department of State in Washington, D.C. I’m P.J. Crowley. I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. And this is another conversation with America where we talk to a key diplomat or a national security leader about critical issues facing the United States and the rest of the world. Today, we’re here to talk about the future of Sudan with General Scott Gration, our Special Envoy for Sudan.
Scott, you’ve made how many trips to Sudan since the Obama Administration started?
MR. GRATION: I’m coming up on my 24th.
MR. CROWLEY: Twenty-four trips. And what Sudan faces in the coming days and the coming months is a critical referendum on the future of South Sudan, and we’ll talk about something called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the way forward on this crucial issue.
Scott, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. GRATION: It’s great to be here, P.J.
MR. CROWLEY: So let’s talk about Sudan. There is this thing called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. What is Sudan facing starting with this referendum in the coming days?
MR. GRATION: Well, this is a really big deal because this vote gives the Southern Sudanese the opportunity to decide whether they want to be united as they have been since 1956, or to choose independence. And that’s what we’re trying to do, put together a process that was mandated back in 2005 under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and now is the fruition. In fact, it is -- the referendum will take place on the sixth anniversary of the signing, that signing that ended 22 years of civil war in the South.
And so we’re looking forward to an opportunity where the Southern Sudanese can go out not only in Southern Sudan, but the Southern Sudanese that are in the North and in eight countries where the diaspora are located. They’ll have an opportunity to express their will, and then that will decide whether they become a new country or they remain united.
MR. CROWLEY: And maybe the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, it perhaps represents continuity in United States foreign policy and the international commitment to Sudan. What’s a little bit of the history of the CPA going back to trying to end the civil war during the Bush Administration?
MR. GRATION: Well, this has really been a cornerstone of our policy in Sudan, supporting the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We were there at the Machakos Accord, we were there in Naivasha where this document was finalized and signed. And the fact is our Secretary of State Colin Powell was out there. We had a special representative, Senator John Danforth who helped work through a lot of the issues. And the fact is we have been a partner with the IGAD community, with other people, other nations, right from the very start. So this is a very important peace document, and we’re working very hard to make sure it gets implemented fully.
Now, the referendum is just one piece of this. There’s border demarcation. There’s citizenship element. There’s what happens to the oil. Now, these aren’t specific to the document, but they are part of the document. The document sets up a framework where the North and the South can negotiate and reach agreements on these very special issues.
In addition to that, there’s popular consultations in Kordofan and in the Blue Nile where they have an opportunity to mold their future. And there’s also the issue of Abyei, a very sensitive issue that hasn’t been decided yet, but that’s part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement too, to decide, if the South becomes independent, what happens to this piece of property in southern Kordofan that belongs, according to the Hague Treaty, to the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms.
MR. CROWLEY: Now, you’ve made 23 trips to Sudan thus far. Six months ago, nine months ago, did you have confidence that this referendum might come off the way it is poised to?
MR. GRATION: Well, P.J., you always have to be optimistic. Otherwise, you wouldn’t get up in the morning. And so I’ve been optimistic that this could happen, and I’m very pleased that, in fact, we are poised, and there really is no technical reason why we can’t have this referendum. Sure, there’s things that might come up at the end, but right now we’re five days away, and it looks to me like this will come off and start on the 9th. And it will continue for seven days, and then there will be a process where the votes are counted, we make sure that we have the 60 percent turnout, and then we’ll get an official result sometime after that, something maybe in the last week in January, the first week of February, at which time we’ll know what the Southern Sudanese have decided.
What we’re looking for is not the outcome, though, P.J. We’re looking to make sure that there’s a process where the people have an opportunity to express their free will, a process that happens on time, that happens peacefully, and that is transparent. Because in the end, the international community, along with the people of the North and the South, have to say “Yes, this really is the will of the people and we’ll accept the results.”
MR. CROWLEY: Now, South Sudan represents something like a third of the current land mass –
MR. GRATION: Right.
MR. CROWLEY: -- of Sudan. Is it ready to be its own country?
MR. GRATION: Well, sure there’s things that need to be done to make it more ready, but yes, I believe that if the South chooses to be independent – they’ve been autonomous for almost six years. In other words, they’ve had a system of self-governance. They have a military called the SPLA. And several countries, including the United States, have been helping them transform from a guerrilla organization to an organization that can defend their borders and defend their people. They have a civil police organization, and we’ve been very much involved in helping train that organization to respect human rights and to provide a framework for civil society protections and security.
So yes, there’s things that need to be done in terms of developing the agriculture. There’s things that need to be done in terms of education. Southern Sudan has been plagued with a literacy rate that’s very low. It’s below 20 percent. And so we’re working very hard to make sure that we can help them in the four areas of literacy. One is just the standard primary school, and then the second thing is teacher training. There’s only about 20 percent of their teachers that are qualified and ready to teach, so they need some really – a lot of help in terms of teacher education. And then we have a lot of Sudanese that are highly educated but they’ve been living in the North, and some of these are coming south, and so there’s going to have to be that translation mode where people from the South who have been living in the North who speak Arabic, who studied in Arabic, need to come south and learn numeracy and literacy in terms of being able to communicate in the languages that are more spoken in the South.
And then the final piece is a lot of people, because they’ve been at war for 40 years, missed an opportunity to get educated. So we have a whole segment of the adult population that needs to have adult education. This is going to be a lot of work. We’re looking at public-private ways of funding this and getting involved. We’re looking at seeing if some institutions, like the Bush Institute* and others, will want to get involved. Teach for America has an international arm. We’re looking at those. And of course, the standards of USAID and UNICEF will have to play a very large role in the education program.
MR. CROWLEY: Now, under the CPA, with the referendum starting this coming weekend, the South Sudanese, if they choose, will be independent as of next July. Now, that sets up a kind of very intensive six-month period. What needs to be done in the post-referendum phase?
MR. GRATION: Well, you’re exactly right. The interim period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement comes to an end on the 9th of July, and anytime after that the South can choose to become independent if that’s what the people vote for. We don’t know if it’s going to happen on the 10th or sometime later, but yes, it could happen as early as July 10th.
Now, in my view, the longest border that the South will share with any country is that 1,936-kilometer border that is between the North and the South. And the fact is if you take a look at the oil, the infrastructure for the oil transportations in the North, much of the transportation and communication infrastructure is in the North. And there’s things like airspace control, those kinds of things that it’s going to probably take a little while to do that transition period or transformation period or independence.
And so in my view, probably the biggest thing that has to happen is building the relationship between the North and the South as two independent countries, if that’s what they choose. Because they’re going to have to communicate. They’re going to have to cooperate. There’s going to have to be agreements on security, agreement on political things, and certainly some agreements on economic issues. And then the citizenship issue has to be resolved, and that’s why the border demarcation piece is so important.
So again, we’ll continue to work with both the North and the South to help them through this phase, to help them get the relationships that they need to make sure that they can operate at peace with each other and promote peace in all of Africa and especially that community where they live.
MR. CROWLEY: And how much of that border is currently resolved? There’s still some questions.
MR. GRATION: There are some questions. There’s about 320 kilometers that are still under dispute. There are five areas. Some probably will be easy to figure out because we have the data going back to when the British and the Turks were working in that area. And what we’ve decided is that the border that was in existence on the 1st of January 1956 will be the border. But there’s some areas that weren’t gazetted, some areas that we’re demarcated, and some areas that moved after that point, and some before. So we’re going back and researching the documents and researching the agreements that were made, and we’re going to have to figure this out. Some may have to go to arbitration, but I believe we can come up with a solution for all those 320 kilometers that are under dispute.
MR. CROWLEY: And you mentioned earlier Abyei. Now, the original CPA called for two referenda.
MR. GRATION: Right.
MR. CROWLEY: One will take place – the parties have not been able to resolve the question of how to determine the future of Abyei. Talk a little bit about Abyei. What does it represent and what are some of the complex elements of that issue?
MR. GRATION: Well, this is probably the toughest issue that we’ve had to face as we’ve come up to full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And the reason is, is that, first of all, it was an area that was under arbitration, and the Permanent Court of Appeals in The Hague gave a definition to Abyei, but there’s still a competition as to who really has rights to the land. The Ngok Dinka believe that they have the rights to the land, the nine chiefdoms of the Ngok Dinka. At the same time, the Misseriya believe that they have historical rights, that they’ve been passing through that area for hundreds of years to get to water, to get to grazing land, and that they have rights.
And so this is a problem and it’s become very emotional, it’s become politicized, and there’s a lot of passions associated with this. We’ve been working hard with both parties to create an atmosphere and an environment where they could come up with a solution. So far, they have not been able to come up with a solution, but I think that they’re going to have to, at some point, demonstrate the political will, the political courage, and the political leadership to make some concessions and to make an agreement that will serve all the people of that region. Because the Misseriya still need to come down to water and grazing lands, and it is true that the Ngok Dinka have had this ruling and they have rights to that land.
So we’ll have to see how they resolve it, but this is one of those things where all we can do is help, but the parties themselves have to come up with a solution that meet the needs of their constituencies and meet the needs of their two parties.
MR. CROWLEY: And then there’s Darfur. Now, most people know more about Darfur and the challenge there. Update us a little bit. What is happening today in Darfur?
MR. GRATION: P.J., we’ve spent a lot of time on Darfur. On my last trip, I spent three days in Doha and three days in Darfur, and it is a big issue for us. We have not abandoned Darfur while we’ve been thinking about the referendum. Sure, the referendum is the nearest thing and is getting a lot of publicity, but at the same time, I am probably spending more time right now on Darfur than I am even on the referendum.
And the things that we’re working on are a couple. One is we’ve just got to stop the civil war, the fighting that’s going on between the rebel groups and the government. This is causing a dislocation of the people, it is causing more suffering, and it’s causing more IDPs, or internally displaced people. That has got to stop.
At the same time, the people have to have places to go back to, and so we’re working to make sure that there’s overall security, and that there’s an infrastructure and a stabilization, where the infrastructure – so there’s water points, there’s education, there’s medical, so that when the people decide to return, they have something to go back to. And that the basic problems that started this conflict – the resource issues and that kind of thing between those that grow and those that graze – that those issues are solved, that there’s opportunities to create wealth, that there’s opportunities for jobs. And so we’re looking at systemic issues and we’re looking at the combat issues and we’re trying to create a situation where the people of Darfur can have a future that was better than the past.
At the same time, we know that we’re not going to get a peace unless we take care of the justice and the accountability issues and that there’s reconciliation. And so we’re looking at compensation, we’re looking at wealth sharing, we’re looking at power sharing, and we’re looking to make sure that people have avenues to get those wrongs righted and be able to move forward.
MR. CROWLEY: In the CPA, it’s about North and South, but how does the future of South Sudan, which does not directly affect Darfur but – how does that – does one affect the other ultimately? Is there a dynamic here that will have an impact on Darfur even though the CPA itself does not involve Darfur?
MR. GRATION: Darfur is a very complex issue. We had to start out by working on the conflict between Chad-supported rebels and Sudanese-supported rebels, and so that problem we were able to resolve. We are now working on a ceasefire between the JEM, which is the Justice and Equality Movement, and some of the other movements. But we’re going to have to resolve a lot of issues, and so there’s a lot of external players and internal players.
In the South, if the South becomes unstable, it could also involve spillover. And at the same time, if we can’t solve the problem of Darfur, then the South will have to take refugees. And so all of these issues – the North needs to be strong, because the South needs a strong partner to the North. The South needs to be strong. And Darfur needs to be resolved.
The bottom line is you’re exactly right; unless we get all of the three elements working and improving with a brighter future and a stronger infrastructure – and that’s why the international community and the United States has to remain involved. We have to make sure that if the South chooses to be independent, that they have an opportunity to grow and become strong and become a vibrant and prosperous nation. The same with the North – there will be 30-some million people in the North; they need the same kind of future. And of course, Darfur, with its roughly 8 million people, they need a future where they can start stabilizing, where kids can grow up without living in an environment where they either live in an IDP camp or they live with conflict and danger.
These are the things we’ve been working on. These are the things that the Obama Administration is committed to. Our objectives are to implement fully the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and we’re making great progress. The other thing, though, is to end the conflict in Darfur definitively, to end the gross human rights abuses and the genocide, and that’s what we’re working on. And then of course, we want to make sure that the whole region is not a place where terrorists can come back to, it is not a place that will foster terrorism and things that will actually destroy the country but also spill over into the neighborhood. These are the things we’re working on, and I believe we’re making good progress in each of those three areas.
MR. CROWLEY: Why have you made this investment or why has the President made this investment in Sudan? I mean, there’s lots of things, there’s lots of challenges around the world, but why is Sudan important to the United States?
MR. GRATION: It’s interesting that one of the senior leaders in Africa, somebody who I’ve spent a lot of time listening to, said to me, “Sudan is so important, because if we’re not successful in bringing peace and stability to Sudan, from Cairo to Cape Town, and from Dakar to Djibouti, we will have unrest.” And the more I think about it and the more I’ve seen, Sudan is one of the biggest countries in the – in Africa, certainly, and one of the major countries of the world, and it’s huge. It’s as big as from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. People don’t realize how big this thing is.
And so if there’s unrest and if there’s problems, it’s going to spill over. But the thing that I go back to – it comes down to the individuals, the people. I take a look at the children who, in many cases, have not seen peace, have not seen prosperity. I take a look at the South. They’ve been fighting for 40 years – 22 years in the last fight before the CPA was signed. I take a look at people that have missed opportunities for education, missed opportunities to reap the benefits that we take for granted in the rest of the world. Those people need a chance. And that’s why we’re doing it – to make sure that the people who have suffered so much in Darfur, the people that have lost almost 2 million people in the South, that their future doesn’t include that kind of pain, that kind of suffering, and that kind of death. That’s why we’re involved.
But more than that, there’s a security issue, there’s an economic issue, and there’s a political issue. And I believe if we can solve Sudan, then the whole continent of Africa has a brighter future.
MR. CROWLEY: Do you think that there are leaders, North and South, who can see that long-term potential and rise above the conflict that they have been fighting for four years?
MR. GRATION: Yeah, one of the things President Obama has asked us to do is to take a look at how do we internationalize and multilateralize this problem. And so we’ve worked on building a network of contacts, a network of partners who are involved. And it not only includes the two parties – and they’re the ones that have to make the decisions and the agreements – but it includes the nine neighbors, and it includes all the rest of Africa, and it includes the international community. And we’ve been working very hard through the P-5, and Ambassador Rice has been very helpful there.
Secretary Clinton has been absolutely superb. She has made telephone calls. She has written letters. She’s become very, very involved in building a coalition in and around Sudan that will be able to help make sure that there’s that support mechanism, the things that you’re talking about. And certainly, her contacts with Egypt and certainly Ethiopia – Prime Minister Meles has been a very large supporter – and countries to the south, the IGAD countries are heavily invested. And President Deby, of course, made great efforts to solve the problem between Khartoum and N'djamena and made a historic trip on – almost a year ago, on the 8th of February, where he went across and restored relationships and started the rapprochement that has been able to help us stop the fighting in Darfur.
My point is this: People are invested. We’ve built a very strong team both within the government, where we have almost a hundred people working on Sudan every day, down to the international community, where many people are involved and many countries are involved in a very serious and committed way.
MR. CROWLEY: And then what – how does Darfur fit into this? What do you want to see either from North – from the Government of Khartoum or from some of the rebel elements that are still active in Darfur?
MR. GRATION: Well, this is a very critical time. And because of that, we brought on another very experienced ambassador, Dane Smith. And right now – we had in Doha, with the Government of Qatar and with the AU-UN mediation team led by Djibrill Bassole, that’s coming to an end. And somewhere in the next 30 to 60 days, that will be transitioning to Darfur under the Darfur-Darfur Conference, so that civil society can be more involved. And we’ve actually put together a framework agreement – when I say “we,” the international community led by the UN-AU mediator – and that needs to be implemented. So that’s why the process is moving to Darfur.
So there’s going to have to be more of a bigger footprint in Darfur and there’s going to have to be more international community efforts in Darfur. And when we do get this peace or stabilization or more security, then the international community is going to have to come in with stabilization programs and development programs because Darfur’s in the same place. We have almost three million people living in IDP camps that have access to food and shelter and water that’s being provided. That can’t continue. You can’t have sustained emergency operations. We need to have sustainable development. And that means we’re going to have to work hard on a plan and we’re going to have to work hard on implantation programs that allow the Darfuris to have that same thing that we talked about in the South: agriculture, education, infrastructure, wealth creation opportunities. That’s going to be a big job, but it has to happen.
MR. CROWLEY: My last question: If we sit here a year from now, what will you hope to see in Sudan?
MR. GRATION: I hope to be able to take my family there on a vacation. I hope to be able to travel with peace and security. I hope to see the sights that Sudan has and meet the wonderful people that are there in Sudan, and I would hope that they would be able to come to America without restriction. And I would hope to see an economy that’s vibrant, and I would love to see a country that’s developing along with the rest of the world. I think it can happen. And I think what this Administration has been able to do in the last two years sets the foundation for a future that is bright and sets the foundation so that the kids that are now five years old, the age of my grandchildren, that they’ll have the same future as my grandchildren. And they don’t have that today, but I think they deserve it, I think they need it, and that’s what I’ve been working for.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s hope that that vision comes to pass, and we’ll invite you back and see how close we came. Scott, thank you very much. Thank you for your hard work. And we’ll look to see what happens here in Sudan in the next six months.
MR. GRATION: Thank you, P.J. It’s been an honor.
MR. CROWLEY: And thank you very much for joining us for a conversation with America, and we’ll see you again soon.