Funding peace in Sudan
Arab countries and donor institutions have promised to channel much-needed developmental funds into southern Sudan. Dina Ezzat reports
Arab countries and funding institutions made pledges on Monday at an Arab League round table meeting to finance developmental projects in southern Sudan.
This comes in tandem with a non-Arab effort to end civil strife in Sudan by securing a peace deal between the government in the north and the armed rebels in the south. The efforts are aimed at maintaining the unity of Sudan by appeasing the southern Sudanese, who have suffered years of international neglect. The new funding commitments are also meant to keep the Arabs closely involved in the Sudan dossier.
"We now have pledges to finance key developmental projects, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, in southern Sudan," said Samir Hosni, head of the African Affairs department at the Arab League, at the second round table meeting on Sudan held at the organisation's headquarters in Cairo. "Implementation should start soon. There is a real will on the part of Arab countries and funding institutions to keep their promises to the Sudanese government to finance developmental projects in the south."
Participating in the meeting were representatives of the member states of the Arab body, as well as a number of Arab funds and banks. Present also were Sudanese Foreign Minister Moustafa Othman Ismail, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and his envoy to Sudan, Nadia Makram Ebeid.
The meeting had a two-point agenda: to review the negotiations between the Sudanese government and the Southern Popular Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and to examine a number of projects presented by the Sudanese government during the first round table meeting in mid-December 2002.
According to Hosni, progress is being made on both fronts. Ismail said there have been advancements in some of the most difficult issues, particularly the division of power and wealth between the government and the SPLM/A. As for the developmental projects, donor organisations and countries have announced their readiness to work within a bilateral framework, in cooperation with the Sudanese government or through the Arab League Sudan Fund.
Money is flowing into the fund, Hosni said. In addition to the sums allocated on the bilateral level, the fund now has close to $2 million.
Considering that only a few months ago the Sudan Fund had almost no cash, this development is seen in several Sudanese quarters as a sign of Arab determination to help the Sudanese government resolve the southern Sudan issue. "The main problem with southern Sudan is that people there are angry they are being denied access to basic developmental facilities," a senior Sudanese official said. "This anger is being exploited by some political powers to induce the separation of the southern part of the country."
By helping address these developmental issues, Arab countries are, in fact, "helping Sudan maintain its territorial integrity", he said.
The very fact that the second round table meeting took place as scheduled and that a third one is planned to take place in a few weeks is proof that Arabs are serious about Sudan, "for a change", a Cairo-based Sudanese diplomat said.
"We are getting support for our efforts on Sudan from practically all Sudanese quarters, including John Garang, the leader of the SPLM/A," Hosni said.
Garang -- known for his opposition to Sudan's Arab affiliation and his efforts to separate the southern part of the country -- recently called Moussa to discuss Sudanese political and developmental issues, Hosni said, and may be meeting with Ebeid soon. "Garang even suggested to Secretary-General Moussa that a headquarters for the Arab League Sudan Fund should be established in the southern Sudan city of Juba," Hosni said. "This suggestion is going to be taken into consideration and might be discussed when Ebeid and Garang meet."
Arab states stepped up their interest in helping Sudan with its problems after a peace deal, the Machakos Protocols, was signed between the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A, that allows for the possible separation of southern Sudan into an independent state.
The Machakos Protocols give the Sudanese government a six- year period to make the option of unity attractive to all Sudanese, in order to secure votes for it in a national referendum.
At the time, Arab capitals, particularly Cairo, admitted that such a move would have a very negative impact on their strategic interests, in view of the control this new non-Arab state would have over water resources and key harbours. Israel's links with Garang were also a cause for concern.
In September last year, the Arab council of foreign ministers approved a developmental and political plan presented by Secretary- General Moussa for a much heavier involvement in the Sudan dossier. According to Hosni, this plan is now being put into action. "What we are working on is making the option of unity not only attractive, but practically unavoidable. We want to remove any reasons for the division of Sudan," he said.
Hosni admits that Arabs are currently focussed on developmental issues in Sudan. He refuted the notion that Arab countries are being kept out of the political process that is being coordinated by Kenya under US instructions. "We will soon be party to the process," he said. "Ebeid will discuss this with Kenyan officials during a visit she plans to make to Nairobi soon."
Also scheduled to take place in the near future is a ministerial level meeting for the Arab League Sudan Committee, which includes representatives of seven Arab countries, in addition to those from Sudan and the Arab League.
"We have often called on our brothers to help us," the Sudanese foreign minister said at the end of Monday's meeting. "Arab support is very important and it is now materialising."