Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Former British ambassador to Sudan on secession, peace efforts | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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File photo of former British ambassador to Sudan, Alan Goulty.

File photo of former British ambassador to Sudan, Alan Goulty.

File photo of former British ambassador to Sudan, Alan Goulty.

Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Alan Goulty is one of the leading British experts on Sudan, having served in a variety of diplomatic posts in the country. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the second anniversary of the secession of South Sudan, Goulty takes a look at the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ultimately led to this, in addition to Omar Al-Bashir’s role in the secession, and what lies in store for both Sudan and South Sudan.

In the early 1970s, Goulty served as a diplomat at the British Embassy in Khartoum; in 1995, he returned as ambassador, holding this post for four years. While in 2002, he returned again as Britain’s Special Representative to Sudan. Goulty represented Britain in efforts to stop the war between the North and the South, and reach an agreement between the Khartoum government led by President Omar Al-Bashir and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) led by the late Dr John Garang. In 2005, these efforts culminated in the CPA, which was signed in Naivasha, Kenya. In 2011, a referendum in the South, prescribed by the CPA, led to the creation of an independent South Sudan, now led by President Salva Kiir. Goulty returned to Sudan again in 2005 to represent Britain in the Darfur negotiations.

He retired in 2008, after 40 years service as a British diplomat, including postings as ambassador to Tunisia and Director of the Foreign Office for the Middle East and North Africa. For the last few years, Goulty has been a senior scholar at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, focusing mainly on Sudan.

Asharq Al-Awsat: On its second anniversary, how would you describe South Sudan?

Alan Goulty: It is no surprise that the country is facing problems. What is remarkable is how well it has done, taking into account its lack of resources, both material and human, and the ongoing disputes with Sudan.

The people of South Sudan deserve our continued support as they tackle the challenges of building a new nation, founded on mutual interests rather than on simple hostility to Khartoum.

Q: What’s your view on the ongoing disputes between South Sudan and Sudan?

It is clear that neither country, and neither people, can hope to prosper without good neighborly relations and practical cooperation. This does not mean only the oil issues, but open borders and free movement of people; the right of citizens to work and own property in both countries; free trade; arrangements for the seasonal migrations of herders and their livestock; and so on.

All these measures would benefit the people of both countries, especially those who live in the “Tamazuj” border states.

Sadly, the interests of their peoples do not seem to rank highly amongst the priorities of their leaders. In both countries, both governments and their opponents are obsessed by the question of whose turn it is to eat, not by ensuring that what resources exist are fairly shared, and their countries well-governed.

The immediate priority is to halt the fighting in Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile; ensure access for humanitarian aid; and begin the process of national reconciliation and reconstruction without which there will be no peace either within Sudan, or between Khartoum and South Sudan.

All parties, and especially the leaders of the armed movement, must shoulder their responsibilities and play their part in this.

Q: In a previous interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in 2005, you revealed that you first met Salva Kiir in 1997. Did he support unity at that time? If so, when, and why, did he change his mind and move towards secession?

He was certainly a loyal supporter of Garang. I don’t recall whether we talked about unity or secession at that first meeting. Our focus at that time was on how to end the war between the North and the South.

Q: When did Kiir start to support secession?

After Dr. Garang’s death in 2005 and the loss of his strong personality, many Southern leaders who were his followers had second thoughts regarding his leanings towards unity. I believe many of those leaders had had reservations about his unity ideas. But, they thought that his command of Arabic, and his appeal among the Northerners, might help him to compete with and defeat Bashir in a general election to become the first Southern president of Sudan, a noble and exciting aspiration.
That was why, after Garang’s death and the end of such hopes, many Southern leaders began to lean more towards independence, and Salva Kiir went along with the majority view.

Q: How about Garang? Was he really and whole-heartily a unionist?

I believe Garang always wanted to give unity a chance. But, of course, he knew that the general feelings in the South tended to be anti-North. So, he had to be careful, and to think about an alternative to unity.

Q: In your previous interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, you denied that Garang’s death was an accident. Seven years later, the debate continues about whether he was intentionally killed because of his pro-union opinions. What’s your view now?

Of course, Garang’s death was a tragic event. Of course, people have different theories about that. But nobody has produced clear—or indeed any—evidence that he was murdered.

Q: When did it become clear to you that the South would choose secession?

This became increasingly clear after the 2010 elections.

Q: Not during the 2005 negotiations that led to the CPA?

The SPLM consistently called for self-determination in the South, without arguing about unity or independence. Don’t forget that the SPLM signed the CPA that called for making unity attractive.

The SPLM saw the 2010 elections in the North as a sign that the North would accept separation. And when Bashir said he would accept separation if the South voted for it in the scheduled 2011 referendum in the South, the door was open for that outcome. Remember, by that time, Garang with his pro-union views, was no longer around.

I felt that if Bashir would accept separation, separation could not be stopped. Then came the referendum and the South’a overwhelming vote for independence.

Q: You previously criticized Bahsir’s name being being submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC) saying: “Consideration must always be given to the balance between justice and peace.” Do you stand by this view or have you changed your mind?

I am not a politician; I am a practical diplomat. I believe the first step in Sudan at that time was to end the war, reach an agreement, and work on its implementation. I thought we should not prosecute people who were involved in this process. We did not aim to solve all the problems of Sudan at Naivasha.

Q: Why did the UN Security Council, clearly under pressure from the US, refer Bashir’s name to the ICC?

The Security Council, at that time, wasn’t dealing with the South, but with Darfur. By that time the CPA was already concluded.

Q: But, isn’t it true that this move represented another form of pressure on Bashir and for secession? How could the Southerners be persuaded to remain in a union with a so-called “criminal Islamist”?

How could it be pressure? He was offered the choice of appearing at the Hague immediately or in due course. Naturally anyone faced with such a choice would try to hold out as long as possible. We should remember that the indictment or the charge was just that. It wasn’t a conviction. In my country, we believe a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Q: How about the international and domestic perception on Bashir? The damage was already done.

The mistake that was made on the part of the West was to avoid contacts with Bashir. Especially when the West wished to influence him. You cannot influence someone without talking to him. It wasn’t necessary on the part of the West to cut off communications with Bashir.

Q: But communications were cut off?

Yes. That was a mistake.

Q: In 1997, the US promised to lift sanctions on Sudan. Now, 16 years later, the sanctions remain in place. Why is that?

In fact the UN sanctions have been lifted.

Q: Yes, but what about the US sanctions ? Why haven’t they been lifted, even after Bahsir accepted the partition of his country?

Ask the Americans about that. My answer is that there is no strong inclination in the US to make friendly gestures to Bashir. There has been strong domestic antagonism towards him in the US, as you know.

Q: In your view, if either Omar Al-Bashir or his former Islamist ally Hassan Al-Turabi were more moderate and less radical, do you think South Sudan would still have seceded?

That is both speculative and vague. Who is the “extremist” and who is the “moderate”? During the 1990’s, when I was ambassador in Khartoum, and met Bashir for the first time, he told me that there could be no military victory for either side in the Southern conflict.

But, Turabi and others called for a holy jihad, and sent untrained young Northerners to fight in the South. So, who was “extreme” and who was “moderate”? On the other hand, there was Turabi’s theory about tawali or political openness. But President Bashir did not see any merit in political parties. So, who was “extreme” and who was “moderate”?

Q: What about if the democratically-elected Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi remained in power? Do you think separation would have been avoided?

I don’t know. But, I know that Sayed Sadiq’s government prosecuted the war in the South without any hesitation. Yes, there were talks about initiatives to talk to the SPLM. But, the fact is that Sayed Sadiq in his three-and-a-half years in power, didn’t stop the war. Why should we conclude that he would have done so had he stayed in power for another year, or two, or three?

Q: In a report you published at Washington’s Wilson Center in 2012, you wrote: “US promises, for example, the removal of Sudan from the list of the state sponsors of terrorism, were not fulfilled.” How could the US be an honest broker between the North and the South if it was clearly and strongly anti-North?

That was a US problem, not ours. We, the British delegation, as observers helping the mediation, did our best to avoid taking sides between the parties.

Q: In 2011, in an interview at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for Peace, you said that unity was not achieved because the “international community” failed to use the CPA mechanism effectively. Why? Where there deliberate efforts against unity?

The CPA set up many mechanisms, like: a unity government in the North, autonomy in the South, joint committees, working groups and commissions, including the Assessment and Evaluation Commission with a majority of international members. These did not work as well as the framers of the CPA had hoped..

Q: The CPA called for efforts to make unity “attractive”; why wasn’t an international mechanism established to help both the North and the South?

It was! The Assessment and Evaluation Commission, as I have just mentioned. By that time, the international interest in Sudan had switched to Darfur and the AEC was not as assertive as it might have been. I will give you an example: The Foreign Office called me back to be their Special Representative for Darfur. I suggested that it might be better to have me as representative for Sudan, i.e. both Darfur and the South, as there was still a lot of work to be done to implement the CPA. But they said just Darfur. So, we, and the rest of the West, at that time, were completely concentrating on Darfur and we took our eyes off North-South relations. This helped to leave the field to those favoring secession.

Q: So you acknowledge that mistakes were made?


Q: Who made them?

As for the West, we should not have diverted our attention exclusively to Darfur.

Q: What about the big picture? What about the historical clash between Islam and the West, its manifestation in Sudan, and the West’s attempts to stop the spread of Islam in South Sudan and sub-Sahara Africa?

I believe this rationalization has two problems: first, it is not accurate; second, it is speculative.

Our aim was to end the civil war and enable Sudanese to try again to govern their country peaceably.

Religion was not among our motives. In fact there have been no Western attempts to divide Sudan. For many years, Sudan has been poor, weak, war-ridden and tribally-divided. Admittedly there was little trust between the West and Bashir. But Sudan’s problems were Sudanese problems of Sudan’s making.

Q: But Sudan was partitioned as the result of the CPA?

That was what the people of South Sudan wanted and an option which neither administration, in Khartoum and Juba, did enough to avert. But it’s not a bad outcome: many countries have been partitioned successfully. The former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, for example.

And we are even facing a referendum on independence for Scotland in my own country.