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The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei

Mawien Deng


Mawien Deng

You often say that history has repeated itself on Abyei. In what way has history repeated itself over the situation in Abyei today?

Francis Mading Deng

History is repeating itself in two interconnected ways. One is my contribution to the peace process that led to the independence of South Sudan and the Abyei Protocol. The other is how Abyei was once more left out of the benefits of the peace agreement by the failure to implement the right of the people to determine their destiny. And this is precisely because Khartoum is blocking the implementation of the Abyei Protocol, as Nimeiri did on the provisions of the Addis Ababa Agreement on Abyei. And then there is the reluctance of the government of South Sudan to confront Khartoum on Abyei, the same way the Regional Government in the South did not want to confront Nimeiri on Abyei.

The long journey to the second peace agreement

I will give a brief overview of my contribution to the peace process that had a direct bearing on the positive role played by the United States in mediating the negotiations that led to tie Comprehensive Peace Agreement and its Abyei Protocol. I did this in my personal capacity as I had resigned from the foreign service when in 1983 Nimeiri tried to persuade me to accept the posting of Ambassador to Addis Ababa. That would have put me in direct confrontation with our freedom fighters who had just staged the rebellion. I turned down the appointment and resigned from the service.

As I was flying from Khartoum, I asked myself whether I was turning my back on my country and the cause of my people. The answer was a resounding, no. Then what would I do? Right there I decided to write about the problems of nation-building which I thought were rooted in the crisis of national identity. This crisis needed to be addressed to develop a shared sense of national identity. I decided to put in fictional form the message of my book, Dynamics of Identification, in order to reach the minds and touch the hearts of our people. I started writing. the novel during my flight back to the United States. And my writing continued until I completed my two novels: Seed of Redemption, a blend of fact and fiction, and Cry of the Owl, which was more genuinely fictional. Cry of Owl became very popular in the country and was reviewed by a hostile journalist who labelled it another Satanic Verses and I Sudan’s Salman Rushdi.

Mawien Deng

Had you studied fiction or written a novel before?

Francis Mading Deng

Not at all. It was an, literary adventure driven by the passion to address an agonizing crisis that as compellingly human as it was political. And I did this with no idea where my professional life was heading. I had no plans on what I would do next. I had a young family of four sons with no job lined up. But my wife supported my stand on principles. Within two weeks of my return, things began to happen that radically changed my situation in a positive direction. It confirmed my faith that in crises, there are often opportunities. Think tanks, universities, and philanthropic organizations began to reach out to me with offers of fellowships and material support for what I was doing. And much of what I was doing and planned to do was directly connected to promoting the cause of my people and my country, mostly through writing and advocacy. Over the following years, I would become associated with leading think tanks and universities in the United States.

The first institution to host me was the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. There, I completed the biography of my father, The Man Called Deng Majok (Yale 1986) and organized an all party conference on the war that was raging in the Sudan. That conference produced the co-edited volume, The Search for Peace and Unity in the Sudan (Wilson Press, 1987). I invited the former President of Nigeria, General Olusegun Obasanjo, and Ambassador Andrew Young, former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations to attend the conference as senior statesmen with experience and wisdom to share. On that basis, and using the book as a tool for our initiative, Obasanjo and I embarked on a peace process in the Sudan, shuttling between the SPLM and successive leaders in Khartoum. I documented our efforts in the book, Partners for Peace: An Initiative on the Sudan with General Obasanjo, (Inter-Africa Group, 1998.)

From the Wilson Center, I was invited by the Brookings Institution to establish and direct the African Studies program which I ran for twelve years. While at Brookings, I continued my efforts for peace in the Sudan with virtually all the relevant think tanks in Washington, including the Wilson Center itself, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, CSIS, United States Institute for Peace, USIP, and the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. I became involved in a myriad of peace initiatives.

At the initiative of the Ambassador of Switzerland to the Sudan, the Swiss Government sponsored a series of what became known as the quartet meetings in which Bona Malual and I represented the SPLM. Dr. John Garang told us that he chose us as non-members of the Movement so that they would claim us if we succeeded and deny us if we failed. The government of Sudan was represented by two alternating individuals who successively included prominent members of the ruling Islamist National Congress Party, including Ali Osman, who became First Vice President, Mutrif Siddig and Ali Abdelrahman, among others.

A group of Southerners also organized themselves and held a meeting in a historic Adare Manor in the Irish resort town of Limerick. The group included Gordon Muortat, Bishop Clement Janda, Bona Malual, Peter Nyot, David Bassioni, Dunstan Wai, David Dechand, Abadon Agau and myself. The group met for a week to discuss the objectives of the liberation struggle with an emphasis on self-determination with independence as the ultimate objective. The discussion focused on papers presented by the participants and eventually adopted the Adare Declaration which reflected a delicate balance between supporting the vision of the SPLM while advocating self-determination.

The Adare members later reconstituted themselves into a smaller number of politicians and intellectuals that included Abel Alier, Bona Malual, Joseph Ukel, David Bassioni, Dunstan Wai and myself. This group was also supported by the Swiss government and became known as the Morge Group because they held their meetings at that Swiss resort town. The objective was to clarify the objective of the South Sudanese struggle between self-determination, which the group favored, and the vision of the New Sudan, the declared goal of the SPLM.

Dr. Francis Mading Deng

I was the intermediary with both the Swiss Government and the SPLM, in what proved to be a contentious relationship. On one of my visits to John Garang at New Site, he told me in no uncertain terms that although we were driven by the genuine desire to serve the interest of our people, we were unwittingly playing into the hands of Sudan’s manipulation to undermine the SPLM and that he would openly oppose our initiative. It was a decisive position. After seriously considering the situation, I decided that I would not be a party to the division of the South and submitted my resignation from the group. Although I urged the Swiss not to stop their funding the group on account of my resignation, they terminated their support. While my resignation pleased Dr. John Garang, it antagonized members of the group against me. It would take years before we would restore cordial relations.

The Inter-Africa Group, an African Addis Ababa-based civil society organization that was devoted to the cause of peace building in Africa a group of resource persons that worked closely with the Heads of State and foreign ministers of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) in support of their peace initiative in the Sudan. We worked very closely with the IGAD Heads of State and Ministers throughout all the stages of their mediation. In one of my earliest meeting in Washington, President Isaias Aferworke posed a challenging question to me. He said that they had been refugees in the Sudan, which he recalled was when we first met, and they closely observed the hierarchy of citizenship. He said the Arabs of central Sudan were the first class citizens. Western Sudanese, who were Muslims but not Arabs, were second class citizens. The refugees from Ethiopia and Eritrea were third class. And South Sudanese were fourth class citizens. I later thought that the Muslims from West Africa were in fact the fourth class citizens. That made Southerners fifth class citizens. With that level of discrimination, why would Dr. John Garang advocate remaining in a united Sudan? I had to explain to President Aferworke in great details the complexity of Garang’s strategic vision for a New Sudan and that the balance between unity and patritian was far more subtle than was apparent. He seemed convinced by the explanation. He and President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia became the closest supporters of the cause of the South Sudan.

Equally pivotal was what we did in Washington to influence US policy in support of the SPLM. In collaboration with a number of friends of South Sudan, we formed a group called ‘The Council’. Over time, The Council comprised Ted Dagne, an Ethiopian who became our Chairman, nicknamed The Emperor, Roger Winter, Brian de Silva, John Prendergast, Eric Reeves, the Deputy Emperor, and myself, dubbed ‘The Diplomat’. The lawyer journalist academic, Rebecca Hamilton, wrote a Special Report for the Reuters of 11 July 2012 under the title, ‘The Wonks who sold Washington to South Sudan’, which details what we did to reverse the negative attitude toward the SPLM. John Garang became a frequent visitor and a popular personality in the Washington circles.

And of course, I continued to work very closely with Former President Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center on the situation in the Sudan. In a meeting at the Carter Center to which all the political parties were invited to discuss the conflict in the Sudan, which was chaired by Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, President Carter asked me to prepare the opening address that would be the discussion paper. My views generated serious debate with both sides reflecting discomfort at my attempt to reconcile the divergent views. But Arch Bishop Tutu was quite complimentary and continued to repeat his compliments on subsequent occasions.

On one occasion in a conference on African issues which President Carter was attending, we were lined up to be introduced to him. When they reached me, Carter said to the person doing the introductions, “You don’t introduce Francis to me. I have known him for almost as long as I have known Rosalind”, his wife. It was a somewhat embarrassing flattery. Then he added, “Francis and I have been working together on the Sudan for a long time”. I then interjected, “And the extent of our success shows in the way the war in the country rages on!” President Carter responded by saying, “Yes, but we never give up”.

Perhaps the most crucial step in my efforts in Washington came with the formation in 2000 of a Task Force by the CSIS for the development of a coherent US policy for ending the war in the Sudan. Over fifty individuals who were well informed on the Sudanese conflict met for several months. I was honored to co-chair the Task Force with Stephen Morrison, Director of African studies at CSIS. John Garang and members of ‘The Council’ initially discouraged me from participating in the Task Force because they suspected its objective to be in favor of the North. But I insisted on the grounds that if I did not co-chair the Task Force, someone else would and there was no knowing how the case of the South would fare. John accepted my participation as damage control. I was the only Sudanese in the group. In the first two sessions, I arranged to have a number of Sudanese in Washington from both North and the South invited to participate. But they turned the Task Force into a forum for confrontation and were not invited back.

Most of the participants held the view that Sudan was not important to US interests. The only importance of the Sudan was its engagement in international terrorism, its destabilization of friendly countries in the East African region, and the humanitarian tragedy in the country. They thought that if George W. Bush won the Presidential contest with Al Gore, he would not have much interest in foreign affairs generally, far less the Sudan. The view of the majority was that the search for peace in the Sudan should be left to Europe, with the US rendering a helpful hand from a distance. They also argued that no one wanted the Sudan divided. So there was no support for self-determination for the South.

I single-handedly argued a contrary point of view. All the points they made related to the war that was raging in the country. Sudan’s involvement in international terrorism was motivated by the view in the North that the Christian West supported the position of the South against the Arab Islamic agenda of the Sudan. They therefore allied themselves to the radical Islamists in the Middle East against a shared enemy. The same was true of the destabilization of the neighboring African countries that the Sudan saw as supporting the cause of the South on ethnic and religious grounds. The humanitarian strategies were obviously caused by the war.

It was obvious that ending the war would end Sudan’s involvement in international terrorism, stop its destabilizing the neighboring countries, and alleviate humanitarian suffering. I also argued that Sudan was a racial, ethnic, cultural and religious meeting point between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. It was therefore potentially a point of peaceful interaction or violent confrontation that could extent to the Middle East. Sudan was also a country with vast natural wealth in agriculture, livestock, and minerals, including oil. As for the interest of the United States, as the sole super power, it was difficult to see how the US could be indifferent to a country with such strategic significance regionally and internationally.

On the issue of self-determination and preference for preserving the unity of the country, I argued that the best strategy was not to declare opposition to self-determination that might lead to secession, but to support it and impress upon the government of the Sudan that unless they put in place policies that would effectively address the grievances of the South, their country was threatened by possible partition. I concluded that to preserve the unity of the country, we had to make possible the impossible, and reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable. If the North is committed to its Arab-Islamic agenda, they should be allowed to govern themselves on those principles, while the South follows its African secular agenda. This would require a framework of ‘one country, two systems’.

Steve Morrison and I, as co-chairs of the Task Force, made presentations around the Washington policy circles in vigorously promoting the report of the Task Force. George Bush won the elections, significantly supported by the Christian Right, which supported the cause of the South. Senator John Danforth became his Special Envoy and key mediator in ending the war in the Sudan. He was supported by Roger Winter, a member of The Council, with whom I had visited Abyei. The framework of ‘one country, two systems’ became the guiding principle in the mediation. After having initially suspected the Task Force as a set up by our opponents, Dr. John Garang was pleased with its outcome. He embraced the framework of ‘one country, two systems’ and even incorporated it into his five modalities. Mutrif Siddig, one of the leading members of Sudan’s negotiating team, told me that he read our report at least four times. That framework defined the transitional arrangements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

. …To be continued.

Click the link to read PART FOUR The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily

Click the link to read PART THRREE The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily

Click the link to read PART TWO The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily

Click the link to read PART ONE The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily