Late, But Not Too Late, for Sudan

Renewed war in Sudan is not inevitable. A complex but workable peace can be brokered if all interested parties become more deeply involved. The current moment requires robust diplomacy.
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STANFORD -- Well, we're in it now. What we do best. Diplomacy. The White House has dispatched Senator John Kerry to Sudan with a proposal for peace between the North and South. It's a giant step toward avoiding the kind of bloodshed that killed more than two million people in Sudan's previous 20-year North-South civil war, which ended only in 2005 -- and is threatening to erupt once again.

In recent months, President Barack Obama has stepped up his own involvement and that of senior figures in his administration in support of a peace strategy for Sudan. On his behalf, Kerry has delivered a package of proposals designed to break the logjam that has brought the North and South to a dangerous crossroads.

We have written a memo that spells out some of the essential elements of what a grand bargain for peace in Sudan could look like. If you're interested in the specifics of a possible peace deal -- and in actions that you can take to support it -- go to

There is little time to waste. On January 9, 2011, the people of Southern Sudan will vote for independence from the North, taking with them up to three-quarters of the country's known oil reserves and placing millions of civilians in the direct path of war.

The government in Khartoum (the capital in the North) is led by Omar al-Bashir, whose accomplishments, which include overseeing war crimes during the previous North-South war and engineering the atrocities in Darfur, have brought him arrest warrants for war crimes and genocide from the International Criminal Court.

And yet renewed war in Sudan is not inevitable. A complex but workable peace can be brokered if all interested parties become more deeply involved. The current moment requires robust diplomacy -- the kind that can leave a bad taste in your mouth, but that gets the job done. We believe that Kerry is a skilled emissary and can help the parties find the compromises necessary for peace.

Any agreement preventing a return to war would necessarily involve the National Congress Party, representing the North, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, representing the South. But it would also involve the United States, whose post-referendum relationship with the two parties will have enormous influence over whether a deal gets done.

We believe that a grand bargain to lay the foundation for lasting peace between the North and South would oblige the parties to:

  • Hold the Southern Sudan referendum on time and fully respect and implement the results;
  • Reach a mutually satisfactory agreement concerning the territory of Abyei, a key disputed border area;
  • Craft a multi-year revenue-sharing arrangement in which the oil wealth of Abyei and key border areas could be divided equitably between the North and South, with a small percentage going to the Arab Misseriya border populations for development purposes;
  • Demarcate the uncontested 80% of the border and refer the remaining 20% to binding international arbitration;
  • Create serious protections for minority groups, with consideration of joint citizenship for certain populations, backed by significant international consequences for attacks on southerners in the North or northerners in the South.

The US role as the invisible third party to the agreement involves a series of incentives offered to the regime in Khartoum to ensure agreement and implementation of a peace deal. In exchange for action on the North-South and Darfur peace efforts, the US would implement a clear, sequenced, and binding path to normalization of relations.

This would involve -- in order -- removal of Sudan from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, exchange of ambassadors, lifting of unilateral sanctions, and support for bilateral and multilateral debt relief, together with other economic measures by international financial institutions. Conversely, the US must be prepared to lead international efforts to impose severe consequences on any party that plunges the country back into war.

Peace and security in Darfur should be an essential benchmark for normalized relations between the US and Sudan. The Obama administration should hold firm on this through the coming rounds of negotiation, and should appoint a senior official to help coordinate US policy on Darfur in order to ensure that peace efforts there receive the same level of attention as the North-South efforts.

What is needed now is political will -- and not only in the US -- to sustain this diplomacy. The European Union and Sudan's neighbors -- in particular Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda -- will also need to play a robust role. And China's diplomacy in Sudan, where it has invested massively in developing the country's oil resources, will be a test of whether or not it intends to be a responsible stakeholder in Africa and the wider world.

Ensuring that governments work toward peace is where you come in. Keep the pressure on them. Support the peace process. Your voice can prevent a war. Not guns. Not money. Just our voices.

The way to peace in Sudan is not simple, but it is achievable. There are hard choices to be made. We can make those choices now, or we can persuade ourselves that peace is too hard or too complex, and then look on resignedly from the sidelines as hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women, and children needlessly die. It's up to us.

George Clooney is an actor and co-founder of the NGO Not On Our Watch. John Prendergast is co-founder of the Enough Project and co-author of The Enough Moment: The Fight to End Human Rights Crimes in Africa.

Read more exclusive content at Project Syndicate.

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