Dr. Lam Akol was a senior member of the SPLM/A before joining
Riek Machar in a rebellion that split the mother party. He then broke
from Dr. Riek, after which he signed the Fashoda Agreement with the
government in 1997 and became the Minister of Transport, a position
which he held until one year ago. He is the author of `SPLM/SPLA: Inside an
African Revolution' and is currently a leader member of the opposition
Justice Party. ISS conducted this interview with Dr. Lam May 31, 2003
Assessing the current IGAD peace process
Dr. Lam was very optimistic about the outcome of the peace process
meeting with ISS, although he followed Special Sudan Envoy General
Lazarus Sumbeiywo and others who expect that negotiations will extend
beyond the end of June which had been the anticipated completion date.
While acknowledging that both the SPLM/A and GoS were highly
apprehensive about the process and outcome, Dr. Lam said that
circumstances dictate a final peace agreement. He said the parties `do
not have the freedom to indefinitely delay the outcome'. The Sudanese
people,whether in the north or the south, want an agreement and the mediators,
and in particular the US, which plays a critical role in the
negotiations,understand this very well and this provides them with considerable
leverage. The Sudanese will `cling to the agreement. It will be an
agreement of all the Sudanese and not just the parties in the negotiations'.
Dr. Lam Akol emphasized that the peace process was `a mechanism
survival for the National Congress government', and not the beginning
of retribution for its past crimes. Sudanese will look to the future and
focus onbigger issues than the fates of individuals. While individuals may be
held accountable for particular crimes, the regime will not be tried and it
shouldtake comfort in this. Dr. Lam held up the example of Kenya where Daniel
arap Moi was removed from power democratically and without retribution.
Change through an organized peace process and legitimate elections
offered a less threatening means for the National Congress government
to relinquish power than the alternative of an insurrection.
While acknowledging that the IGAD mediators together with the
SPLM/A have largely worked together to keep Sudanese civil society and
other political forces out of the peace process, Dr. Lam held that
those days were over. SPLM/A has increasingly accepted the role of southern
civil society and the northern political parties - as can be seen in
the recently signed Cairo Declaration - as genuine participants in the
peace process and this serves to bring pressure on the GoS and the IGAD
Expanding the IGAD peace process
Dr. Lam Akol told ISS that the IGAD peace process, which was
limited to the GoS and SPLM/A, was too restrictive and was no
longer tenable. In the interests of legitimacy and
sustainability, heheld that other forces had to be brought on board. He did not
think this would result in undue complexity for the process and that
there could still be a resolution of the outstanding issues by
August.Dr.Lam said there was already widespread agreement on the
principles underlying the peace negotiations and that most of
the Sudanese parties have accepted the IGAD process. However, he
thought that the GoS would effectively be isolated by bringing
on board a wide variety of political groups.
Dr. Lam did not think that giving IGAD, and in particular the
Kenyans who dominate the process, a leading role in the post-peace
political formation and direction of the country would cause
problems for Sudanese nationalists. He held that Umma leader
Sadig Al-Mahdi's call for a post-IGAD all-party constitutional
conference was not in principle different from bringing the
same forces together under the auspices of IGAD.
Dr. Lam Akol maintained that although expanding the IGAD process
could be seen by the mediators and observers as complicating
the process, that they would have to agree to this approach if
it was accepted by the Sudanese actors.
The link between the peace process and democracy
Dr. Lam said that during the IGAD negotiations the parties
giventhe options of genuine national elections after 18, 24, or 30
months, with the GoS opting for early elections and the SPLM/A
reluctantly accepting the latter option, which was finally agreed to.
He was convinced that these elections would be genuinely
democratic because first, there was agreement that they would
besupervised by the international community; second, they would
beheld under a government of national unity, and lastly, there
would be an independent electoral commission.
Dr. Lam told ISS that only elections producing a democratic based
government could ensure the sustainability of the peace
He said that the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party,
leading parties in the north, are both strong proponents of
democracy, indeed their only agenda is peace and democracy.
And between the major northern parties there were few cultural,
religious, or ideological differences. He acknowledged,
however,that support for democracy was in the interests of these
partiessince it was the only means by which they could come to power,
given their weak or non-existent military base.
He noted that while the US was a critical component of the
process, that to date it did not strongly press for a
democratic transformation in Sudan and appeared to assume that peace was
more important than democracy. Dr. Lam drew attention to the
fact that Senator Danforth in his report to the US President, did
not once refer to democracy. However, he felt that the US would not
oppose strong Sudanese sentiments in favour of democracy. Dr.
Lam said that US influence was limited to their power over the
negotiating parties, and not over the Sudanese people.
Regarding the Cairo Declaration of the SPLM/A, Umma Party, and
By this agreement [recently signed in Cairo between the leaders
the SPLM/A, Umma Party, and DUP] Dr. John Garang was
reaching beyond the ruling National Congress Party to reach out
to the northern opposition and this was a very significant
development nationally, according to Dr. Lam Akol.
Dr. Lam noted that the Cairo Declaration caused considerable
anguish in the GoS, which fears being isolated in the rapidly
changing political environment. He said that recent government
accusations that the Declaration called for a sharia-free
Khartoum was not accurate and that the National Congress was only
raising this issue to present itself as the defender of sharia and
Islam. Infact the Cairo Declaration called for religious equality, which
was in any case acknowledged in Article 24 of the present national
Dr. Lam told ISS that Dr. Garang had misconceptions about Imam
Sadig, but he was the leader of a major political party and had
to be dealt with. He further said that under Sadig the Umma Party
had taken a clear stance on the right of the Southern Sudanese
to self-determination and this served to ease outstanding tensions
between the two leaders.
Although holding that Sadig and the Umma Party had larger
constituencies than the DUP, Dr. Lam held that the perpetually
divided Unionists should not be discounted and that their
leader, Osman Al-Mirghani was a force of unity in the party. Faced with
an election the DUP's various factions would likely come together
under Mirghani and that break-away groups like that of Al-
Hindi,which is currently aligned with the government, would either
rejoin the mainstream or join the National Congress Party.
Dr. Lam Akol held that Mubarak Al-Fadl Al-Mahdi, who led a
breakaway group from the Umma Party last year and joined the
GoS had no future. And because it had no agenda other than
acquiring positions of power many of its members were likely to
join the ruling party, or return to the Umma Party.
Regarding the `new forces' in Sudanese political life
The new forces, which have largely arisen among the most
marginalized sections of Sudan, are changing the country's
political landscape, according to Dr. Lam. Dr. Lam noted that
the term `new forces' was first popularized by Sadig Al-Mahdi in
1965 when he was new to the political scene and was seeking allies
of various fringe groups. That alliance did take form between a
section of the Umma Party and the marginalized groups, but he
was doubtful that experience could be repeated in the present
context.While in the only recent past, the Umma Party could count on
virtual guaranteed support from the west, and the DUP from the east,
now this support was very much open to question. He entirely
discounted the possibility - raised by Sadig Al-Mahdi in a
recent interview given to ISS - of an Umma Party majority government
following democratic elections.
Dr. Lam Akol told ISS that in past elections the south could
gather at most 1/3 of the vote, but with the addition of the increasingly
conscious marginalized groups collectively they could be
expected to play a major role in any election.
He held that a major obstacle to the realization of a sustainable
Sudanese democracy was the weakness of existing political
parties and in particular their lack of internal democracy. All
of the parties needed a transitional period to organize themselves and
make the necessary changes. However, Dr. Lam argued for an
election to be held within two years, rather than the 30 months
agreed to by the GoS and SPLM/A.
Dr. Lam drew attention to the military achievements of the
Darfur-based Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) in such a short time,
and said these achievements could not have taken place without
a strong political base and this was changing the country's
political landscape. He considered the SLA a force to be reckoned with
and said that even some National Congress MPs from Darfur are
sympathetic to its cause.
While he did not think the SLA had support outside western
Sudanese, he noted that people from that region live in
significant numbers throughout the north and figure highly in the army.
Moreover, these developments have caused consternation among
many northern political forces, and particularly the Umma Party
which traditionally had a large basis of support in the area.
Dr. Lam Akol thought that had the SLA led insurrection taken
a year earlier that the course of the IGAD negotiations would
have been different. He noted, however, that Dr. John Garang has
pointedly said that the SPLM/A will not fight people fighting
for their rights, a clear reference to the unfolding situation in
Darfur. Dr. Lam told ISS that the Beja Congress was strengthening its
political base in eastern Sudan and noted that the party has
been represented in every Constituent Assembly since it was formed
in the late 1950s. He held that the armed struggle the movement
has conducted in recent years has served to shift support and he
did not think the Beja people could be relied upon to vote for the
DUP as many had done in the past.
The need for South-South reconciliation
Dr. Lam Akol said that South-South reconciliation should be
major concern of all southerners. He noted that most of the fighting
currently going on in south Sudan was between the SPLM/A and
the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) and that every effort
must be made to reconcile these two groups. Such differences
can be readily exploited and threaten the prospects of peace.
Much of the problem of disunity could be attributed to the
narrowness of the IGAD peace process, which excluded other southern
political groups. While he did not press for the direct participation
of the various southern groups in the negotiations at this
stage, he wanted the ideas of a wider spectrum to be considered. Indeed,
he felt that most of the ideas that underpinned the Machakos
Process had been developed outside the process. He was
particularly emphatic that negotiations on the security
arrangements embrace other groups.
Dr. Lam said that there were no major differences in the approach
to peace between the SPLM/A and the SSDF, or the other major
southern forces, and he anticipated that most southern groups
could be reconciled and united over the course of the
transitional period. He was convinced that southerners of all political
persuasions supported reconciliation, and that included Dr.
Garang and the SPLM/A.
Dr. Lam said that his SPLM-United was working closely with
SSDF on a joint platform of reconciliation, but he did not
expect the two parties to merge at this time, something which is being
seriously considered by Dr. Michael Wal Duany of the South
Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM).
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