February 14, 2000
Volume 52, No. 21
Carter Center Update:
Neu reports on Sudan-Uganda peace process
Joyce Neu just returned from Nairobi, Kenya, with some wisdom that helps bring international diplomacy closer to home. "High-level conflicts between nations involve many of the issues that, on a smaller scale, many people may run into or face," she said.
Neu, senior associate director of the Carter Center's Conflict Resolution Program and adjunct associate professor of anthropology, attended the first implementation meeting, held Jan. 1921, following a recent agreement between Uganda and Sudan.
On Dec. 8, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agreed to begin reestablishing diplomatic relations and promoting peace in the region. The two leaders signed an agreement at the state house in Nairobi following discussions mediated by President Jimmy Carter and organized by the conflict resolution program. Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi joined Carter to witness the signing. (The agreement is available online at www.cartercenter.org).
Last spring al-Bashir and Museveni separately invited Carter to mediate their two countries' dispute. Subsequently the center worked for several months with high-level representatives of each government to begin defining an agenda for the December discussions. Other nongovernmental organizations in the United States and the United Kingdom provided assistance, and the Dutch and Norwegian governments provided financial support.
The steps leading up to such an agreement are many; simply getting the two parties to agree to meet is a major one. "The reasons for distrust among nations are similar to cases of conflict between individuals," Neu said. "Differences in the ways people approach things-cultural differences, style differences, personality differences--all of these things get mixed up and make the conflict worse.
"There are serious conflicts over big issues, but then there are compounding factors like people who just may not like each other. Or there are those who believe in a very rational, direct approach, while others don't understand this at all because they are more interested in developing the relationship," she continued. "This makes the situation more complicated."
Carter Center staff held preparatory meetings with Ugandan and Sudanese government officials in August and December, then shuttled back and forth between the groups, developing trust among the various parties and drafting the preliminary issues for the agreement. This, however, is only the first stage in a long process.
"There have been several agreements signed in the past between the two nations which they didn't honor," Neu said. "This agreement is different due to the stature of Jimmy Carter and his ability and willingness to follow the implementation."
The agreement calls for the parties to:
Carter assured both heads of state that he would follow the implementation very carefully and hold them personally responsible for fulfilling the provisions of the agreement. Also, the Carter Center, at the request of the two nations, has agreed to facilitate implementation of the agreement.
Progress is slow and hesitant. "We take one step forward, and then the next day we think the whole thing is falling apart," said Neu. In fact, 72 Sudanese POWs held by Uganda were returned one week prior to a January follow-up meeting; one day before the same meeting, Sudan returned eight abducted children. On the other hand, just after the agreement was signed, the Lords Resistance Army, a rebel group fighting the Ugandan government and supported by the Sudanese, moved 200 troops into Uganda, abducting and killing a few people and causing destruction.
"We desperately want this agreement to hold," said Neu. "Whether it will or not over the long run, I do not know. I feel very fortunate to have had a role in it. Although it is a big responsibility, you feel compelled to do it because of the rewards in getting even a few children returned to their homes and to a more normal life. If these two counties succeed in normalizing relations, then the chances for peace in this troubled region increases."
Natasha Singh is communications coordinator at the Carter Center.