Although most stakeholders agree that the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement (ESPA), signed almost a decade ago, put an end to the armed conflict in the region, security and humanitarian conditions remain precarious, according to the Geneva based Small Arms Survey (SAS).
The peace agreement did not eliminate the causes that led the eastern Sudanese opposition forces to take up arms and seek change and transformation, nor the reasons for the protests that preceded the signing of the ESPA,” SAS states in its report, Development Deferred: Eastern Sudan after the ESPA, issued this month.
The majority of the population “lacks voice and control of the region’s wealth, and suffers poverty, unemployment, political disenfranchisement, and lack of access to basic services, while part of the region, especially the area of Toker, is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis.”
SAS further points to transnational criminal networks, including human traffickers, which are using the region, bordering Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Egypt, as a hub. A “more robust implementation of the ESPA might have prevented such activities and networks from growing such deep roots in the region,” the report reads.
The ESPA was signed by the Sudanese government and the Eastern Front (EF) rebel alliance, consisting of the Beja, the Rashaida Free Lions, and the Democratic Party of Eastern Sudan, in the Eritrean capital of Asmara on 14 October 2006.
In the agreement, the social, political, and economic marginalisation of the people of eastern Sudan was given as the core reason for the conflict in the region. It covered political issues; economic, social, and cultural issues; and security arrangements for EF ex-combatants.
It also provided for a national conference to address the administrative structure in Sudan, with the aim of identifying the inequalities in the employment of the eastern Sudanese in civil service and other structures.
“The agreement itself was flawed, given its lack of emphasis on the restructuring of power relations and access to wealth in the region,” the SAS researchers state. “It emphasised equitable political participation for the people of eastern Sudan in a non-democratic political system.
“The limited positions that the ruling NCP offered to EF leaders at the national level, coupled with weak and divided EF leadership, has served to maintain the status quo without offering these leaders a platform to promote the principles of their movements.
“The allocation of political and administrative posts on the basis of a quota system divided along ethnic lines sharpened ethno-political polarisation in the three states of eastern Sudan, and ignited hitherto suppressed resentment among several ethnic groups in the region.”
‘Corruption and favouritism’
The ESPA required resources to be allocated to development through the Eastern Sudan Reconstruction and Development Fund (ESRDF).
The EDRDF appears to have been systematically underfunded, and much of the funding it received has been allocated to national dam-building projects.
According to the SAS researchers, both the ESRDF and the federal transfers system lack transparency, and the authorities are reluctant to provide evidence that either measure has made a dent in the region’s inequality. Many observers attribute this to corruption and favouritism.
“There are currently voices in the Beja Congress calling once more for self-determination and, now, the secession of eastern Sudan,” SAS warns.
“Although an outbreak of armed conflict in the region is relatively unlikely, given the good relations between Asmara and Khartoum, small arms are widespread, and some of the forces in the region are likely to join armed resistance in other parts of Sudan.”