OpinionBeware a hurried agreement in Addis Abeba

Beware a hurried agreement in Addis Abeba

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Since its independence, now over one year ago, South Sudan has suffered from a steadily deteriorating relation with its Northern neighbour and former ruler Sudan. International pressure made the two parties to start talks that take place in Addis Abeba.

But to borrow a concept from French historian Pierre Nora, Ethiopia’s capital is a lieu de mémoire for Southerners: if there is one place in the world that plays an ominous role in the collective Southern memory it is Addis Abeba. This was the city where the peace agreement was made that ended the first war between North and South in February 1972.

At that time South Sudan played a very minor role in international affairs and there is little indication that governmental diplomats were very engaged in the talks. It were the Christian churches that felt an obligation to intervene. Over the course of the preceding fifty years they had built up a deep involvement with the South. But the war severely curtailed their activities: by 1964 Khartoum had expelled all missionaries from the South so that, if they were still involved with Southerners, it was now limited  to the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries. And the churches inside had become isolated and often persecuted by the Khartoum regime. On behalf of these churches the World Council of Churches  (WCC) in Geneva  took up the challenge to bring peace to Sudan and it found emperor Haile Selassie willing to host the talks in his capital. The main actor for the WCC was Burgess Carr (1935 – 2012),  a canon in the episcopal church of Liberia who had worked for the WCC and in 1971 had become the general secretary of the All African Council of Churches (AACC) in Nairobi. He was the ‘moderator’ during the talks. There were also  a few ‘witnesses’ who represented the emperor, the WCC and  the AACC .  The WCC / AACC provided the  funds that enabled the Southern delegation to come to Addis Abeba and it also found a legal advisor for the Southerners in the person of Sir Dingle Mackintosh  Foot. Foot (1905 – 1978) was a British lawyer, brother of the better known Labour leader, and is not reputed to have had other connections with Sudan before or after the peace talks. Indications are that the mediators, Foot first, knew little about the history of South Sudan, took politicians’ intentions at face value and generally believed in the fundamental goodness of all people.

As for the direct protagonists, the Khartoum delegation was led by Abel Alier, a Southerner who  admitted that the other members of his team –  Northerners – met among themselves without him whenever they thought it opportune.  It has been suggested that his presence in the delegation mainly served an oft repeated Khartoum propaganda ploy, to wit that the war was about a problem between Southerners rather than a national question.

Joseph Lagu who less than one year earlier had become the leader of the Southern party sent representatives to the talks and departed for Addis Abeba only for the signing. He then came with some amendments but these were no longer accepted as the agreement had ‘already been concluded’.  Lagu himself in 2010 was quoted as saying: ‘our position was weak in the negociations and people did not listen to us very much.

It has been suggested that Joseph Lagu found himself in a precarious position in the beginning of 1972. For several years he had been one among several in the leadership of the Anyanya. Only in 1971 he became dominant. In that year Israel started to arm the Anyanya via Idi Amin’s Uganda and they chose Lagu as their main recipient. Lagu became the almost undisputed leader. But then Amin suddenly changed course and expelled the Israelis in February 1972. Lagu may have feared that with the loss of their support he would loose also his dominant position. Making peace may have been his best chance to keep playing an important role.


The talks  have been a  hasty affair. They took less than two weeks with 7 representatives from the North and 8 from the South.  The original idea was to subdivide the conference into three on respectively political, security and economic affairs but the Southern delegation considered itself too small to be divided and therefore the economic issues were left out. Perhaps this did not matter too much: much of what actually did enter into the agreement was, in the words of Sudan historian Douglas Johnson, ‘poorly defined’ and ‘ambiguous’.

The AA agreement was ‘initialled’ on February 27, 1972 by the two delegations. It was to be ‘ratified’ on March 12, again in Addis Abeba. But unexpectedly, Nimeiry in Khartoum ‘endorsed’ it unilaterally on March 3 and a few days later he toured all provincial and most district towns in the South to celebrate the newly won peace. Confronted with this political onslaught, opposition within the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) succeeded to postpone the ratification for just a few weeks but on March 27 Joseph Lagu signed during a short ceremony in the palace of the Ethiopian emperor. Implementation of the agreement started straight away; e.g. ‘Joseph Lagu, Joseph Oduho and others … visited …Anyanya camps … in the company of General Fadallah Hamad, Officer Commanding Southern Troops. General Hamad was given a guard of honour by the Anyanya troops wherever General Lagu accompanied him.’


Whatever was agreed on paper, important is how the agreement worked out in practice. Though it brought along some improvements for the South, in this context three main weaknesses are relevant: the effective abolishment of the Southern army, the continued economic dependence on the North, and the renewed international isolation of the South.

The Anyanya army was gradually dissolved. 6000 of its soldiers together with an equal number from the North were retained to form the national South-based army. Some others were integrated in the police, wildlife and prisons. Still others were demobilised and dispersed by employing them in a vast road maintenance scheme; in the eighties they could still be found in small camps every 15 km or so along the main roads. The majority of the Anyanya officers were integrated in the national army. Thus Joseph Lagu became a major general, albeit without command over any troops; a young John Garang too joined and would work his way up, among others via scholarships in the USA, to become a colonel before absconding to Ethiopia to join a nascent SPLA.  Thus as far as the Addis Abeba agreement was concerned the Anyanya ceased to exist in return for job security in the national army for its former officers and some of its soldiers.

Not only militarily but also economically the South became once again fully dependent upon the North. In 1972 the South had no own source of income to speak off. The Greek community that had built up a private sector in the first half of the century and well into the sixties had become too small to revive its enterprises in the seventies. The only investor now was the group of international donors that often did not achieve more than incidental ad hoc improvements. Their projects created some employment in the modern sector but hardly a tax base for the regional government. And when it tried to tax them (mainly through the imposition of custom duties) it led to more damage in the mutual relations than to any financial gain.

As a result the entire political, administrative and military elite in the South depended for its income upon Khartoum. This corrupting dependency became increasingly symbolised by the so called coordination offices that the three Southern states after the redivision of 1983 established in Khartoum. In fact there are no indications that in the period 1972 – 1985 the Khartoum government spent money on other budget lines than salaries and minor running costs in the South. Khartoum not only held the financial power but the power of appointment, promotion and dismissal as well. If the Addis Abeba agreement gave autonomy to the South and thus installed a Southern elite at the same time it made the Southern leadership completely dependent upon Khartoum. In the virtual absence of a civil society the sole exception to this were the churches that could rely on some support from their sister churches in the West.  Thus once again it were the church authorities who became the voice of the ordinary people, albeit a rather powerless one as far as it found itself outside of the decision making structures.

The agreement left immigration, customs and foreign policy squarely in the hands of the Khartoum government. As a result the few international contacts that the Anyanya had built up dissipated and the South re-entered obscurity and isolation on the international scene. Control of immigration and customs enabled Khartoum during the interbellum to restrict, manipulate and tax INGOs that wanted to work in the South.

Eleven years later Nimeiry with a little help of Joseph Lagu and other Equatorian politicians  divided the autonomous Southern Region into three states and soon afterwards imposed shariah law on the whole country. To his credit canon Burgess Carr returned to Khartoum to try and save the agreement but Nimeiry had no time for him any longer. The Addis Abeba agreement had effectively been cancelled.


But there were voices of opposition.

An early voice, though it was published only in 2002, is the one of Severino Fuli. In his very detailed book Shaping a free Southern Sudan, memoirs of our struggle 1934-1986 that is clearly based on numerous contemporary notes he describes the agreement as just one more example of ‘the disastrous handling of Southern Affairs since the 1940s’.

More ominously, Lagu felt obliged to imprison some of his army colleagues because he knew and feared their opposition to his agreement. Brigadier Lazaro Muttek, major general Emedio Tafeng and seven of their colleagues were imprisoned in Lobone, in a hole in the ground. After the Agreement had been concluded Lagu arranged for Muttek’s transfer to Opensisi, an ordinary prison in Northern Uganda. He was only released in 1975 but even then was restricted to stay in Torit under close supervision. Abel Alier (p. 130) in 1972 wanted to appoint Disan Ojwe in his Southern government, only to discover that this man too was, in Nimule, a prisoner of Joseph Lagu.

Lastly there is also the group, among whom John Garang, who despised the agreement but felt that for the time being they had to accept it as a fait accompli if only because the vast majority of the ordinary people wanted peace.

By 1983 the generation of John Garang had come into leadership positions, the sufferings of the war had not yet been forgotten but newly arisen discontent with Southern marginalisation convinced many young men to track to Ethiopia for military training and a new war.  Its outbreak was convincing proof to the people that the agreement had solved nothing. More yet the agreement came to function as a motivator to hold out in the face of the many deprivations that came with the new war, and to persevere until a true agreement from a position of strength could be concluded. This was in the second war the dominant attitude both within South Sudan and in the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries as also among the better-off who had succeeded to settle in the cities in the neighbouring countries.

These days, when again an agreement is needed on unresolved issues, the self-appointed mediators once again appear to be a little bit out of their depth, just like sir Dingle Foot in 1972. International engagement is again minimal.  For the Northern diplomats Addis Abeba will not have special connotations. But for the Southern negotiators Addis Abeba functions as a warning not to allow themselves to be manipulated and not to sell out.

The author prefers to remain anonymous. 
The author has lived in South Sudan since 1984

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