A core long-term U.S. interest in this region should be to ensure against the inadvertent creation in Sudan of another Mali or Somalia -- state collapse, Balkanization, and radicalism. Sudan's government has a history of cooperation with terrorist groups, and ties with Iran seem to be deepening again. Sudan's periphery has been disintegrating over time, and that trend will only accelerate. The root driver of this deepening crisis is unaccountable, unrepresentative, authoritative governance. The international response isn't working, so new ideas and approaches are urgently needed.
Great sacrifices are being made by Sudanese pro-democracy, peace, and human rights advocates. Rebel groups are clamoring for a genuinely comprehensive peace process. The United States and other countries have for years encouraged these movements to come together and spell out the terms of what a future democratic system could look like. At the beginning of this year, a broad array of groups answered the challenge and signed a painstakingly negotiated "New Dawn Charter," which put meat on the bones of what an inclusive Sudanese future could look like.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has a long, deep history working on Sudanese issues, as does President Barack Obama. They have the opportunity to reimagine policy based on evolving realities, which requires finally dealing directly with the core issues of governance in Sudan and South Sudan. In Sudan, a small clique of Islamists headed by Bashir has held absolute power for nearly 24 years. Until that concentration of power is addressed, peripheral regions will continue to rebel, with massive humanitarian consequences, potential further state disintegration, and likely further radicalization. South Sudan, meanwhile, is less than two years old, but corruption and concerns over concentration of authority in the presidency require real governance reform as a means of preventing future conflict within that country. Both governments will have to deal more seriously with their economic and regional tensions and stop demonizing each other, or a new war between Sudan and South Sudan could be possible. Washington can build greater leverage in support of peace between and within the Sudans by widening and deepening high-level engagement and support for effective democracy, peace, and human rights advocates in both countries. In Sudan, in particular, catalytic foreign assistance for civil society and service delivery should be provided to the groups involved in the New Dawn Charter as they ascertain how best to achieve a nonviolent political transition.
As we prepared to depart his burned-out village, Adam summed up the resolve of the people of the Nuba Mountains and other areas rebelling against the government: "We're ready to fight for change until all of us are dead." The Save Darfur movement launched nearly a decade ago was driven by outsiders. Today's Save Sudan movement is led by Sudanese, but the United States should be there to help them bring about their own change.