Content and Context: Autonomy and Conflict Settlement in Sudan

Co-authored with Martin Ottmann, this paper starts with conceptual exploration of the utility of autonomy and power sharing as conflict settlement mechanisms. We then examine (1) to which extent the context of the different conflicts in Sudan lends itself to the application of these mechanisms and (2) whether the content of the actual settlements really addresses the grievances underlying the different rebel movements’ demands. This will allow us to provide a theoretically informed and empirically illustrated answer to the question whether Sudan currently suffers from the wrong approach to conflict settlement (wrong ‘content’, i.e., flawed institutional design, of the settlements adopted) and/or whether there are other factors that account for the failure of any of the agreements to bring about sustainable peace (non-conducive context for autonomy and power sharing settlements).

We proceed in several steps. First we develop an analytical framework that will allow us to assess the suitability of the institutional designs adopted in each of the three peace agreements and the degree to which the context in which they were to be implemented is conducive to their success. Second, we apply this framework to each conflict (and its settlement) sequentially. Based on the individual findings that these three case studies will generate, we will offer some conclusions about the relationship between content and context in the conflict settlement process in Sudan. In other words, we develop and apply an analytical framework for the understanding of success and failure of conflict settlement that links aspects of the conflict environment (‘context’) with those of the institutional bargain achieved in the settlement process (‘content’). Context (in the sense of, for example, demography and demands made by conflict parties) determines content (in the sense of an outcome of negotiations), while content (in the sense of how responsive institutional designs are to these contextual factors) and context (in the sense, for example, of conflict parties’ willingness and ability to stick to an agreed deal and the support they receive from outsiders in this) together determine how sustainable a peace settlement will be.