The agreement in the south is certainly stable. The challenge is more of a technical one, involving ceasefires, DDR [disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration] and finalising an implementation schedule. Many commissions are envisaged, including land commissions for the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile, but issues of staffing and support need to be addressed. Other outstanding issues include the creation of a constitutional review commission to draft the constitutional framework for the interim period and an appointed southern Sudan assembly to draft the region’s constitution. There has been no real discussion yet of these issues, but none of the problems is insuperable. The difficulty is not one of will, but of capacity.

Are you optimistic that the Darfur conflict can also be resolved?

There is certainly progress – people are now pulling on all fronts to sort out the problems there. We have turned a corner, but are now going uphill on a very slippery slope. A third of Darfur’s population has been affected by the conflict, and getting assistance to the area will be complicated by the imminent onset of the rainy season. We envisage a difficult few months. No one can say the situation is good, but it has been a lot worse. There is a recognition that the long-term issues of competition for resources – pastures and water – need to be solved. And there will be a need to look at how to create alternative livelihoods, beyond subsistence agriculture, and how to handle migration to the towns. Those who want to go back to their land should be enabled to do so, but not forced. A willingness to return to their land will in turn depend on there being sufficient security for them to feel comfortable doing so.

Is there not a danger that having reached agreement in the south, the government can turn its attention to clamping down in Darfur?

If the government clamps down in Darfur then the agreement in the south would be a failure. Politically speaking, Darfur is not difficult – the rebels simply want a fair share of the Sudanese cake. The government and SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] have reached agreement on a degree of autonomy for two states (Blue Nile and South Kordofan) and recognise, at least privately, that the other states will want – and are entitled to – similar agreements. The tragedy is that the rebels’ desire for attention in Darfur has provoked a devastating conflict. Both sides are to blame, but the government is more responsible for the crisis, not least because of its role in supporting the Janjaweed militia. However, both sides now seem to agree that being seen to foment Muslim-on-Muslim violence is totally inexcusable.

Is there likely to be any conflict between the new oil commission and the Oil Ministry?

The parties will have to consider this when it comes to implementation. The proliferation of commissions will take some getting used to. It has been agreed that the SPLM is to have a fair share of the major ministries and will not be confined to minor service ministries as has often been the case for southern ministers. It is to be hoped that the SPLM will play an effective role in a more inclusive and efficient government.

Could the Nile water sharing agreement become problematic if the south chooses to become independent? Would it cause tensions with Egypt?

My understanding is that if the south became independent, both governments would inherit the international treaty obligations of the government that preceded them. Either party could denounce the treaty, but I wouldn’t expect that to happen – in terms of the international community, there would indeed be a very substantial disincentive. Egypt is naturally worried about the security of its Nile waters supplies, but I do not believe that an independent state in south Sudan would cause the Egyptians any problems.

Is the government supportive of privatisation?

You don’t have to preach to this government on privatisation. But implementation can be called into question – so far privatisation has been to friends of the regime at knock-down prices. The government could now begin to look to the Sudanese diaspora for private sector investment. Genuine privatisation is not an impossible proposition, but I’m not sure how great the scope for it is.

Have US sanctions been effective and what would be the effect of their lifting?

They have succeeded insofar as they have cramped Sudan’s style and inconvenienced anyone wanting to do business, because of the restrictions on dealing in dollars. Peace will have to take hold in the south and in Darfur before they are lifted. The absence of a US ambassador in Khartoum has weakened the American input and throws an extra burden on those members of the international community who are more directly involved, in particular the British, French, Dutch and the EU. The absence of strong US involvement is depriving the international community of what should be their strongest asset. The presence of an ambassador serves the interests of the sending state: it does not confer a favour on the receiving state. I have never understood why our American friends seem to take the contrary view.

Lifting the sanctions is not as straightforward as it might seem. They were imposed in a series of different pieces of legislation, some of which require certification of progress on religious, political and human rights issues. They can’t be lifted by a single stroke of the pen. n