Operation Lifeline Sudan – A review
Ataul Karim – Team Leader
Mark Duffield – Technical Coordinator
Susanne Jaspars – Food security
Aldo Benini – Relief Economics
Joanna Macrae – North Field Team
Mark Bradbury – North Field Team
Douglas Johnson – South Field Team
George Larbi – South Field Team
Barbara Hendrie - Editor
Table of Contents
List of Figures
2. The Political Structure of OLS
3.The Operational Environment - Southern Sector
4.The Operational Environment - Northern Sector
5.Food Aid and Food Security
6.Programming and Social Impact - Southern Sector
7.Programming and Social Impact - Northern Sector
8.Information Management, Funding, Logistics, Cost Effectiveness
9.Conclusion and Recommendations
Appendix 1 - TOR
Appendix 2 - Technical Assumptions in Modelling Cost Effectiveness
Appendix 3 – Map
The scope and depth of the Operation Lifeline Sudan Review has meant
that any summary can only be partial. While attempting to draw out
some of the key points, what follows cannot be interpreted as a
substitute for the main text.
This is the first comprehensive review of Operation Lifeline Sudan
(OLS) in its seven year history. The Review is an entirely independent
undertaking, funded by donor governments and supported
administratively by the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA).
The main impetus for the Review came from OLS's growing difficulties,
especially associated with access, during 1995.
The Review does not attempt an exhaustive evaluation of the impact
of OLS, its individual agencies, or its various programmes. Its main
focus, rather, is on the relationship between OLS's creation of
humanitarian space, and the flow of assistance to war-affected
populations. The Review therefore sets out to assess and analyse the
effectiveness of the OLS modus operandi in meeting the needs of
OLS has regional, national, and global significance. Created in 1989,
it was the first humanitarian programme that sought to assist
internally displaced and war-affected civilians during an ongoing
conflict within a sovereign country, as opposed to refugees beyond
its borders. The experience of OLS has been important in the evolution
of humanitarian policy and conflict management; it established a
precedent for many humanitarian interventions that followed, for
example in Angola, Iraq, Somalia, and Bosnia. As such, the Review
has significance beyond Sudan, and complements other debates on
humanitarian aid - for example, those stimulated by the Joint
Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda. In contrast to the
Rwanda evaluation, however, the OLS Review examines a prolonged
international response to a chronic political emergency.
While having organisational similarities, OLS is nevertheless
distinct from many other integrated interventions. For example, OLS
does not rely on the military protection of humanitarian aid and
displaced civilians. Rather, access has largely been dependent upon
the application of international pressure on the warring parties.
Moreover, the ultimate sovereignty of the Government of Sudan (GOS)
has not been challenged. Instead, there has been an equivocal and
temporary ceding of sovereignty to the UN of parts of South Sudan
that are outside government control. These characteristics mean that
OLS can be regarded as an informal or negotiated safe area programme.
The Regulatory Duality of OLS
OLS came into existence as a result of the impotence of the
international community in the face of the 1988 war-induced famine
in Bahr el-Ghazal. In negotiating a conditional transfer of part of
GOS sovereignty to the UN for humanitarian purposes, an operational
division of Sudan into government and non-government controlled
areas was created. In the first legitimate cross-border operation
for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, non-government held
areas were serviced from Nairobi.
While OLS agreements recognise ultimate GOS sovereignty, in
practice, the Southern Sector has developed a tenuous autonomy in
relation to the warring parties. In the Northern Sector, however,
following conventional international practice, agencies are more
directly controlled by the GOS. As a result, two markedly different
contractual and operational regimes have emerged in OLS's Northern
and Southern Sectors. This difference has a direct bearing on the
quality of access to war-affected populations in both areas.
Within government areas, the GOS have established a restrictive
regulatory environment. In the South, the UN has created a more
liberal contractual system. The difference between the two
regulatory regimes is marked, and has given OLS the appearance of
being a structure within a structure. In terms of humanitarian
policy, the North has stagnated. Many of the issues facing aid
agencies remain unchanged from the 1980s. In the South, while largely
ad hoc, fundamental advances have been made in humanitarian policy
and conflict management.
The Political Weakness of OLS
The de facto division of OLS into Northern and Southern Sectors has
produced a critical flaw in the political coherence of the operation.
Access to war-affected people, regardless of where they are located,
is a key OLS principle. However, this tenet has been unevenly applied.
In the North, it has never been robustly pursued by the UN. For the
operation more generally, an implicit understanding has emerged that
OLS, as a neutral UN-coordinated operation, is confined to those
non-government areas that the GOS is willing to concede are
temporarily beyond its control. Following DHA involvement in 1992,
OLS adjusted to this de facto situation. In effect, the equivocal
autonomy of the Southern Sector has been purchased at the expense
of war-affected populations in the North. In this regard, UN
humanitarian policy has failed.
This failure is also related to the retention of a UNDP- appointed
Resident Representative in Khartoum who, as UNCERO, is also formally
in charge of OLS. The Review Team felt strongly that this an
unsuitable arrangement for a complex political emergency, because
it creates a fundamental conflict of interests. One cannot work with
the government as a development partner and, at the same time, relate
to it as a warring party for humanitarian purposes. This is especially
the case when, as the Review Team suspected, the actually existing
development process in Sudan is linked to the war aims of the GOS.
Aware of this problem, but unable to tackle it directly, the UN has
informally downgraded reporting relations between Nairobi and
Khartoum. While this has given UNICEF's lead agency role some
protection, the relationship between UN agencies in the two Sectors
is ill-defined. This, in turn, has exacerbated the overall lack of
political cohesion and clarity of purpose in OLS. In delivering
humanitarian aid in the midst of internal conflict, clarity fo
purpose and political cohesion is essential, if humanitarian
principles are to be upheld.
In terms of OLS as a potential model for negotiated safe area
programmes, in its present state the Review Team regarded OLS as
flawed and non-replicable. While advances have taken place in the
South, this has occurred, in effect, at the expense of war-displaced
populations in the North. The uneveness of support for war-affected
populations calls into question OLS as a model for internalising the
effects of protracted political emergencies. While regional
stability may be promoted by reducing refugee flows to neighboring
countries, OLS has not successfully implemented a programme to deal
with the effects of conflict internally. The flawed nature of OLS
in this regard led the Review Team not only to question its
replicability, but also to wonder whether it can survive at all
without internationally supported reform.
Southern Sector Operational Issues
From the end of 1992, there has been a significant expansion in the
scope of OLS in the Southern Sector. The number and diversity of
programmes has increased beyond the original concerns of food and
health. Due to GOS restrictions and interfactional insecurity, since
1995 access has been steadily reduced.
As lead agency, the key functions of UNICEF are the provision of
shared services and coordination. Participating agencies primarily
in the form international non-government organizations (INGOs) sign
Letters of Understanding (LOUs) with UNICEF that establish basic
programme requirements, and secure agreement on OLS humanitarian
principles. Funded through the OLS Appeal, UNICEF for its part
undertakes to provide free transport, essential programme support,
and overall coordination. Logistics are largely handled from the
UNICEF-managed camp at Lokichokkio.
Developing a security and evacuation system has also been an
important task of UNICEF. Based upon free access to radios, and the
cooperation of the Southern opposition movements through the Ground
Rules, this system is a sophisticated and innovative response to
working in conditions of ongoing and unpredictable warfare, and has
demonstrated its ability to move staff according the changing
dynamics of the conflict.
The expansion of OLS has tested the lead agency role of UNICEF, and
exposed a contradiction between the need to provide coordination for
all OLS agencies and, at the same time, support its own country
programme. To a lesser extent, the same issue relates to all the UN
specialist agencies involved in OLS. In a real sense, it reflects
the great difficulties that the current UN system is experiencing
in adjusting to integrated operations. Regarding OLS, while a range
of UNICEF regional and sectoral coordination meetings exist, the
absence of effective INGO and WFP representation has been a important
weakness in OLS management.
For INGOs, this lack of representation is at odds with a growing
financial importance. While probably an underestimate of INGO
funding, until 1994 the UN and INGOs secured roughly comparable
amounts in response to Sudan appeals. Available figures now suggest,
however, that UN agencies currently receive less than two-thirds of
the combined INGO budget. Indications of this shift can be seen in
the formation of an INGO Forum in 1995.
The creation of the INGO Forum can also be linked to growing problems
of cargo prioritisation. This is an issue that has come to the fore
as a result of the increasing programme complexity of OLS Southern
Sector and the simultaneous contraction in cargo capacity. The direct
purchase of cargo space has been one way in which INGOs have begun
to more forcefully assert their interests.
On many fronts, there is evidence of programmatic evolution in the
Southern Sector. The development of the Ground Rule concept in
relation to the Southern movements is an area of particular
importance. The Ground Rules were introduced to provide a framework
for the regulation of relations between OLS agencies and the
opposition movements. Based upon a similar principle to LOUs, the
Ground Rules agreement establishes a series of roles and
responsibilities. One of these, for example, is the provision of
administrative and programme support - so-called "capacity building"
- to the humanitarian wings of the opposition movements and
participating Sudanese Indigenous NGOS (SINGOs).
The weak capacity of Southern Sudanese counterparts has been widely
seen as a hindrance to the delivery of humanitarian services. While
there is broad agreement on the need for capacity building for
Sudanese counterparts, there is no consensus on how this should be
done. Moreover, expectations of capacity building in a war situation,
especially where the human resource base is extremely weak, are
unrealistically high. This is compounded by the fact that the
opposition movements, while having sufficient resources to sustain
the conflict, make no provision for the basic running costs of their
humanitarian wings. Rather, a large chunk of international support
for capacity building is directed toward this end. The Review team
was sceptical of the sustainablity of this kind of approach.
Related to this issue is the fact that OLS has yet to develop adequate
criteria to assess the eligibility of Southern Sudanese agencies for
OLS support. In practice, it has proven difficult to move beyond those
agencies which either existed before, or emerged during, the early
years of OLS.
Besides capacity building, the Ground Rules have also been extended
to include human rights. Since 1994, apart from OLS's humanitarian
principles, signatories to the Ground Rules undertake to observe the
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Geneva Conventions.
More recently, this has enabled UNICEF/OLS to enter into direct
dialogue with the movements when it has been felt that the Ground
Rules have been violated. Unusual for a relief operation, this has
meant that human rights and humanitarian aid issues have been brought
together. By exploiting the need of Southern opposition movements
for international recognition, the Ground Rules in effect represent
a move toward making humanitarian aid conditional. In this regard,
the Review Team felt the Ground Rules represents a fundamental
innovation in the field of conflict management, and one that deserves
The Ground Rules have provided a forum for dialogue between
international aid agencies and the Southern Movements. Whereas in
the North there has been a humanitarian impasse, in the South,
especially within the past year or so, the quality of the dialogue
between OLS and the Southern movements has improved. The attempt to
deepen civil institutions, especially within the Sudan People's
Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), appears to have been influenced
by the operation of the Ground Rules.
Despite the growth of the Southern Sector, however, the distribution
of humanitarian assistance to affected populations has been uneven.
There is a concentration, especially of INGOs, in the more secure
areas such as Equatoria. Here, greater emphasis is placed on
rehabilitation projects. In less secure and more vulnerable areas,
such as Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile, the UN has remained
the main lifeline, so to speak.
Northern Sector Operational Issues
In the Northern Sector, OLS as a humanitarian operation is
distinguished by its perceived absence. The UN's approach of quiet
diplomacy has achieved little beyond providing an impetus for the
GOS to expand its mechanisms of control and regulation. In
contractual terms, since 1993, INGOs function as little more than
a mute extension of the Sudanese state. Indeed, the voluntary sector
has no de jure or de facto existence in government areas.
In the Northern Sector, the scope and coverage of OLS is determined
on the basis of GOS approval, rather than actual need. The Nuba
Mountains, for example, have long been excluded from OLS. Moreover,
through the 1992 Relief Act, the government is able to establish legal
control over OLS resources down to the level of beneficiaries. While
WFP has sought to formalise contractual arrangements for relief
distributions, GOS institutions largely determine the quality of
international access. UN operationality is also constrained by
government control over the choice of implementing partners. Within
this regulatory regime, scope for the application of OLS principles
in extremely limited.
Significantly, there has been a convergence of GOS and UN policy
concerning the linking of relief and development in the North. There
is a shared view that relief assistance should now play a
developmental role. This view, however, underplays the issue of
neutrality in a context where development partners are allied to
warring parties. Moreover, it fails to acknowledge that the war
originates in a long-term process of economic decline and crisis.
The actually existing development process appears to be closely
associated with the war aims of the GOS.
The UN has undertaken no research on the nature of the development
process in Sudan. At the same time, the Review Team was unable to
discover any assessment, or other evidence, which substantiated the
view that emergency conditions have now passed. Hence, urging a
developmental approach to relief has been driven by changing fashion
in the aid world, rather than by any real knowledge of conditions
In this regard, the Review Team was concerned that the UN Humanitarian
Coordination Unit (UNHCU) has been downgraded. Declining capacity
within UNHCU results in a severe lack of management support for staff
working within the Unit, and for the effective monitoring,
assessment, and evaluation of OLS operations in the North.
The lack of UNHCU capacity also contributes to the absence of
coherence in UN agency mandates and activities. This can be seen,
for example, in the poor coordination and duplication of UN agency
responsibilities for food security and health interventions. There
are also uneven standards regarding the implementation and coverage
of OLS programmes. While UN agencies are severely constrained in
their choice of implementing partners, little effort has been made
to develop mechanisms to ensure compliance with accepted
professional standards. Apart from an abrogation of responsibility,
failure in this area has serious implications for the war-affected
populations that OLS can reach in government areas.
National structures in Sudan responsible for relief policy have
undergone significant changes in recent years. Federalisation, for
example, has increased the significance of state structures and Local
Relief Committees in the control of assessments and allocation of
relief. The expansion of these structures has not been matched by
an increase in GOS services to the displaced, however. There is also
a notable absence of representation by the displaced on those bodies
which determine need and allocate resources.
Government policy is aimed at reducing the scope of INGOs in favour
of Sudanese NGOs. The central dilemma for UN agencies has been whether
to work with this policy, and build the capacity of those agencies
selected by the GOS. Where these agencies are government-aligned,
the issue of neutrality in the context of an ongoing war becomes
problematic. The absence of a system of Ground Rules, as exists in
the Southern Sector, is noticeable in this respect.
Food Aid and Food Security
Perceptions of the emergency in Sudan have changed over time.
Initially, the emergency was viewed as an acute crisis of nutrition
and mortality, and issues of food aid and food delivery predominated.
Over time, agency views have gradually changed to encompass wider
issues of food security, involving support for local food production.
While there is ambivalence within the Southern Movements about the
shift away from food aid, both Sectors have seen reductions in
emergency food aid. This has been achieved by decreasing rations,
limiting food aid to certain times of the year, and/or more specific
targeting. In the North in particular, the government and UN agencies
have encouraged this reduction as a measure of growing self-reliance
and the move toward development.
These strategies, however, cannot be justified on the basis of
information gathered, especially in the Northern Sector. No
evaluations of the effectiveness of food aid programmes or their
impact have been conducted, nor has there been any systematic
monitoring of inputs. Estimated needs are rarely reconciled with
deliveries. Consequently, little is known about what exactly people
receive. Monitoring is further hindered by unclear objectives:
whether food aid is used to reduce hunger, prevent starvation, to
support coping strategies, or promote self-reliance.
Of special concern to the Review Team was the apparent lowering of
acceptable standards of nutrition in an effort to accommodate
development thinking. Levels of manutrition shown by nutritional
indicators that would have prompted emergency intervention at the
start of OLS, are now seen as somehow normal.
Sudan is suffering from a chronic emergency. In this situation,
options for the war-affected to improve their own food security are
extremely limited. Crises have become recurrent. In the Northern
Sector, the reduction of food aid appears aimed at overcoming
so-called "relief dependency" by forcing vulnerable groups into
non-sustainable labour relations. This is exacerbated by inadequate
coordination mechanisms between WFP and UNICEF, and the absence of
a coherent strategy for food security. Moreover, the reduction in
food aid has not been matched by increases in production support.
People in Southern Sudan have survived within a contracting rural
economy during the past thirteen years of renewed warfare. In part,
this has been through labour migration, mainly to the North. Resource
depletion, especially livestock, has also played a part. Networks
of kinship exchange and assistance still operate, but at a much
reduced level. OLS does not differentiate, however, between the
different types and stages of coping strategies. Nor does it
interpret what the adoption of certain strategies mean in relation
to their possible detrimental effects.
Impartial assistance based on an objective assessment of need forms
the basis of OLS neutrality. However, the identification of need is
largely determined by the quality of access. Changes in assessment
methodology over the course of OLS are a reflection of the differing
quality of access in both Sectors. In the Southern Sector, the more
liberal environment has allowed progressively more detailed
assessments, based on the introduction of the Food Economy Approach.
An important information base has also been built up. In the Northern
Sector, the quality of access has remained poor, and assessment
methodology has changed little. Consequently, while the Southern
Sector provides programme leadership, a coherent and unified
strategy for OLS needs assessment is absent.
The Consolidated Process
The assessment process forms the basis of the annual UN Consolidated
Inter-Agency Appeal for Sudan. As the main UN funding mechanism for
OLS, the Appeal is far from transparent. For example, the appeal
incorporates all UN agency funding requirements, and is therefore
not specific to OLS. Within individual UN agencies, the separation
between OLS and UN country programme requirements is also unclear.
This is especially the case in the Northern Sector. Further, there
is no Consolidated Inter-Agency Report on Sudan to set against the
The relationship between the Appeal and the annual need assessment
exercise is unclear. In the North, the quality of information
gathered is poor, and there appears to be no link between the
assessment and the Appeal. Moreover, the Appeal does not form the
basis of a coherent programme strategy for OLS agencies. In both
Northern and Southern sectors, the annual assessments provide no
evaluation of past interventions, nor do they assess the
appropriateness of implementation strategies.
INGOs are rarely involved in the planning of the Appeal process, or
in its follow up. This is the case despite their central implementing
role in OLS, and the fact that INGO resources form a major part of
food aid and food security inputs, particularly in the Southern
Sector. The lack of INGO involvement in the appeal process thus
prevents the development of a coordinated strategy, and inhibits the
ability of OLS to direct resources according to need. In the case
of WFP, its ability to target resources is further limited by the
absence of agreements with agencies providing non-WFP food.
Social Impact in the Southern Sector
OLS programming in both Sectors has borne little relation to the
complex and fluctating socio-economic reality on the ground.
Attempts by the Review Team to locate a broader rationality and
overall strategy in programming simply highlighted its incoherence.
Indeed, the only programme sector that appeared to be genuinely
appropriate to the situation is UNICEF's Humanitarian Principles
Under pressure to identify and target vulnerable individuals,
agencies usually resort to models of social breakdown adopted from
Western social policy. While the emphasis on improving household
security is general, there is no shared definition of what a
"household" is in the context of South Sudan. Moreover, such
definitions have changed over time. Equal shallowness surrounds
terms like "female-headed household" or "widow". While such images
have substance in relation to Western notions of the nuclear family
and vulnerability, they have little meaning in the actual social
context of South Sudan.
Despite problems of coordination and perception, however, OLS
programmes have had an impact in South. The move from famine
alleviation to using food aid as a means of rehabilitation, while
based upon limited information, appears capable of stabilising the
rural economy. This process, especially in relation to the more
vulnerable areas of Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile, have to be set
against pressures to transform the rural population of South Sudan
into a marginalised agricultural labour force. Indirectly, OLS has
contributed to maintaining the integrity of Southern socio-economic
This is illustrated by reference to northern Bahr el-Ghazal, an
isolated and insecure area. For the Dinka here, the main effect of
relief has been to enable them to return to their homes and reinvest
in the subsistence economy. Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, however, has
never been properly accessed by OLS, nor has it received food aid
at the level of assessed need. Some commentators have questioned why,
in areas like Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, there has been no return to
famine conditions despite this short-fall.
Northern Bahr el-Ghazal illustrates the complexity of a rural economy
under war- related stress. Famine has failed to emerge largely
because past assessments did not take into account the variety of
stress foods available, resource depletion, and labour migration.
Regarding the latter, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal is an area in which
the war has encouraged labour flight to the detriment of the rural
economy. The initial exodus began in the late 1980s. The truce between
SPLM/A and the Missiriya since this period has allowed for a freer
circulation of Dinka between Northern Bahr el-Ghazal and the North.
Agricultural wage rates in the North are currently at subsistence
levels. While labour flight may have prevented famine, it has been
at the expense of subsistence agriculture in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal.
As OLS access to this area began to expand during 1993, the situation
began to change. Migrants started to return from the North in order
to cultivate. In 1994, through the proliferation of bush-airstrips,
OLS distributions were decentralised. By mid 1995, it was clear that
the availability of food aid, albeit in small quantities, had
encouraged labour retention and cultivation had increased. There was
also a growing tendency for labour migrants to concentrate on
short-term work that fitted the agricultural cycle. Less time was
spent in gathering stress foods, and kinship networks were
reinforced. This was occurring, however, at the expense of
labour-intensive mechanised agricultural schemes in the North.
Since 1994, the activities of forces allied to the GOS - for example,
Kerabino Kwanyin Bol, the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), and Nuer
raiders - have undermined this modest recovery. At the time of
writing, continuing restrictions on OLS activities in Northern Bahr
el-Ghazal threaten to once again squeeze the region and promote
labour flight. The increasing insecurity in the area has promoted
aid agencies to develop a mobile team approach. This is especially
the case in the health field. Radiating from a central point, groups
of INGOs attempt to cover a wider area, but on the basis of a temporary
presence on the ground.
The effects of the war in South Sudan are uneven. In Western Upper
Nile, the agricultural economy has also shrunk, in this case due to
isolation rather than insecurity. In the last several years, however,
a partial recovery appears to be underway, as a result of expanding
trade links with the North, Western Equatoria, and Uganda. This
development has yet to be fully incorporated into OLS planning,
however, for example in relation to income generation projects in
the area. One reason for the expansion of trade is the improvement
of links between SSIM/A and the GOS. Compared to Western Upper Nile,
trade networks are more pressured in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal.
Social Impact in the Northern Sector
In North Sudan, OLS has its origins in a response to growing internal
displacement. The creation of a large, displaced population cannot
be seen, however, as simply an unfortunate consequence of the war.
Moreover, evidence suggests that war-induced displacement is
continuing. The Review Team felt that a major failure of
international and UN policy in the North has occurred in relation
to internal displacement. Given the trend within humanitarian policy
to internalise the human effects of conflict, this is a major flaw
in the OLS model.
Since the late 1980s, the policy of successive Sudanese governments
towards the internally displaced has involved combining the
provision of relief, rural integration and resettlement, and the
upgrading of urban settlements. In Ed Da'ein, the displaced have
been settled in "paired villages". In Wau they have been relocated
to "peace villages". In Khartoum, GOS policy has involved the
demolition of spontaneous displaced settlements and the relocation
of their populations to "peace villages" on the outskirts of
Khartoum, or to agricultural production schemes in other States. In
both rural and urban contexts, relief assistance is highly controlled
through local government relief committees and national Sudanese and
Successive governments in Sudan have promoted the modernisation of
agriculture as central to national development. Under the rubric
of promoting economic self-reliance, the displaced in Ed' Da'ein and
Wau, for example, are encouraged to engage in agricultural activities
- both as producers and contract labourers. Wage labour, once a
seasonal activity in the subsistence rural economy, has now become
a survival strategy of people forcibly displaced from the South and
areas in the 'transitional zone'. The Review believes that the UN
has worked uncritically within the policy framework established by
the GOS towards the displaced. GOS definitions of the populations
in need determine OLS coverage. In Khartoum and Wau the war-displaced
located in peace camps are included in OLS operations. Those outside
remain outside the purview of OLS.
In Ed Da'ein, the Review found that capacity of the UN and NGOs to
sustain even minimum services has been eroded, both by a declining
resource base for humanitarian operations, and by policies that have
sought to reduce relief and promote self-sufficiency through
agricultural production. In Wau, despite initial concern in 1992
that the formation of peace villages was clearly linked to military
strategies, OLS policy has subsequently sought to support
Greater Khartoum has the largest concentration of war-displaced
people in North Sudan. The prolonged crisis among this population,
represents perhaps the greatest failure of OLS in the North. The
incorporation of the Khartoum displaced under OLS has had little
observable benefit. The UN strategy of combining emergency
assistance, technical support to the government for urban planning,
with advocacy and protection has failed to relieve the situation.
In part, this is because the different components of the strategy
are contradictory. In the absence of a coherent strategy, the UN
has reached an impasse. In consequence, there has been a steady
withdrawal and downgrading of UN involvement with the Khartoum
displaced. The Review is concerned with this trend, especially
given persistently high levels of malnutrition among the Khartoum
As an informal or negotiated safe area programme that does not rely
on military protection, OLS must be seen to be cost-effective. The
issue of cost effectiveness has risen especially in relation to the
Southern Sector's reliance on relatively expensive air transport.
The GOS, in particular, has pressed the case for greater use of
cheaper surface transport routes from the North, especially, the rail
and river corridors.
In order to estimate the possible savings involved, the Review team
developed a substitution model using 1995 distribution figures.
Assuming free access, all cargo ex-Lokichokkio that could reasonably
have been moved using Northern routes was substituted, and the whole
operation re-costed. On this basis, it was estimated that a possible
savings of approximately 25% could be made on total costs. It should
be emphasised however, that this is a hypothetical figure. For one
thing, it assumes free access in a Sector where this is not the norm;
indeed, restriction on access is the largest single factor increasing
unit delivery costs. At the same time, the model makes no allowance
for secondary distribution beyond rail and riverside drop-off
points. The absence of internal transport, and the wish to discourage
population movement, was the reason that the Southern Sector
developed a system of decentralised air delivery in the first place.
In the final analysis, the Review is of the opinion that under
existing conditions, the transfer of Southern Sector coordination
activities to government areas would be tantamount to the cessation
of humanitarian assistance to South Sudan. In effect, it would
represent a step backward to the situation of the 1980s.
1.1 Outline Definition
Operation Lifeline Sudan is a political and organisational
arrangement which allows humanitarian assistance to reach
war-affected populations in an ongoing conflict. The political
aspect of OLS is that the warring parties have conceded that this
should happen, and that the UN should provide an umbrella under which
relief activities can take place. Periodic assessments of need shape
the organisational aspects of the operation. Under a process of
negotiated access, the resulting requirements and delivery routes
are agreed with the warring parties. Assessed need also constitutes
the foundation of an annual appeal. This, plus the support raised
independently by NGOs working within OLS, provides the funding for
While formally under UN coordination in Khartoum, OLS is not a unified
structure. Activities mostly take place within two distinct
operational and contractual environments. The Northern Sector is
representative of some government areas. Here, OLS activities are
organised from Khartoum and fall within a managerial regime defined
by the Government of Sudan (GOS). The Southern Sector pertains to
most non-government areas in the South. Managed from Nairobi, it is
a cross-border operation with a main logistical base at Lokichokio
in northern Kenya. Here, UNICEF is the lead agency and has been tasked
with coordinating UN and NGO activities. It is in the Southern Sector
that the identity of OLS as a body assisting war-affected populations
is more in evidence. In government areas, the extent and quality of
international access is relatively restricted.
OLS was established in April 1989. It was the first example of an
increasingly common approach to internal war. Not only do aid
agencies now work in ongoing conflict, the intention is to support
displaced and war-affected populations in-country, as opposed to
refugees beyond its borders. It is also now the longest running of
such programmes. This Review is timely both in relation to the renewed
difficulties currently facing OLS, and the wider significance of this
general approach in framing international humanitarian policy.
1.2 Competing Demands and the Review
In September 1992, Jan Eliasson, the Under Secretary General for the
newly formed Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA), visited
Sudan. The reason for this visit was that OLS was in serious crisis.
Already in existence for some three years, mounting restrictions on
aid deliveries imposed by the warring parties had practically brought
humanitarian activities in South Sudan to a standstill. A note
prepared for the Eliasson mission summed up the polarised situation:
The visit to Sudan is surrounded by conflicting expectations. The
Government is looking for an endorsement of its humanitarian
policies and activities with an emphasis on the need to shift
from relief to recovery and development. The donor community
is looking for a confrontation with Government policies which
they see as being indifferent to the welfare of the people of
Sudan and in violation of basic human rights, and is not prepared
to fund recovery and development activities at this time. The
international NGO community is looking for greater support
while the Government will seek to promote the role of national
NGOs. Needless to say, the SPLM hopes that the visit will
emphasise the inadequacies of the Government and promote its
political agenda (UN, 1992, Sept 3: 1).
At first glance, few things have changed in the four years since this
mission. OLS is again in crisis and the situation is deeply divided.
This is occurring, moreover, during a period when there is a lack
of cohesion within the UN system and among donor governments
concerning policy toward Sudan.
The war in Sudan is being fought, publicly at least, without
territorial maps or accurate population figures. For the outsider,
it is a war of allegation, assertion, and rumour. The Review Team
was told by one senior government official, for example, that the
rebel area of South Sudan was now confined to a strip along the Ugandan
border; he also noted that while in the mid-1980s South Sudan had
a population of five million, the SPLM/A zone now included only
300,000 people (Lino Roll, 1996, March 27). Although such views are
greeted with incredulity by those familiar with the South, they
nevertheless form the stuff of government. The Sudan People's
Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), for its part, has its own
demographic lexicon. According to the Movement, not only does the
South constitute 30% of the population of Sudan, of the total country
population, 69% are of African rather than Arab origin (Garang, 1995,
Competing claims of territorial control and political allegiance are
sensitive issues; they directly inform the political process.
Unfortunately, but unavoidably, the OLS Review has become part of
this process. Given the GOS's demographic views, it now wishes to
see the closure of Southern Sector OLS operations. According to the
GOS, OLS activities are no longer necessary; indeed, they are now
artificially supporting a renegade rebel group. The SPLM/A, on the
other hand, wants OLS Northern and Southern Sectors to be
administratively separated, and the Southern Sector protected from
alledged political interference from the North.
Despite the continuance of the war, both of the warring parties regard
the emergency as over. Together with some UN agencies and
international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), they want to
see OLS shift its resources from relief into rehabilitation and
development. Since OLS represents one of the few sources of external
assistance available to Sudan, such pressure on its humanitarian
mandate is understandable. As in 1992, however, most donors believe
that the necessary stability for development funding still does not
exits. This informal embargo has increased the pressure on OLS
funding. For their part, donors are particularly concerned with the
cost of OLS, not only from the point of view of its long-running
nature, but because of its reliance on expensive air transport.
Such conflicting demands arise from the fact that OLS is confronting
an essentially political emergency. In this regard, OLS can be
described as an "informal safe area programme". It is informal since
the ultimate sovereignty of the GOS has not been challenged.
Moreover, while military protection tends to characterise most safe
area operations, in the case of OLS, access has been maintained
largely as a result of the vulnerability of the warring parties to
international pressure and opinion. OLS started the trend in 1989
of working in ongoing conflict and internalising its effects. Today,
it faces an equally pressing challenge - that of the longevity of
such operations given the protracted nature of internal conflict.
l.3 OLS and the War
Faced with conflicting demands, the Review has attempted to maintain
its objectivity by letting the evidence speak for itself as far as
possible. Given the humanitarian role of OLS, this has meant
discussing the effects of the war. The Review Team realises, however,
that for many readers this will be sufficient to render the Review
biased and slanted. There are some who regard the proper role of
humanitarian aid as a purely technical function, and provide
assistance blindly without concern for cause or intent. This view
sits ill at ease with current international expectations of OLS,
however, especially since the main casualties of internal war are
The present expectation is that OLS alleviates the disaster producing
activities of its major counterparts - the GOS and the Southern
Movements. In the war zones affected by direct fighting, the Sudanese
Army, the Popular Defence Force, the SPLA factions, and all of their
allied militias, have repeatedly targeted civilian populations.
During the early phases of the war (1984-1988) such activities were
intended to deny the opposing side supplies or civilian support.
Hence, the rural subsistence economy and its assets were the primary
target for attack. Since 1991, interfactional fighting within the
SPLA (SPLA, SPLA United, SSIA) has intensified the asset stripping
character of such attacks. In addition, relief inputs have also
become targets. Since 1994 especially, food drops, primary health
care facilities and OLS agency compounds have invited attack.
All of these activities have produced widespread displacement, as
specific populations have been denied the opportunity or means to
feed themselves, and as groups of people have fled areas of conflict
seeking refuge elsewhere. Both parties to the conflict have also
organised forceable relocations of populations at different times
during the war. In the North, outside of the conflict zone, the
demolition of displaced settlements and the relocation of the
populations involved continues to be a major source of disruption.
In attempting to complete its work, the Review Team has been guided
by the humanitarian principles which form the foundation of OLS.
These principles, notably those of free access to war-affected
populations and the neutrality of humanitarian assistance, form the
only yardstick with which to measure the competing demands that have
1.4 The Main Stages of OLS
OLS arose out of the failure of the international community to prevent
the 1988 war-related famine in Bahr el-Ghazal. As an organisational
structure and system of management, the evolution of OLS can be
divided into two stages. The initial phase spanned the period from
1989 to 1992, while the second and current stage began to take shape
toward the end of 1992. This division reflects the two main periods
of OLS relief activity.
1.4.1 The Initial Phase (1989 - 1992)
While the initial phase established the basic division between a
Northern and Southern Sector, agreements between the warring parties
were ad hoc and informal. Indeed, the first signed OLS agreement was
not reached until 1994. During the first two years of its existence,
OLS was largely conceived in terms of the discrete and time limited
operations of OLS I and II. While never fully applied, especially
in the North, the impression in the formal documentation for these
operations is that OLS was a UN-coordinated operation having access
to all war-affected populations whatever their location.
Apart from the initial flurry of activity in 1989, in practice the
inital phase of OLS was one of renewed fighting and a deepening crisis
of consent. OLS Southern Sector activities began to decline and take
on an ad hoc appearance, a process not helped by the failure of the
first proximity talks in October 1991. Prior to September 1992, there
were no further serious discussions on OLS, and relief requirements
for South Sudan were folded into the consolidated SEPHA appeal.
Although this ensured that OLS continued to receive some resources,
it left the issue of access untouched (UN, 1992, Sept 3).
The growing crisis for OLS was the result of several factors. A
military coup in June 1989 ushered in the present government. While
at first supporting OLS, following the resumption of fighting toward
the end of the year GOS attitudes became increasingly critical. OLS
was seen as an arrangement benefiting the SPLM/A. For its part, the
SPLM/A claimed that OLS was biased in favour of the GOS. At the same
time, in May 1991, following the fall of the Mengistu regime, the
SPLM/A was expelled from its bases in Ethiopia. These dramatic events
precipitated a split in the SPLM/A (August 1991), and the formation
of what became known as the SPLM/A Mainstream and the SPLM/A United.
This division was followed in 1992 by growing GOS military
assertiveness, and the recapture of many urban centres earlier taken
by the SPLM/A. Both the split and the intensified fighting caused
significant population displacement.
By 1992, OLS activities were more or less in abeyance. It is claimed
that less that 10% of the potentially reachable population was being
accessed (UNICEF, 1992, August: 5). This slack was not being taken
up by an expansion of operations from the North. Through GOS and
SPLM/A restrictions, the whole of Bhar el-Ghazal and Jonglei were
effectively closed to aid agencies.
1.4.2 The Present Phase (1992 - 1996)
Although established in 1989, OLS's present form largely took shape
in response to the malaise that had developed by 1992. In the North,
relations between the GOS and the international community were at
a low ebb. At the same time, OLS had not been able to keep pace with
the changing military landscape in the South. If OLS was to be
revitalised, not only did its humanitarian role need to be restated,
a more flexible and continuous mode of access needed to be established
(UN, 1992, Sept 3).
An important characteristic of the present phase is that of a growing
formality. Rather than being ad hoc, OLS became a continuous
operation with administrative arrangements to suit. At a time of
growing international pressure on the GOS, the involvement of DHA
in September 1992 in the the role of overall OLS coordinator helped
shape this process. The following year, a Special Envoy for
Humanitarian Affairs was created to liaise between the between the
warring parties on access issues. The high point of this development
was in 1994, when a tripartite agreement was signed, giving the UN
access to war-affected regions. This emerged in association with the
IGADD peace process.
Compared to the initial phase, the nature of OLS agreements have
changed. Since 1992, there has been an increasing tendency to see
UN coordination as confined to South Sudan only. In the North, the
government has been defined as the main regulatory body for
humanitarian matters. From being based on a principle of access to
war-affected populations whatever their location, in practice OLS
has increasingly become an area programme. Not only has this
confirmed the earlier separation between Northern and Southern
Sectors, it has encouraged the administration of relief in each area
to take on a different institutional dynamic. In GOS areas, after
a history of competing ministerial responsibility for relief
matters, a process of organisational consolidation and deepening was
inaugurated from 1992. Likewise, in the Southern Sector, UNICEF's
development of Ground Rules in relation to the opposition movements
has stimulated the attempt to broaden civil structures and relations.
Compared to the initial phase, in the Southern Sector especially,
there has been a marked programme expansion. Since the end of 1992,
the international community has spent more than half a billion
dollars through OLS and its participating agencies. From six or seven
NGOs being involved during 1992, this number has increased to nearly
40 NGOs. A growing programme complexity has also resulted. From a
programme aimed primarily at nutritional support, OLS has evolved
to include a wider range of rehabilitation and institutional support
work. Assessments have also become more sophisticated.
None of these developments, however, would have been possible without
a significant innovation in relation to working in unresolved
conflict. Initially, through "corridors of tranquillity" OLS
attempted to gear its activities to fixed routes obtained through
limited ceasefire agreements. This has been abandoned, however, in
favour of developing a security and evacuation apparatus which is
flexible enough to support agencies in an ongoing and volatile
After reaching a peak in 1994, OLS activity rates have begun to
decline. In part, this is due to a changing pattern of need. It is
also the case, however, that since 1995 government concerns about
the continuation a Nairobi based cross-border operation have
steadily reasserted themselves. This has taken the form of
restrictions on aircraft type, denial of flight locations, periodic
flight bans, and a re-emergence of a growing demand that all OLS
activities are managed from Khartoum. At the same time, factionalism
among the Southern opposition movements has also increased, and this
has contributed to increasing insecurity, especially in Bhar
el-Ghazal and Upper Nile.
Together, these events have contributed to what can be seen as the
second major crisis of OLS. At present, it is claimed that the
Southern Sector operation is only meeting about 20% of the estimated
need. In many respects, OLS has returned to the malaise of 1992.
This Review is the first comprehensive examination of OLS in its seven
year history. Apart from numerous and discrete agency programme
evaluations, the only other attempt to see OLS as a whole was been
in 1991 (Minear et al., 1991). Although useful, this work is largely
based on oral testimony and includes little documentary or
quantitative analysis. While the need for a review has been
recognised for some time, it was the deepening crisis of OLS during
the early part of 1995 which eventually started the process.
In consultation with donor governments, the Terms of Reference for
Review work were finalised in June 1995 (see Appendix 1). In
interpreting the Terms of Reference, the Review Team has been guided
by the understanding that the work was a review, and not an evaluation
(DHA, 1995, June 23). That is, rather than a detailed sector by sector
analysis, the Review should examine OLS's modus operandi, and its
effectiveness in establishing and maintaining humanitarian space.
Moreover, while donors have provided the funding and DHA the
necessary administrative support, the Review is an independent
undertaking, unconnected with any of the parties or agencies
associated with OLS. While guided by the Terms of Reference, this
understanding has allowed the Team a necessary degree of latitude
in approaching such a vast undertaking.
Despite the finalisation of the Terms of Reference in June, actually
starting the Review was beset by a number of difficulties, including
reservations over team composition by the GOS. This delayed the
initial September 1995 start date. By the time the problem had been
resolved, the original plan of having the final report by December
could no longer be met. Because some team members were unable to
reschedule the work for the beginning of 1996, the review process
was split and spread over a longer period. The Team Leader and
Technical Coordinator completed a short mission to Khartoum,
Nairobi, and New Cush, South Sudan in November - December of 1995.
This was to prepare for the main review, which began at the end of
A preparatory visit of this type had not been initially planned. By
default, however, it proved to be a useful exercise. It allowed a
start to be made on the collection of basic documentation, especially
in relation to OLS assessments and quantitative information. Members
of the Review Team began a preliminary analysis of this material
between January and March. In addition, it helped a more informed
Work Plan to be produced, especially regarding the selection of case
studies. Prior to departure for Sudan, the Team assembled at
Birmingham University for a two day briefing and orientation session.
The basic issues were explored, and team members began to define their
responsibilities and areas of enquiry.
The Review Team travelled to Khartoum on March 23, 1996, and departed
five weeks later from Nairobi on April 27, 1996. Apart from the
diplomatic and supporting role of the Team Leader, the approach was
to have a division of labour between the seven other team members.
That is, a three person Joint Team looking at comparative issues such
as access agreements, assessments, food security, relief economics,
and logistics, while the remaining four team members divided into
a North and a South Team. Their role was fieldwork in case study
locations in government and non-government areas, respectively.
After a number of days in Khartoum, the Team began to separate
according to these functions. Roughly speaking, while the Joint Team
divided its time between North and South Sudan, via Kenya, the field
teams worked independently in these areas and so maximised their
The basic methodology pursued was that of open-ended and
semi-structured interviewing, and documentary collection and
analysis. The types of questions to be pursued in interviews were
largely formed through a process of group discussion and documentary
analysis. Within the framework of examining the modus operandi of
OLS, while not exhaustive, the case studies were chosen to illustrate
the range of OLS activities and operating conditions. The North Team,
for example, mainly looked at issues connected with the
war-displaced, especially around Khartoum and in Ed Da'ein, South
Darfur. In addition, the team visited the garrison town of Wau in
Bahr el-Ghazal. The South Team also examined internal displacement
in one location, Labone in Eastern Equatoria, as well as visiting
the relatively stable environment of Ler in Upper Nile, and the
relatively unstable environment of Akon in northern Bahr el-Ghazal.
After four weeks, the Joint and South Teams departed Nairobi and
returned to Khartoum. Here, the Review Team reformed, and for three
days debriefed and produced a thematic outline to guide the
documentary analysis and writing-up phase. On April 24, a short
presentation was made to invited government, donor, and agency
personnel concerning the current state of the Review. Apart from
describing what had been done, this mainly involved sharing some
tentative results of an initial cost-savings analysis, this being
the only detailed information that the Review Team felt confident
in sharing at such an early stage of analysis. The following day,
the Team travelled to Nairobi. Here, a similar presentation was made
before departing the region on April 27.
Against expectations, the fieldwork for the Review went relatively
smoothly. Apart from small delays and the need to re-arrange part
of the planned schedule, the Team achieved its aims. In the course
of the five weeks, around three hundred people were interviewed, and
nearly a thousand documents either collected or noted. Indeed, the
amount of information gathered was far more than expected, and was
a contributory factor to the slippage of the completion date for the
final report. At the end of May, a two day editorial meeting took
place in Birmingham involving the whole Review Team, including an
editor who had been taken on board at that time. Two other subsequent
meetings of the UK-based team members occurred in the course of
completing the report. After extensive editing, the final draft was
handed to the printers at the end of July.
1.6 Structure of the Report
For those seeking the quickest way to gain an impression of the scope
of the Review, the Introduction, Executive Summary, and
Recommendations are a minimal reading requirement. The full evidence
for the recommendations, however, is contained within the body of
OLS is a large, integrated, and many-faceted operation that has been
running for seven years. Given this, structuring the report has not
been an easy task. In the course of writing-up, several
methodological difficulties have presented themselves. For
example, cleanly separating the case study material from wider
programme issues has not been easy. This is particularly so in
relation to assessments. Most OLS activities are based in some way
on an assessment of need. Striking a balance between the comparative
aspects of assessment and its local expressions has been problematic.
At the same time, distinguishing programming and coordination issues
from those of social impact have posed a similar difficulty. The
manner in which programmes are organised has an important bearing
on their effect.
Regarding the case studies, another problem which faced the Review
Team was whether to treat them on a stand-alone basis, or more
generically. In the interests of length, the latter was chosen.
Moreover, despite the original intention to compare case studies
between Northern and Southern Sectors, this has proven more difficult
that expected, because the different contractual and regulatory
systems in each Sector have produced distinct programmes and
The sequencing of the chapters has also needed careful consideration.
The general approach has been to provide an initial framework in which
to locate more specific case study material. Hence, the Review begins
with an analysis of the the overall political and contractual
structure of OLS (chapter 2), and goes on to consider in more detail
the operational environments pertaining in the Southern Sector
(chapter 3) and the Northenr Sector (chapter 4). Chapter 5 then
considers food aid and food security within OLS as a whole, followed
by a more detailed analysis of programming and social impact in the
Southern Sector (chapter 6) and the Northern Sector (chapter 7). More
quantitative material on technical and administrative matters such
as information management, funding, logistics, and cost
effectiveness are presented at the end of the Review (chapter 8).
2. THE POLITICAL STRUCTURE OF OLS
This Chapter analyses the institutional structure of OLS, describes
its key features, and considers its managerial and political
2.1 OLS - An Informal Safe Area Programme
In terms of humanitarian assistance, one of the main innovations
following the end of the Cold War has been a new-found political and
organisational ability to support war-affected populations in
situations of ongoing conflict. OLS has the distinction of being the
first operation of this kind. Since 1989, when OLS was established,
supporting displaced and conflict-affected populations within war
zones, as opposed to refugee populations outside of war zones, has
become a notable trend in humanitarian policy (UNHCR, 1995: 19-56).
As a result, the international attitude toward large-scale refugee
movements has hardened.
The aim of the new approach is to internalise war-induced displacement.
Of necessity, the new approach is usually implemented in situations
where governance is contested, and where conflict is unresolved; this,
in turn, has led to the questioning of sovereignty in relation to
humanitarian issues. Since the end of the Cold War, humanitarian
interventions, such as those in Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, and Rwanda, have
contributed to an uneven process of change within international law.
Concerning human rights, this process has:
...potentially contributed to the challenge and gradual erosion
of traditional connotations linked up with "state sovereignty"
as a more or less absolute concept (Verwey, 1996: 4).
Most recent examples of internalising displacement have taken place
with the help of military protection. Military protection - often
called military humanitarianism - has been associated with the
development of "safe areas" for displaced or conflict- affected
populations within war zones. The challenge to absolute sovereignty
that such interventions represent has been obscured, however, by a
number of factors, including the collapse of central authority, and
the general turmoil that tends to precede this type of international
From the end of 1992, following the involvement of the Department of
Humanitarian Affairs (DHA), OLS has developed into a form of safe area
programme in South Sudan. In place of military protection, however,
access has depended on the vulnerability of the warring parties to
international pressure. In the case of the GOS, this has largely been
the wish to avoid punitive diplomatic action. For the opposition
movements, the courting of international recognition has been central.
Hence, international pressure has been crucial for the continued
operation of OLS, and is a distinguishing feature of the operation in
terms of the replicability of the OLS model. Another distinguishing
feature of OLS is that, in contrast to many other contexts, the
operation has developed in a situation where central authority has not
collapsed. Rather, the present government gives every appearance of
shaping a process of institutional change and consolidation.
The differences between OLS and other humanitarian operations suggests
that OLS should be described, more accurately, as an "informal" safe
area intervention. Although the idea of absolute sovereignty may have
been weakened, in practice it has not been replaced as the corner-stone
of international relations. In this regard, the "informality" of OLS
operations derives from the fact that the sovereignty of the GOS is
nowhere challenged in OLS agreements. Rather, access to war-affected
populations has been maintained largely through an ad hoc and reactive
process of mobilising international pressure. Moreover, because such
pressure cannot take a direct political form, it is couched in the
non-political language of disaster prevention and alleviation. As far
as Sudan is concerned, international relations is largely conducted
in these terms.
Since GOS sovereignty has not been formally challenged by OLS, the
government regards any ceding of its authority over South Sudan as
temporary. This has provided a point of continuous tension with
sections of the international community. The present government came
to power a few months after OLS was established in April 1989. Since
then it has regularly challenged the role and validity of OLS. While
playing an important protection and humanitarian role in the South,
OLS has never been able to overcome this crisis of legitimacy.
2.2 Phases of OLS: Agreements and Humanitarian Principles
Securing and maintaining international access in an unresolved
political crisis is a continuous activity. Over the past seven years,
there have been at least 15 major missions and some half dozen
agreements of increasing formality concerning access. Together with
numerous instances of UN and donor lobbying, this almost continuous
political pressure has proven necessary to keep OLS running. At the
same time, the humanitarian principles that govern negotiated acess
have undergone significant change. During the initial phase of OLS,
emphasis was placed on a series of ad hoc arrangements that promised
access to war-affected populations wherever they may be. From 1992,
while agreements remained ambiguous, there has been a growing
formality, and, significantly, a tendency to interpret access as
relating to specific war-affected areas only. In other words, there
has been a definitional shift in OLS from principle to geography. This
has major implications for OLS's modus operandi.
2.2.1 The Ad Hoc Initial Phase
In March 1989, the UN and the GOS organised a high level donor and agency
meeting in Khartoum. Here, the OLS I Plan of Action was finalised.
Travelling between Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and South Sudan, James Grant
- the Personal Representative of the UN Secretary General - secured
the agreement of the SPLM/A to the cease-fire related "corridors of
tranquillity" that the Khartoum plan demanded. In effect, OLS I was
a set of informal, bilateral agreements between the warring parties
and the UN; since the agreements were personally brokered by James
Grant, they did not result in a signed understanding. Although the
absence of signed agreements was felt to be a problem at the time
(Carlton, 1990: 17-18), it was not until March 1994 that the first
signed agreement was reached. The informal approach, with less
success, was replicated in OLS II after James Grant ceased to be
In practice, "agreement" comprised the parties involved simply
allowing the operation to proceed. That is:
...the distribution to the destined populations is effected as
an agreement between the Government of the Sudan and donor
governments (UN, 1989, March 14: 7).
This initial time-limited approach was based on the belief that all
emergencies are short-term. It established the basis of international
access as being dependent on a continuous process of renegotiation.
Although originally conceived as a one month operation, OLS I ran
between April and August 1989. Its Plan of Action sets out the general
principles upon which the operation was to be based. Over time, the
humanitarian principles of OLS have been distilled to a set of
statements covering independent access, neutrality, and transparency.
However, in the original agreement, the principles also included a
range of actions to be undertaken by the GOS and the international
community within a specific Plan of Action. Such considerations form
the majority of the points raised in the original agreement.
Regarding access, the Plan of Action (UN, 1989, March 14: 2-4) sets
out the following points:
- the "neutrality of humanitarian relief" should be recognised,
- free access should be guaranteed to UN, donor, and NGO personnel
participating in relief activities, enabling them "to reach all
civilian non-combatant populations in need of emergency relief
throughout the Sudan",
- aid convoys will only carry humanitarian assistance.
The idea of "transparency" finds no mention at this stage. Most of the
other principles cover the various organisational roles and
responsibilities of the GOS and the international community in
completing the Plan of Action. GOS, for example, was expected to:
prepare sites for relocating the displaced, facilitate the work of
international NGOs, establish RRC-led consultative relief
committees and improve its monitoring and reporting, provide a
favourable exchange rate to aid agencies, establish a civilian radio
network through the RRC, create a high level ministerial committee,
and so on. For its part, the international community was to strengthen
the role of the RRC and help it meet delivery targets.
With the notable exception of its relocation programme for the
displaced and the establishment of local relief committees, the GOS
acted on few of the points in the Plan of Action. Building on earlier
tensions, relations with international NGOs (INGOs), for example, have
remained problematic throughout the whole period of OLS. Moreover, the
systematic regulation of INGOs in the North properly dates from the
beginning of 1993 only. For its part, the international community also
failed to live up to its allotted responsibilities. Indeed, during the
early 1990s, all major donors cut development assistance to Sudan as
the government lost international favour; hence, strengthening GOS
structures became a non-option. Presently, UNDP is one of the few major
agencies attempting to support such activities.
The same general point can be made about the institutional undertakings
set out in the OLS II Plan of Action (UN, 1990, March 28). Generally
speaking, few undertakings were acted upon. This has now become a point
of contention for the GOS (GOS, 1996, April), which claims that the
UN and donor governments have not honoured the supportive measures set
out in these documents.
As consent was first withdrawn toward the end of 1989, the humanitarian
principles of OLS were defined more clearly. Access became something
to defend in its own right (File Note, 1989, November 17). By 1990,
OLS's humanitarian principles had gained a more defined and separate
existence within the OLS II Plan of Action (UN, 1990, March 28: 3-4).
For example, the principle of access to war-affected populations
regardless of their location is clearly set out.
OLS II ran between March and December 1990. The following are
abbreviated points from OLS Principles as existing in the OLS II Plan
of Action (UNICEF/OLS, 1990).
The Neutrality of Humanitarian Relief:
- relief and rehabilitation to civilians in need "wherever they
are is deemed to be neutral".
The Transparency of Relief Operations:
- all activities are conducted openly and "closely monitored by
the United Nations to ensure complete transparency and
The Necessity of Partnership Among All Concerned Parties in OLS:
- to ensure the survival of all civilians in need, the warring
parties "agree that the basic welfare of civilians, wherever they
are located, must be respected".
Corridors of Tranquillity:
- UN flagged transport will be allowed to pass safely.
The Special Mandate of the United Nations:
- that the UN continues to mediate with the SPLM to facilitate
relief operations and to continue "obtaining their endorsements
and support to OLS principles and agreements, including
'corridors of tranquillity', the targeting of food to all
civilians in need, and monitoring arrangements".
Another important position established at this time was that of NGOs
working in the Southern Sector. Under the OLS II agreement, the
following was established in this regard:
...the UN, jointly with the Government, will provide an
operational framework for all OLS II relief personnel,
institutions and NGOs, in all areas, including registered NGOs
working in areas under the control of the SPLM. To this effect,
letters of association will be signed between all NGOs and the
UN, listing the principles of OLS, operational modalities and a
declaration that all parties agree to work within these
principles and modalities (UN, 1990, March 28: 7).
This ambiguous statement has been interpreted by the UN as meaning that
letters of association (now termed Letters of Understanding) between
INGOs and UNICEF are sufficient as a means to register INGOs in
non-government areas. The ability of the UN to act in this manner is
held to be the embodiment of its impartiality and neutrality. Moreover,
it is only on this basis that the operation has been accepted by the
opposition movements. Following the end of OLS II in December 1990,
however, the GOS has persistently claimed that this arrangement is
insufficient, and that unless all INGOs register in Khartoum, they are
operating illegally (O'Reilly, 1991, March 29)).
As the first crisis deepened, several attempts were made to revive the
operation. In February 1991, for example, a mission by Under-Secretary
General James Jonah resulted in the GOS reaffirming its commitment to
OLS principles. Despite this, however, there was no subsequent
agreement for an OLS III, and relief activity continued on an ad hoc
basis (UN, 1992, September 3).
2.2.2 DHA Involvement and the Current Phase
During its initial phase, OLS documentation gives the impression of
a UN-coordinated operation that has access to all war-affected
populations, whether in government or non-government areas. Although
this was a fiction, especially in government areas, it nevertheless
meant that the warring parties were at least agreeing to the principle
of free access. Following the revitalisation of OLS from the end of
1992, however, a change is noticeable. Although access to war-affected
populations wherever their location continues to be mentioned, it is
qualified by other statements which suggest that UN coordination is
confined to those non-government areas that the GOS is willing to agree
are both "war-affected", and beyond its control.
In agreements from the end of 1992 forward, the position concerning
access is ambiguous, and has led to competing interpretations. This
ambiguity is clear from DHA's first involvement. In September 1992,
following a meeting between President el-Beshir and Jan Eliasson - the
new UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs - a joint
statement was issued accepting OLS principles and indicating that:
...the Government of Sudan and the UN reaffirmed the critical
importance of access to all people in need of humanitarian
assistance wherever they may be, respect for the neutrality of
relief operations and the fundamental necessity for transparency
(UN, 1992, September 16: 1. Emphasis added).
At the same time, however:
The Government requested the United Nations to coordinate all
relief assistance to populations in conflict affected areas (UN,
1992, September 16: 1. Emphasis added).
While the text of the agreement may be contradictory, the GOS
understanding of the position was clear. Addressing the UN General
Assembly the following November, the RRC Commissioner Dr. Ibrahim Abu
Oaf described OLS as a new form of governmental and UN cooperation:
...to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those
trapped in war zones (GOS, 1992, November 16).
At this stage, one may interpret the GOS understanding of OLS as
implying UN access to conflict-affected populations in war zones only.
In other words, areas such as the Nuba Mountains or North Sudan deemed
to be under government control were, by implication, not considered
to be war zones. While the UN's lobbying position has been that the
GOS has agreed to access to war-affected populations irrespective of
who controls the territory, in practice there has been a tendency by
the UN to adopt the GOS interpretation of access at an operational
level. This means that an operational duality between North and South
was implictly accepted.
In this regard, following the Eliasson mission, an implicit UN
understanding developed that, in effect, OLS is confined to the
Southern Sector. When Charles Lamuniere of DHA visited Khartoum in
December 1992 to discuss the implementation of the Eliasson agreement,
for example, it is noticeable that apart from a passing reference to
its "Khartoum branch", OLS is not mentioned once in relation to the
North (Lamuniere, 1992, December: 9). The problem of restricted access
to the displaced and Transition Zone was presented as essentially a
problem between INGOs and the GOS.
The subsequent August and December 1993 missions of the newly appointed
Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs, Ambassador Traxler, exemplify
the need to address a growing operational duality in the context of
an ambiguous access agreement. The missions operated at two levels.
The formal mission reports indicate the operational divide; in the
North, they document attempts to improve relations between INGOs and
the GOS largely in terms of improving INGO access to areas controlled
by the government. At the same time, the Special Envoy attempted to
increase UN-coordinated access in the South (Traxler, 1993, August
5-11; December 7-14). It is important to note, however, that the issue
of UN access to the Nuba Mountains was also pursued (Traxler, 1996,
May 13); this was rejected by the GOS, on the grounds that the GOS
controlled the entire area.
The most significant OLS agreement was reached as part of the IGADD
mediation process. However, the contradiction between free access and
access determined by geographical zones has persisted. During
proximity talks in Nairobi in January 1994, the UN, GOS, SPLA/M, and
SPLA/M United reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring:
...relief assistance to all people, irrespective of who controls
the locations in which they live (GOK, 1994, January 21).
In March 1994, these points were directly incorporated into the first
signed OLS agreement, linking GOS, SPLA/M, and SPLA/M United, and
witnessed by IGADD member states (GOK, 1994, March 23). They were
subsequently ratified in May in a tripartite implementation agreement
between the GOS, the opposition movements, and the UN (GOK, 1994, May
17). DHA's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs signed on behalf of
Not only are these the only signed agreements between concerned parties
in OLS, the documents still operate as OLS's formal reference point.
Following renewed calls by the GOS to close the Southern Sector
operation, and its abrogation of a tripartite approach, attempts to
renegotiate existing access agreements have proved unsuccessful.
Given the status of these agreements, it is worth quoting what is said,
and noting again their ambiguity. The March agreement (GOK, 1994, March
23) makes three main points:
The delivery of relief assistance to all needy populations
regardless of their locations.
Humanitarian assistance shall benefit only civilians, and shall
not be used by warring parties.
All humanitarian actions and activities shall be transparent and
carried out with the full knowledge of all parties.
The objectives of these principles was to prevent unnecessary hunger,
lower high levels of morbidity and mortality, assist civilians to
re-establish traditional coping mechanisms, and restore basic social
services. Moreover, regarding implementation, the agreement
...the United Nations/Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) the free
movement of food and non-food relief by air, land, river and rail
as agreed by the UN/OLS and the concerned parties (GOK, 1994,
While the text of the March and May 1994 agreements appears to endorse
the principle of international access to war-affected populations
whatever their location, the titles of both agreements indicate that
they relate only to "War Affected Areas."
The GOS has consistently used the ambiguity within what can be called
the DHA agreements to push for a geographical delimitation of OLS
activities. Following the May 1994
agreement, for example, it was pointed out with reference to the North
The Traxler Agreement should not be utilized by the United Nations
for the purpose of speaking on behalf of the voluntary
organisations, to whom we have always opened our door to, and have
provided with all necessary assistance (Abdelrahman Abu Doum,
1994, June 23).
In November 1995, following a period of renewed GOS concerns about OLS,
the government unilaterally abrogated the tripartite basis of the 1994
agreement. Henceforth, a bilateral series of understandings,
reminiscent of the initial phase of OLS, would be sought. Since a new
agreement has yet to be reached, these developments have threatened
to return OLS to the ad hoc basis of programming that characterised
the early 1990s.
At the same time, the area-based definition inherent in the GOS
approach has been reconfirmed in relation to relief flights to South
Sudan. On the grounds of security, the GOS unilaterally banned all aid
flights into South Sudan in November 1995. While the ban was lifted
two weeks later, it illustrates the vulnerability of OLS to the
exercise of GOS sovereignty. Not only is the government able to
unilaterally ban flights to locations over which it often exercises
no effective control, once announced, bans become automatic due to UN
security procedures. That is, since the safety of aircraft can no
longer be guaranteed - which raises insurance considerations - the New
York-based UN Security Coordinator immediately enforces the ban.
Following concerted efforts within the UN system, the flight ban of
November 1995 was eventually lifted. The price to be paid for GOS
cooperation, however, was a significant expansion of its area-based
definition of the question of access. Although the 1992 Eliasson
agreement had allowed OLS to operationally concentrate on the South,
in lifting the ban, the UN conceded to the GOS new power to
differentiate between "war zones" and areas "affected by war" within
the South. The agreement reached in Khartoum with the UN Resident
...accepted that OLS will not fly over or to war zones and stated
that the UN has no staff in these zones, nor has any activities
there (GOS, 1995, December 2).
Henceforth, the UN and its related agencies would only have access to
areas "affected by war" (GOS, 1995, December 2) in the South. In effect,
this established the ability of the GOS to designate some areas of South
Sudan as "war zones", and thereby exclude an OLS presence. Given that
international access has been more limited in the North than the South,
it would appear that the government is attempting to impose the same
kind of restrictions in the South that have applied to the Transition
Zone and the Nuba Mountains for some years.
The implications of the Khartoum agreement of December 1995, which
somewhat surprisingly won the approval of the UN, were put into
immediate effect. While the total flight ban was lifted, it was
followed by the imposition of a "no-fly" zone covering the
Yei-Juba-Kapoeta-Nimule area of Equatoria, and a continuing denial of
all ex-Uganda flights. The no-fly zone was in operation until March
1996. While flight bans have been common throughout the history of OLS,
this was the first instance of a sustained no-fly zone. Reflecting the
powers won under the December 1995 agreement, the South saw its first
case of an area denial (Saunders and Harvey, 1996, April 11). Together
with the abrogation of the 1994 tripartite agreement, this new
development may herald a period of increasing area restriction of OLS
within South Sudan.
2.2.3 A Comparison of OLS Agreements
Apart from allowing a growing operational duality, it should be noted
that the DHA agreements (1992 - 1994) differ from the OLS I and OLS
II agreements (1989 - 1990). OLS I and OLS II documents are essentially
plans of action associated with time- limited relief operations. UN
and donor support for GOS institutions detailed within them is related
to securing the conditions to fulfil these plans. The DHA agreements,
on the other hand, were reached in a different situation. Relatively
fixed "corridors of tranquillity" were in the process of being
abandoned in favour of flexible access in the context of an ongoing
war. Moreover, the plan of action approach was developing into a more
continuous operation, based on regular assessments.
Rather than concentrating on operational detail, the DHA agreements
are shorter documents concentrating on modalities and access
corridors. Undertakings to support GOS institutions, or the move to
rehabilitation and development work, are fewer and are discussed in
relation to more general UN resolutions, rather than being discussed
as specific undertakings in the context of the agreement itself. In
fact, the signed agreements of March and May 1994 make no mention of
institutional support or development work.
In allowing for a growing operational duality in OLS, the DHA
agreements have had a profound impact on the organisational structure
of the OLS operation, considered in the next section. In terms of
containing a set of humanitarian principles open to international
regulation, they have proved inadequate in the Northern Sector
especially. More generally, while the DHA agreements reflect the
highly politicised nature of the operation, the ambiguity within them
has exacerbated conflicting interpretations of OLS, without providing
a mechanism for arbitration that such conflicting intepretations
require. Indeed, a mechanism to monitor compliance with the DHA
agreements, and to abjudicate disputes, is noticeable by its absence.
In this regard, the Review Team noted that any new agreement for OLS
must be based on a much more carefully crafted set of documents than
2.3 Lack of Mangerial Cohesion Within OLS
2.3.1 The Organisational Division of OLS
Documentation for the initial phase of OLS does not indicate the
actual division of Sudan that had occurred as a result of the war.
The OLS I Plan of Action, for example, makes no mention of either
the Southern Sector or the SPLM/A (UN, 1989, March 23), and the OLS
II Plan of Action (UN, 1990, March 28) is only marginally better in
this respect. Rather, in the initial phase, OLS is misleadingly
presented as an operation that was agreed and facilitated by the GOS,
and mounted by the UN, over a unified national territory.
From the perspective of the UN, the reticence to recognize the
war-induced division of the country is perhaps understandable. In
1989, working through recognised governments had yet to be tempered
by the ending of the Cold War. OLS was radical, and fears of bestowing
political legitimacy on the SPLM/A were high. Moreover, it was widely
believed that peace was only a matter of time. Both OLS I and II were
conceived as discrete, time-limited operations in relation to a
perceived short-term need. OLS I especially was thought to be
contributing to the peace process by bringing the warring parties
together on what was assumed to be a set of shared humanitarian aims.
Despite the lack of candor in the documentation, OLS I nevertheless
established a basic and enduring aspect of OLS; that is, the division
of humanitarian operations between a Northern and Southern Sector.
With regard to the latter, UNICEF's earlier association with the
pre-OLS cross-border operation was important in informing the choice
to place UNICEF as the lead agency in non-government areas:
In view of UNICEF's special mandate, which authorises it to
operate as a United Nations entity in rebel held areas without
implying tacit United Nations recognition, it was agreed that
UNICEF would act as the United Nations lead agency, opening
offices to facilitate the implementation of the programme
particularly in the health sector, to monitor distribution and
to provide an umbrella for NGO activities. WFP, which would bear
a major responsibility for the transport of food aid and other
commodities, would also operate in the south (UNICEF, 1989: 8).
A mandated, UN umbrella for humanitarian operations in South Sudan
was a major innovation. In North Sudan, on the other hand, a more
conventional arrangement was adopted which reflected the status quo.
That is, the UNDP Emergency Unit in Khartoum, under an existing
Special Coordinator, would continue to organise relief activities
in government areas in collaboration with the GOS. Here, WFP played
the main co-ordinating role.
What makes OLS I distinct, however, is that for the six months it
lasted, its two sections - North and South - where held together by
a novel organisational link. That is, UNICEF's Executive Director,
James Grant, was appointed the UN Secretary General's Personal
...with a mandate to contact governments and international
organisations at the highest level, to mobilise support and to
serve as a point of contact with the Government of Sudan and
the SPLA (UNICEF, 1989: 8).
As Personal Representative of the Secretary General, Grant was also
responsible for providing direction to the two principle UN agencies,
UNICEF and WFP. His position as an external, New York-based
go-between proved a useful tool in overcoming logistical and
political problems between the GOS and the SPLM/A. A weakness in this
approach, however, was that it was only geared to a single,
time-limited operation; hence, all arrangements made were informal
and ad hoc.
2.3.2 UNDP and the Conflict of Interests
While the planning for OLS II began in November 1989, a GOS flight
ban between then and April 1990 seriously curtailed relief
activities. It was not until the following month that OLS II
operations properly restarted.
OLS II, however, had some important organisational differences with
its predecessor. In September 1989, Michael Priestly replaced the
exiting UNDP representative to become the Under-Secretary General
for Humanitarian Affairs's Special Coordinator based in Khartoum,
and James Grant ceased his go-between role as Personal Representative
of the Secretary General. As a UNDP appointment, with special
responsibility for the relief activities of OLS, the arrival of
Priestley represented a normalisation of the situation in UN terms.
Since UNDP is mandated to work through recognised governments,
however, this was viewed by some as returning more control to the
GOS (Aboum, 1990, October: 13).
The Special Coordinator was still regarded as the Secretary General's
point of contact between the warring parties (UN, 1990, March 14).
In relation to the SPLM/A, however, this role was in practice given
to UNICEF's OLS Coordinator based in Nairobi (UNCERO, 1990). In
effect, at the same time that OLS II returned more control to the
GOS, there was a downgradinig of the level of UN linkage to the SPLM/A.
The change was not was not lost on the opposition movement, and
created an atmosphere of mistrust (OLS, 1990, May 19).
With regard to access, however, the situation was reversed. While
more formal control of the operation was returned to the GOS in the
Northern Sector, international agencies made the most headway on the
ground in the Southern Sector. Although receiving scant mention in
the OLS I and II documentation, UNICEF had taken effective
responsibility for establishing an OLS Nairobi coordination office.
A sectoral programme in the South quickly developed, and established
a reputation as being able to "set a faster pace" than operations
in the North (Aboum, 1990, October: 16).
Although it still lacked definition, by the time of OLS II, the basis
of the organisational division of labour within the UN had begun to
take shape. Within the Southern Sector, UNICEF was establishing an
innovative programme of aid coordination in an ongoing conflict. In
the Northern Sector, formal control had been returned to UNDP. During
the early 1990s, relations between INGOs and the GOS deteriorated,
as the attitude of the GOS to international humanitarian activity
became more restrictive. At the same time, the UN was perceived to
be offering INGOs little support (INGO, 1992, September 5).
The tension thus created within the UN system - that is, one UN agency
respecting a sovereignty government, while another UN agency is
attempting to deliver humanitarian assistance in the midst of a war
to which the sovereign government is a party - has been a persistent
weaknesses of the OLS structure. In reviewing the situation in
December 1989, a UNICEF workshop reached a consensus that:
...it was not wise, if not unfair, in a situation of open
conflict, to have the executive head of the Operation
responsible for dealing with both the Government and the SPLM,
located in Khartoum. His permanent presence there, and the
variety of responsibilities he had, including that of UNDP
Resident Representative in Sudan, placed him a position where
some deference to the government was deemed appropriate and
required (Carlton, 1990: 18).
The situation of having the UNDP Resident Representative also
responsible for OLS activities has persisted. In September 1992, in
a UN briefing for a visit by the Under-Secretary General for
Humanitarian Affairs, it was noted:
...that this puts the Coordinator in an extremely difficult
position, having to be the go-between and the bearer of bad
tidings between the Government and the SPLM (not to mention the
donor community) while at the same time carrying out his normal
UNDP responsibilities (UN, 1992, September 3: 5-6).
DHA involvement has not fundamentally affected this contradiction
in roles. The response from UNDP has typically been that there is
a need to retain a single UN focal point within a country; moreover,
with its development brief, UNDP is well situated to provide an
overview and to keep all activities within one system (Cairn, 1995,
The current Special Coordinator in Khartoum, Christoph Jaeger, is
still a UNDP appointment who now answers to DHA New York on OLS matters
(Jaeger, 1996, March 30). Not only has the contradiction been left
untouched, an extra layer of reporting has also been added. In echos
of the above quote, the Review Team heard continued donor and INGO
scepticism concerning the dual role of UNDP, given what was seen as
an inbuilt conflict of interest. At the same time, DHA was regarded
as too distant to provide effective leadership.
The contradictions, tensions, and ambiguities within OLS have
necessitated the intervention of an external interlocutor.
DHA's appointment of a Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs can
be seen as an attempt to address these problems. In August 1993,
Ambassador Traxler made the first of nine missions to date to Sudan
and Kenya. Following the de facto operational division of Sudan,
however, his role has been played out in a structure within a
structure. In other words, his missions include attempts to improve
INGO and GOS relations in the North, as well as to improve access
from the government side, at the same time as maintaining UN Southern
The Special Envoy has replaced the ad hoc missions that took place
during the initial phase of OLS. This means, importantly, that a
single, high-ranking UN official has been formally charged with
maintaining OLS, and resolving the periodic crises which have
emerged. In this regard, the creation of the post is indicative of
the greater sense of continuity that has developed within OLS since
1992. This continuity and formality exists, however, in the midst
of a diffuse and compartmentalised UN managment structure.
2.3.3 Implications of An Informal "Safe Area" Approach
The effective confinement of OLS to South Sudan following DHA
involvement has already been noted. Compared to the initial phase
of OLS, as the Southern Sector develops, it is the Northern Sector
which tends to slip from sight. The implicit division of Sudan, or,
more specifically, the limitation of OLS to certain non-government
areas in the South, represents a de facto adaptation of the OLS
operation which has benefited both the UN and the GOS. In effect,
this adaptation was a political, rather than managerial arrangement.
Given the level of government opposition to OLS, the political
seperation of the programme into distinct Sectors has been the secret
of its survival. Parts of the UN have been able to trade the
continuation of Southern Sector operations for the lack of serious
challenge to GOS restrictive practices in the North. For example,
despite their ambiguity, the government has never been publically
pressed by the UN on its failure to implement OLS access principles.
For its part, the GOS has been able to treat the Souther Sector
operation as a temporary phenomenon, and, in the meantime, refine
its own regulatory and contractual apparatus for aid work in the whole
of the country, according to this model.
From the end of 1992, the non-government areas of South Sudan emerged
as a form of "safe area". While lacking military protection - for
example, through UN Peacekeeping troops - a sophisticated security
apparatus has nevertheless emerged which monitors the level of
insecurity for humanitarian operations in the conflict zones. This
monitoring has allowed for the development of a system of flexible
access for humanitarian aid in the context of ongoing warfare. In
place of military protection, access has been maintained through the
vulnerability of the warring parties to international pressure. In
the case of the GOS, this has largely been the fear of punitive
diplomatic action. For the opposition movements, the courting of
international recognition is involved.
Such pressure was variously maintained throughout 1993 and, with the
involvement of regional governments in the IGADD process, during
1994. Since the begining of 1995, however, it has begun to dissolve.
This, in turn, has enabled the GOS to restate its established
objections to OLS, and to assert the temporary nature of OLS's
An informal "safe area" approach to South Sudan has allowed
humanitarian assistance to reach many people who might otherwise not
have been helped. Indeed, during 1993 and 1994, the Southern Sector
underwent a major period of expansion. The number of NGOs involved,
for example, roughly trebled. The structure of OLS is such, however,
that this access has been purchased largely on the basis of an
unspoken political understanding that war-affected populations in
the North remain outside of OLS.
The case of the Nuba Mountains is instructive in this respect. It
has already been mentioned that access by OLS was first posed in
August 1993, by the Special Envoy (Traxler, 1996, May 13). These talks
floundered, however, following GOS insistence that the Nuba
Mountains were under government control, despite OLS evidence to the
contrary. The Nuba question was again raised during the course of
the IGADD process in 1994. On this occassion, owing to the involvement
of oppostion movements, it was difficult for the GOS to argue full
control. The GOS still denied, but this time on the grounds that the
Nuba Mountains were not specifically mentioned in the original OLS
agreements (Traxler, 1996, May 13). Access was again on the agenda
during the recent visits of the Special Envoy in November 1995, and
April 1996. In a reversion to its earlier postion, UN access has again
been denied by the GOS on the grounds that the government is in control
of the area, and that conditions are normal.
While the Southern Sector has expanded, it can be argued that DHA's
quiet diplomacy in the North has failed to increase international
access in the face of government oppostion. This has important
implications for OLS as a form of safe area programme, since it
suggests that, apart from areas agreed with the sovereign power -
which is also one of the warring parties - the international community
is not able to offer protection to the internally displaced.
2.3.4 A Diffuse Management Structure
The trade off between OLS operations in parts of the non-government
areas, and GOS control of the balance of areas, has had several
consequences. Although regarded as representing a conflict of
interest by many commentators, UNDP has continued to fill the post
of Special Coordinator in Khartoum. The only modification on this
has been that on OLS matters, the Special Coordinator now reports
to DHA in New York. As detailed in the Northern case studies (chapters
4 and 7), UN agencies in Khartoum, and especially UNDP and UNICEF,
have taken a back seat in relation to upholding OLS principles. This
has created a situation where the role of OLS is ill-defined. Indeed,
echoing the GOS position, some senior UN officials in Khartoum claim
that there is no OLS agreement for the North (Jaeger, 1996, March
The de facto division of Sudan, and UN recognition of GOS sovereignty
in the North, has led to an informal and defensive managerial division
within OLS. In principle, the Special Coordinator in Khartoum has
responsibility for OLS activities in the Southern Sector - something
clearly spelt out in the early OLS agreements. In practice, however,
this has evolved into an advisory and supportive role only. In theory,
the OLS Coordinator/UNICEF Chief of Operations reports to the Special
Coordinator in Khartoum for the Southern Sector. In practice,
however, this line of reporting has been broken by the mediation of
DHA New York, which usually responds in favour of the OLS
Coordinator/UNICEF Chief of Operations, rather than the Special
Coordinator in Khartoum (Jaeger, 1996, March 30).
More generally, the links between UN agencies in Khartoum and Nairobi
have also become less well defined. With regard to UNICEF, until
recently Nairobi had a reporting relationship to Khartoum on UNICEF
matters. This was more "collegiate" than formal, however (O'Brien,
1995, December 2). The current OLS Coordinator/UNICEF Chief of
Operations in Nairobi reports to UNICEF's Middle East Desk in Amman,
Jordan, rather than UNICEF Khartoum. With regard to WFP, although
WFP Khartoum is technically in charge of all OLS matters, the Southern
Sector operation is handled from WFP's regional Nairobi office.
Further, since WFP operates a single Sudan grant, administered by
headquarters in Rome, headquarters-field office relations also
The result of this informal separation between the two Sectors has
been a managerial structure which minimises the potential for UN
interference from the North. In a stituation characterised by
ambiguous agreements which do not challenge the sovereighty of the
GOS, informal seperation is, in effect, the only protection for
UNICEF's lead agency status in the Southern Sector. It has also given
OLS a lack of coherence and political definition, however. Apart from
regular procedures for flight clearance, for example, UN agencies
in the Northern and Southern Sectors have developed a good deal of
autonomy from each other. With the limited exception of periodic
visits from the Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs, there is no
single UN clearing house for deciding wider policy issues on a
continuous basis. Rather, important decisions potentially affecting
all aspects of OLS are often taken on a local and ad hoc basis in
both Sectors. In a highly politicised crisis, where attempts to
manipulate aid by the warring parties is a possibility, the lack of
political coherence is both a weakness and a liability.
Although some remedial steps have been taken, they have mainly been
at the level of the UN personnel exchanges. For example, since the
beginning of 1966 WFP has embarked on a programme of exchange visits
of food monitors. Although the Review Team regards such measures as
useful, they do not address the lack of senior level managerial and
political coherence within OLS. A new OLS agreement should take
steps to strengthen the overall coordinating role of DHA, provide
greater politcal cohesion for OLS, and establish clear lines of
competance between OLS agencies.
2.4 Criticisms and Concerns of the Warring Parties
It is perhaps not surprising that OLS agreements are ambiguous, or
that an ill-defined managment structure has emerged. The war in Sudan
has rendered humanitarian aid highly politicised; in such a context,
pragmatic adjustments and decision making are inevitable.
In this regard, the views of the warring parties are also important,
since they shape the political environment in which OLS works. By
1992, the basic criticisms from warring parties concerning OLS were
already well established. Rather than being subject to significant
change, these views - often mirror images of each other - have been
re-emphasised and embellished in recent years.
2.4.1 Government Concerns
Within months of the military coup of June 1989, OLS was being
denounced in the Khartoum press as a violation of Sudanese
sovereignty (UNICEF/OLS, 1990, May 19). Accusations of
"irregularity" in South Sudan were also made. These included alleged
evidence that OLS was supplying arms and ammunition to the rebels
(Al Sudan Al Hadith, 1989, September 12). OLS was held, moreover,
to have a lack impartiality in relief matters. For example, when GOS
forces took control over an area, humanitarian aid did not arrive;
meanwhile, the rebels received different treatment. Such views fed
into early demands for GOS certification of all flight schedules
(File Note, 1989, November 17), and for assessments by a "neutral
UN team" to verify population status (O'Reilly, 1991, March 20). The
GOS demand that all INGOs operating in South Sudan should register
in Khartoum has already been mentioned.
As the first crisis deepened, such critical views underpinned
restrictive actions by the GOS during 1991 and 1992. They were also
reinforced by two new developments. The first was a temporary return
of famine conditions to North Sudan during 1991, which highlighted
the government's continued vulnerability in the field of social
welfare, and its reliance on donor governments. The aim of promoting
rehabilitation and development in place of relief has been part of
the global rhetoric of humanitarian assistance since the 1980s. By
1992, in a determined effort to boost domestic food production, the
GOS made the move from relief to development an organzing principle
of its welfare policy (RRC, 1992). Since that time, no INGO has been
allowed to register for anything other than rehabilitation and
development (GOS, 1994, April 12). Coming at a time when donor
governments were cutting development funding, it underlined GOS
insistence that OLS should also abandon its focus on relief and cease
the earmarking of funds.
The second critical reinforcement of GOS criticisms of OLS relate
to the military gains made by GOS during 1992. While no detailed
political maps of South Sudan exist (or at least have been made
public), the government's argument is that, while Southern
opposition movements previously controlled most of South Sudan, the
situation has been reversed since 1992. This has led to repeated
questioning of the veracity of Southern Sector needs assessments and,
by implication, population assessments. At the same time, the
necessity for a Nairobi-based, cross-border programme into
non-government areas was questioned. By September 1992, it was widely
held among aid agencies in Khartoum that the GOS wanted to control
the whole of the OLS operation (UNDP, 1992, September 4).
A succinct account of GOS criticisms of OLS that had been developing
over the previous three years, is contained in a 1992 RRC report (RRC,
1992, September 17). This report indicates the belief that the OLS
Southern Sector is violating Sudan's sovereignty and territorial
integrity, and that the INGOs working within it are in breach of
Sudan's visa laws, and are not registered in Khartoum. It also
suggests that insufficient and misleading information was being
supplied to the government. Finally, given recent military gains the
government, the UN needs to revise its relief plans. Hence:
...the Sudan believes that the Nairobi office of the OLS should
be demoted, moving the OLS Headquarters to Khartoum to cope with
the strategy of the gradual shifting of operations to Khartoum,
Malakal and El Obied (RRC, 1992, September 17: 1).
This move would also facilitate donor demands for cost savings by
maximising the use of surface transport. Since the opposition
movements were alleged to be the main culprits in restricting relief
supplies, such a move would also help guarantee access.
This set of views, plus the demand that OLS move from relief to
development, have subsequently been embellished and reinforced.
Regular allegations of OLS violations of sovereignty and neutrality
in South Sudan have been made. In October 1993, there was a request
by the GOS to station a government representative at the UN logistical
camp at Lokichokio in Kenya (Awad Khalifa Musa, 1993, October 12).
In the event, the Kenyan government has not been supportive of this
During the course of the IGADD peace process in 1994, which produced
the first written OLS agreement, GOS concerns continued to be voiced
(Traxler, 1994, January 27). More specifically, the GOS claimed that
SPLA areas were receiving more aid than was warranted, and that
consequently there was a need to reduce the Kenya operation.
Incidentally, the IGADD process was unable to secure any agreement
on cross-line modalities for road convoys, since this would have
involved transferability to maps, and would have contradicted GOS
territorial claims (O'Brien, 1994, August 1).
Throughout 1995, GOS criticisms of OLS continued. Although none of
the allegations have been proven (Jaeger, 1996, March 30), they form
the background to a growing pattern of aircraft and flight
restrictions, and increasing attempts to manage the Southern Sector
from Khartoum. These moves have helped to precipitated the second
crisis of OLS. In July 1995, the earlier demand that the Southern
Sector be closed and its activities transferred to government areas
- in this case, Malakal - was restated (GOS, 1994, July 27). Further,
to counter the relative autonomy that had grown within the Southern
Sector, all OLS activities should be placed directly under UNCERO
The GOS position on OLS, and the alleged irregularities within it,
were made clear to the Review Team in November 1995. Two new
developments, however, have taken place. First, arising out the visit
of the Special Envoy on Humanitarian Affairs in November 1995, it
was indicated that GOS was now unwilling to regard OLS as a tripartite
agreement. In effect, this means that the signed agreement of 1994
was being unilaterally abrogated. The government would no longer
tolerate being put on an equal footing with rebels; rather, the GOS
now wished to revert to the type of bilateral arrangement which had
characterised earlier agreements (Ministry of Social Planning, 1996,
The second new development was presented to the Review Team in The
Document of the Government of Sudan on the OLS Review (GOS, 1996,
April). The main contention in this document is that UN and donor
failure to support national institutions, involve the government in
decision making, move from relief to development, use cheaper
transport, and so forth, is in violation of OLS agreements. However,
the GOS's rejection of a tripartite arrangement - the only signed
OLS agreement of 1994 - is not mentioned in this document. Attention
is rather focused on the more informal 1989 to 1993 arrangements,
and especially the OLS I and II Plans of Action.
It should be noted that the main concern of the signed 1994 agreement,
which makes no mention of support to the GOS, was that of access to
war-affected populations, a central theme of all OLS agreements. The
government document presented to the Review Team is silent on this
fundamental issue, however; where access is mentioned, it is in
relation to the specific geographical target areas of the OLS II Plan
of Action (GOS, 1996, April: 25). Apart from the South, these included
the whole of the Transition Zone, and the areas settled by the
displaced around Khartoum - areas where restrictions are, in any
case, being enforced.
Aside from the unilateral rejection of the 1994 agreement, there has
been a striking continuity in the frequent expressions of GOS
criticism since 1989. This begs a number of questions; namely, why
the GOS agreed to OLS in the first place and, more importantly, why
this agreement was renewed on the several occasions when OLS has been
questions are considered further below.
2.4.2 Opposition Movement Concerns
In the initial phase of OLS, the bulk of all OLS assistance went to
the Northern Sector. During 1991, relief activity was further slanted
to the North with the temporary reappearance of famine conditions.
From the start of OLS II, the SPLA had formed the opinion that the
operation was "unfair" in terms of allocation of resources and,
importantly, was politically biased in favour of the GOS (UNICEF/OLS,
1990, May 19). Such claims were regularly voiced during the first
phase of OLS, and constituted the main reasons for the growing
non-cooperation of the opposition movements during the early 1990s
(Janvid, 1991, November 15).
The view of SPLA that OLS is biased towards GOS, and that the GOS
is able to use its position to manipulate OLS for military advantage,
has continued into the present phase. This idea was a recurring theme,
for example, in the 1994 IGADD meditations. While continuing, such
views have been supplemented more recently by elements that relate
to the institutional strengthening that has been underway within the
Current criticisms of OLS within the SPLM/A have three interconnected
components. They include: a continuing claim of OLS's political bias;
that GOS activities are a violation of OLS principles; that OLS
assistance is ineffective and even harmful. This particular set of
views became clearly defined during 1995, as the second crisis of
OLS deepened. Arising from the priviledged position accorded
sovereignty within the UN and the international system, the Secretary
General of the SRRA noted that within OLS:
...GOS has retained and exercises a veto on the ability of the
Southern Sector Operation to deliver humanitarian assistance
to any given location. The GOS is therefore able to manipulate
the provision of relief/humanitarian assistance according to
its military and political aims, and not according to the needs
of the civil population (Mour Muor, 1995, November 27: 1).
The opposition movements have also added a new element to this
criticism. That is, that since the signed agreement of 1994, the GOS
veto has been exercised in violation of the OLS principles to which
GOS is signatory (DHA, 1995, May 4: 2). This view has been
strengthened by the success of UNICEF/OLS in incorporating
humanitarian principles within its Ground Rules in the Southern
Sector. These Ground Rules have been endorsed by the SPLM/A and SPLM/A
United. By extension, GOS flight and access restrictions are seen
as a violation of the same Ground Rules (SPLM/A, 1995, September 21:
7). Moreover, in not opposing such restrictions, the UN is seen as
complicit in this abrogation:
This manipulation of humanitarian assistance by the GOS, and
the silent acquiesence of the UN/OLS, are violations of
humanitarian principles, the OLS tripartite agreement, and
subsequent IGADD agreements (Mour Muor, 1995, November 17: 2).
According to the SPLM/A, access restrictions, and the inability of
the UN to oppose them, has eroded the effectiveness of OLS. Failure
to again access to movement-held areas of the Nuba Mountains is
presented as a prime example.
Concerns from opposition movements have also been extended to
operational matters, such as the extent of the cooperation of OLS
with Sudanese institutions, the high cost of the operation, and the
quality of programming. These criticisms are extensive; some salient
points are noted here. Reflecting GOS claims that OLS has not
supported government institutions, the SPLM/A claim that the level
of coordination and joint planning with the SRRA and civil bodies
is unsatisfactory (SPLM/A, 1995, September 21 and November 27).
Rather than civil authorities identifying needs and priorities, it
is UNICEF/OLS that does this. While the Ground Rules make for a
capacity building undertaking, this has not been adequately
honoured. OLS agencies, moreover, show a distinct preference to
employ Ethiopian and, especially, Kenyan staff rather than Southern
Sudanese. A valuable training opportunity is therefore being lost.
In relation to cost effectiveness, the opposition movements, like
GOS, have long supported the use of cheaper forms of surface
transport. Rather than corridors from the North however, the
preference is for new cross-border road routes from Ethiopia, Zaire,
and the Central African Republic. The SPLM/A has also commented on
what it claims are the unacceptably high administrative costs of OLS.
It is widely held, for example, that only 5% of all the money spent
actually reaches beneficiaries (Mour Muor, 1995, November 27: 3).
This view is partly based on perceptions of the Lokichokkio Camp;
that is, high paid aid workers enjoying a relatively high standard
of food and accommodation provided free at the point of consumption.
This has also fed into other Lokichokkio concerns; for example, the
claimed racial discrimination regarding the allocation of
accommodation between camps A and B (Mour Muor, 1995, November 27:
3). It is alleged that camp A is reserved for whites and Kenyan and
Ethiopian employees of the aid agencies, while camp B, which has
inferior services, is for Southern Sudanese.
There is also dissatisfaction with the quality of the programmes
provided under OLS. Opposition movements have suggested that the UN
and NGOs employ too many young and inexperienced staff on short-term
contracts. Further, the timeliness and quality of the programming
and inputs leaves much to be desired; reflecting GOS views,
opposition movements also note there is a need to move from relief
to more rehabilitation and development work.
By September 1995, dissatisfaction with OLS had led to a situation
where there was widespread support within the SPLM/A for asking OLS
to withdraw from South Sudan (UNICEF/OLS, 1995, September). Apart
from the above, and contrary to GOS claims that OLS is biased toward
the rebels, it was felt that OLS's neutrality was preventing NGOs
from developing a real solidarity with the movement. Some also
believed, perhaps mistakenly, that the removal of OLS would be
replaced by a donor/NGO consortium offering more support on SPLM/A
The issue was discussed in an SPLM/A conference on OLS in November
1995. With regard to the political weakness of OLS, the movement was
apprehensive that the location of:
...the UN special representative office for emergencies in
Khartoum renders it susceptible to subtle political pressure
which are in turn transmitted down to the southern sector
resulting in usurpation or diminution of its authority (SPLM/A,
1995, November 27: 2).
The main recommendation to address this was that:
OLS be organisationally restructured its northern and southern
sectors (to) become separate and distinct from one another;
reporting independently and directly to a supervisory and
co-ordinating head office located outside Sudan (SPLM/A, 1995,
November 27: 2).
The response to this, as well as to the operational concerns
expressed, was a resolution to review the situation in twelve months
time (i.e. November 1996) before making a final decision on OLS.
2.4.3 GOS and Movement Concerns Compared
The similarities and differences between GOS and SPLM/A concerns
regarding OLS are illuminating. Both, for example, are adamant the
OLS is biased toward the other. In the case of the GOS, it is claimed
that OLS lacks neutrality and is directly and indirectly supporting
the rebels. For SPLM/A, however, it is precisely OLS's neutrality
which is said to be preventing a solidarity movement from developing.
At the same time, the oppositoin movement feels that OLS is incapable
of preventing GOS exercising its sovereignty, based on its veto
capacity with regard to access.
This contrast in views between the warring parties is, in part,
related to the differential interpretation of OLS agreements. The
government claims that commitments toward funding and institutional
support within the OLS agreements have not been honoured. Meanwhile,
the SPLM/A argues that the GOS - and the UN - are violating OLS
agreements by not allowing, or adequately pursuing, free access. In
this respect, the GOS has concentrated its attention on the early
unsigned agreements, especially OLS I and II (GOS, 1996, April),
while the 1994 signed agreement which incorporates free access is
ignored. Since this has direct bearing on GOS sovereignty, this is
not surprising. On the other hand, upholding the 1994 agreement,
arguably a factor which has prompted the current process of
institutional reform within the SPLM/A, has become a main concern
of the movement.
Both the government and the opposition movement want radical changes
to the present structure of OLS. The GOS would like to close the
Southern Sector operation, and move all OLS activities within
government areas. The movement wishes to separate Northern and
Southern Sectors, taking the latter out of the political control of
Khartoum. The approach to improving the cost effectiveness of OLS
in similarly polarised. Both the GOS and the SPLM/A have embraced
the donor call to improve cost effectiveness by promoting surface
transport. For GOS however, this has been aimed at promoting land
and river corridors from the North, together with means of transport
such as rail and barge, over which it can exercise control. For the
SPLM/A, it has been expressed as a need to open new cross-border
routes from Ethiopia, Zaire, and Central African Republic.
There are also a range of issues on which the government and the
opposition movement agree. Both are dissatisfied with the level of
support OLS is giving to indigenous institutions and organisations.
A shared concern on cost effectiveness is that too much money is spent
on overheads, the assumption being that if this was reduced, more
would go to project expenditure. At the same time, both the government
and the opposition want to see a move from relief to rehabilitation
and development work, meaning that OLS resources should be used to
support longer term and wider ranging activities. In other words,
while both warring parties have serious reservations about OLS, they
are nevertheless seeking to secure and capture more OLS resources.
2.5 The External Environment
Given the critical views of the warring parties concerning OLS, it
is worth considering why they have - if only reluctantly - agreed
to its operation. This has largely hinged around questions of donor
pressure and perceived gain, including that of the political
recognition that a negotiated access programme confers. Such factors
are central to maintaining access in the absence of military
protection. They also indicate the type of conditions that would need
to be met if the OLS approach is to be replicated.
2.5.1 The Government and Donor Pressure
Since 1989, the GOS had been increasingly critical of OLS and,
following the military gains of 1992, was forcefully calling for the
closure of the Southern Sector. GOS agreement to re-launch OLS in
September 1992, which led to a period of rapid expansion of Southern
Sector activities, appears curious in this context. This is
especially the case when, as has been noted, GOS concerns and
criticisms have continued unabated. It is thus worth considering
the background to this agreement in more detail.
Compared to 1989, the international context of 1992 had changed
considerably. The Gulf War, in which Sudan had sided with Iraq,
substantially changed international perceptions, and gave rise to
the opinion that the UN was entering a new era. Mor specifically,
it was widely believed that the UN had regained the ability to secure
international peace and promote justice and human rights (Boutrous
Ghali, 1992, June). The aftermath of the Gulf War saw the formation
of the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA). Among other
things, the DHA was tasked to better coordinate and fund complex
At the same time, the Gulf War marked the beginning of the current
phase of military humanitarianism linked to "safe area" strategies,
and the protection of humanitarian aid. By 1992, this approach was
still very much on the upswing. It had been extended, for example,
to Bosnia and, by the end of the year, to Somalia. Regarding South
Sudan, at least one of the opposition movements - the SPLM/A United
- was lobbying for a similar intervention. This change was also not
lost on the government. As part of the preparation for the Eliasson
mission, the GOS noted that:
The GOS is apprehensive of the UN. In the final analysis,
following changes in the former USSR, they see the UN as
influenced by and a tool of the Western powers. To a certain
extent, they fear a similar fate as Iraq (Silovic, 1992,
September 3: 3).
Toward the end of 1992, as American intentions of intervention in
Somalia became clear, it was widely believed in Khartoum that an air
exclusion zone was to be imposed on South Sudan (O'Brien, 1996, April
19). In December, a critical UN resolution on human rights prompted
the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Sudan,
Concerns about possible Western intervention persisted throughout
most of 1993. They were augmented by continuing donor interest in
OLS, and a willingness to maintain pressure on the GOS and the
opposition movements. Agreed at the level of the Security Council,
the appointment of a Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs was part
of this pressure. The following year, with the involvement of Sudan's
regional neighbours in the IGADD mediation process, political weight
continued to be applied.
Since the IGADD process has stalled, however, during the course of
1995 Sudan's relations with its neighbours has deteriorated. At the
same time, the new realism that followed the UN experience in Somalia,
Bosnia, and Rwanda has muted donor rhetoric concerning a New World
2.5.2 Recognition as an Issue in Relation to the Government
While the question of OLS and political recognition is usually
thought of in relation to the opposition movements, a similar
political spin-off can be seen in relation to the government. In
November 1992, after the DHA mission, the RRC Commissioner made a
statement to the UN General Assembly which set the tone of GOS
response to international criticism; namely, that the government's
agreement to OLS could be used as a means of deflating attacks on
its humanitarian record.
On this occasion, the situation in Sudan was described as resembling
"increasingly complex emergency situations" in other parts of the
world. Sudan, in other words, had a multi-causal crisis, of which
the war was only one factor. Moreover, the government noted that:
It is because of these constraints, and above all, because of
the priority accorded to assisting those in need, especially
in the conflict zones, that the Sudan Government has elaborated
with the UN, since 1989, a new approach to respond to emergency
situations. This novel approach, called Operation Lifeline
Sudan, is based on a new form of cooperation with the UN and
the international community to facilitate the delivery of
humanitarian assistance to those trapped in the war zones (GOS,
1992, November 16).
In the face of such a commitment, the government has dismissed all
criticisms as unworthy, and as originating in Western bias against
the government's embrace of an Islamic political agenda. Since the
end of 1992, most government statements at the UN General Assembly
have assumed this pattern. Following the government's revival of the
agricultural economy, this position has been augmented, among other
things, by the periodic offer of surplus sorghum for the relief
This position is well represented in the GOS submission to the Review
Team (GOS, 1996, April), which lists the government's record of
support for OLS and its activities. The thrust of the argument is
that Sudan is unique; a government has voluntarily relinquished part
of its sovereignty for humanitarian purposes. This gesture, however,
is being abused by OLS in the operation's failure to honour its
commitments, and its bias toward the rebels. Moreover, donor
governments and aid agencies continually fail to acknowledge what
the government has done.
It is worth noting that some donors and aid officials in Khartoum
agree with the substance, if not the detail, of these attitudes from
2.5.3 Recognition and the Movements
While critical of OLS, opposition movements nevertheless must see
the operation as an important potential source of resources in a
region not noted for its wealth. Even if one sets aside aid diversion,
which of course takes place, the fact that OLS contributes to the
stabilisation of the civilian population in non-government areas
must be seen as beneficial by the opposition movements.
In this section, the question of political recognition vis a vis
opposition movements is dealt with.
One reason why the initial phase of OLS the Southern Sector was given
a low profile was the attempt to avoid conferring political
recognition on the SPLM/A. It is one of the paradoxes of OLS, however,
that as the GOS claims to have regained military ascendancy, the
opposition movements begin to play an increasingly visible role in
the process of negotiating access.
As the crisis of OLS's initial phase deepened, the first proximity
talks in the history of OLS were convened by Under-Secretary General
James Jonah in Nairobi in October 1991 (UN, 1991, October 19). The
UN had intended that the talks take place between itself, the GOS,
and the SPLM/A. They proved to be a failure, however, largely due
to GOS insistence that the newly formed SPLA/M United, which broke
away from the SPLM/A in August, be included. While the SPLA/M, after
initial opposition, appears to have accepted the inclusion of SPLA/M
United, the UN did not. Having been briefed that the GOS had, or was
seeking, an alliance with the United group (Page, 1991, October 18),
Jonah eventually asked both parties to suspend talks on the grounds
that the SPLA/M United was seeking political recognition.
The SPLM/A United reacted strongly to the UN exclusion, claiming that
had to be included in any discussion about access since it controlled
territory (SPLM/A United, 1991, October 19). In the event, and
through mechanisms which have been lost in the documentation (Levine,
1994, November 24), the humanitarian wing of SPLM/A United - RASS
- was eventually accorded the same status within OLS as SRRA.
Following the expansion of OLS from the end of 1992, RASS developed
as an official counterpart within the OLS structure, and joined SRRA
in this capacity. That is, through agreeing the Ground Rules, RASS
became eligible for institutional support to facilitate the handling
of OLS resources.
2.5.4 OLS and Factionalism
This situation was challenged in 1994, following the split in the
Riak-controlled SPLM/A United, and the formation of a separate wing
in Western Upper Nile under Lam Akol. This wing quickly established
the Fashoda Relief and Rehabilitation Association (FRRA) to
coordinate relief matters. Within months of the split, OLS was
supplying relief materials through FRRA.
At the same time, however, the breakaway SPLM/A United was pressing
for FRRA to become a full OLS counterpart member, which included
access to institutional support. This pressure highlighted the fact
that hitherto, OLS's relationship with SRRA and RASS had largely
evolved on the basis of custom and practice basis; hence, there were
no established guidelines or criteria for including new factions
within OLS. Toward the end of 1994, the SPLM/A United was contesting
the unfairness and irrationality of OLS with regard to its continued
organizational exclusion (Lam Akol, 1994, November 11). The fact that
OLS had included RASS following the 1991 split in the SPLM/A was
pointed out. (Note: In October 1994, the Riak wing of the SPLM/A
United changed its name to the Southern Sudan Independence
Movement/Army (SSIM/A). Rass continued to operate as its
Subsequently, efforts were made within OLS to develop criteria for
judging whether a faction or group should be included within the OLS
structure or not. These criteria included that the humanitarian
organisation can demonstrate effective coordination on the ground,
can demonstrate a commitment to UNICEF/OLS's Ground Rules, has
coherent policies within key welfare sectors, has qualified
personnel, and so on (Levine, 1994, November 24). While the question
was debated, no move was made to formally incorporate FRRA.
In April 1995, SPLM/A United forces boarded a WFP barge travelling
through Western Upper Nile and temporally abducted 22 people. The
movement subsequently claimed that this incident was rooted in the
failure of OLS to recognise FRRA (UNICEF/OLS, 1995, May 16-17). An
OLS-chaired meeting on the issue only produced a re-confirmation that
OLS was willing to deliver relief supplies to the area, however, and
little more. Failure to agree on the issue also hinged on question
of providing financial support for FRRA, including rent for a Nairobi
office. To illustrate the ramifications of this type of support, it
was noted that a Nairobi office would have allowed SPLM/A United to
apply for formal registration in Kenya, and thereby push for
inclusion in the IGADD mediation process then underway (UNICEF/OLS,
1995, May 16-17).
At the same time, however, the basic question remains: why should
OLS work formally with some organisations and not others? This
question is mademore difficult by the fact that there may be few
differences between organizations. On this important issue, it would
seem that DHA has not been able to supply any help. By the middle
of 1995, the situation regarding FRRA had reached deadlock. OLS,
although fully aware of the dilemma, was reluctant to include FRRA
through fear of promoting further factionalisation and competing
claims. In August 1995, the SSIM/A split and a faction under Peter
Adwok also raised the question of formal OLS incorporation for the
RASS Ad Hoc Committee. This issue appears to have been largely
resolved, however, due to the alliance between the breakaway SSIM/A
and the SPLM/A, and an eventual inclusion of the SSIM/A area within
the sphere of SRRA.
Clearly, the situation with regard to the incorporation of opposition
movements and factions is unsatisfactory. Within the Horn of
Africa, the history regarding this issue is remarkably similar. The
Emergency Relief Desk (ERD), which coordinated the cross-border
operation from Sudan into Eritrea and Tigray during the 1980s, is
a case in point. While working originally with the Eritrean Relief
Association, ERD quickly incorporated the Relief Society of Tigray
in the early 1980s, and subsequently the Oromo Relief Association.
Like OLS, however, ERD found it difficult to include later groups.
While efforts were made to devise criteria, lack of finance, and fear
of promoting factionalism, prevented any further
Given the growing involvement of the UN and aid agencies with
non-state political authorities in the context of protracted crises,
more work in needed in this area.
2.5.5 Importance of the External Environment
The agreement of the warring parties to the continuation of OLS is
a complex matter. Political pressure, the wish to avoid punitive
action, and the perception of potential gains - both material and
political - are involved. The above analysis would suggest that for
the GOS in particular, international pressure during the 1992 to 1994
period was important in the government's continued acceptance a
situation with which it is basically critical - namely, the OLS and
its associated set of relationships. In this regard, the fact that
the government's opposition to OLS has grown throughout 1995 is
indicative, perhaps, of a more cautious and indifferent
2.6 Differing Contractual and Operational Environments Within
There is a danger in studying complex emergencies that "causes" and
international "responses" will be examined separately, as if they
existed independently of each other. Enough has been said in this
chapter to argue that OLS is symptomatic of a fundamental change in
the external aid regime. The fact that Sudanese institutions should
change and adapt in the light of this new regime should not come as
a surprise. Moreover, these changes and adaptations are mutually
reinforcing. The above discussion on political recognition is an
example of this symbiotic relationship.
The discussion of OLS agreements has established that, in terms of
the international aid regime, Sudan de facto been partitioned. This
has led to two very different contractual and operational
environments. In the North, the GOS has strongly asserted its
position as the regulatory body for humanitarian aid. In the South,
however, the UN - through UNICEF's lead agency role - has established
this position. This section briefly examines the nature and effects
of these two distinct contractual regimes.
2.6.1 Regulation in the North
The revitalisation and expansion of OLS, especially in the South,
from the end of 1992 is closely associated with a process of
institutional deepening and broadening in the North. Since the
mid-1980s, and especially following the election of the el-Mahdi
government in 1986, there has been a strong governmental pressure
to closely regulate the activities of international aid agencies.
The Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) was established in
1985 as an independent body charged with the technical coordination
of INGOs. The actual control of INGOs, however, has always been
conceived in terms of their registration with a specific ministry.
Prior to the involvement of DHA, the regulation of INGOs had been
characterised by ministerial competition and succession. In the
mid-1980s, established ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and the Ministry of Health vied for INGO registration. In
1988, the Ministry of Social Welfare and Zakat temporarily took the
lead role. At this stage, many NGOs had agreements with a number of
different ministries and government agencies. In 1989, the formally
independent RRC was incorporated within the short-lived Ministry of
Relief and Refugee Affairs. Following its disbanding, during the
early 1990s, the RRC was placed under the Ministry of Commerce.
Relations between INGOs and the GOS worsened during the early 1990s.
Apart from restricted access, delays in issuing permits, importation
of goods, and so on formed the background to growing complaints.
International pressure grew to streamline government coordination.
The need to establish a single ministerial focal point, for example,
was part of Eliassion's mission brief in September 1992.
This pressure, however, coincided with a period in which the
government was embarking on a major phase of political change and
consolidation. Earlier in the year, the Peace and Development
Foundation was established to address the rehabilitation and
development needs of the newly retaken areas in the South. At the
same time, the RRC signaled the move from relief to development as
a cornerstone of government policy (RRC, 1992). The revival and
expansion of the agricultural economy, however, was only one aspect
of a comprehensive social programme that was taking shape. This
programme also involved a strategy of relocation for the displaced,
and the promotion of national - especially Islamic - NGOs in place
of INGOs (Donor Group, 1992, November 17).
When Lamuniere of DHA visited Khartoum in November 1992, the idea
of the joint GOS/UN/NGO conference the following January was agreed,
as a means of tackling the problems affecting INGO and government
relations. Rather optimistically, given that donors were cutting
development assistance at the time, Lamuniere argued that an
improvement in these relations would help restore development
funding (Lamuniere, 1992, December). In the event, GOS astutely
used the January 1993 conference as a platform for its emerging social
policy and, following pressure for a single focal point, to
rationalise its regulatory apparatus.
Since the move from relief to development was a central policy
strategy of the GOS, it is worth considering how this was formulated.
In presenting reasons for the shift, the RRC noted that:
As a result of irrational exploitation of nature due to
overgrazing and misuse of available resources especially in
fragile marginal areas, the traditional sector which is mainly
composed of nomads and subsistent farmers, lost efficiency. As
a result, a large number of citizens in this sector lost their
means of livelihood and hence they started migration from one
area to another (RRC, 1993, January: 1).
The war in the Southern Sudan has also added to the problem of
displacement of people towards the North. People lost their
livestock, traditional and mechanized farming was severely
affected and large development projects came to a halt (RRC,
1993, January: 1).
The RRC goes on to note that so far the response of INGOs to this
problem has been unsatisfactory. One reason often cited was that
annual registration did not give the stability for long term
planning. However, since the emergency phase had passed within Sudan,
there was a need to think ahead. Now, the emphasis:
...should be put on Technical Assistance namely in
infrastructure (roads, transportation, logistical
support)...emergency rehabilitation of the affected
agricultural sector is also vital so as to creates
self-dependency. What is needed are short duration projects
that can be executed during one year ((RRC, 1993, January: 2).
The RRC position reflects negatively on so-called traditional
agriculture. At the same time, development is associated with the
expansion of mechanised agriculture, and establishing the
infrastructure for this to happen. In this way, it was hoped that
the productive potential of the whole population would be increased.
At the same time, however, it was recognised that all low income
groups may not necessarily be helped. This demanded a social welfare
programme to help such people which, in turn, necessitated giving:
...more power to the state, of late more ministries are created
in the states, so now there are 9 ministers for social welfare
in the 9 states of the Sudan (Abu Salim, 1993, January).
Thus social welfare, geared to the expansion of mechanised
agriculture, is a key element in Sudan's development process. The
government also sees a role for international involvement and
partnership in this endeavour. Since this involvement must take place
within the context of state sovereignty (Abu Salim, 1993, January),
however, it has to follow certain principles. The January
conference also saw the tabling of a Code of Conduct governing NGO
work in Sudan. The main feature of this code is that:
The sovereignty, territorial integrity, laws and norms of the
country should be respected and safeguarded. The NGOs should
comply with the relevant laws, regulations and agreements.
Humanitarian work should not be used as a cover for any political
activity or to propagate ideas, ideologies or political
positions on local or intentional issues. Humanitarian work
should not be used to gather information irrelevant to the
delivery of the assistance, or utilize the need for such
assistance to reflect in the media as distorted and demeaning
to the dignity of the country or its citizens (GOS, 1993,
It is clear form the Code of Conduct that the GOS regards humanitarian
work as purely a technical activity; in other words, an activity that
is both blind and deaf to context or cause. This is a very restrictive
requirement, and sits ill at ease with international expectations
in this area. It is difficult to see how INGOs - many of whom raise
public money on the basis of campaigning on issues of rights and
justice - could accept such a code. The expansion of mechanised
agriculture in Sudan, for example, has traditionally involved land
disputes and allegations of dispossession. It is perhaps significant
that land in the South is one issue that has been specifically barred
to INGOs (GOS, 1994, April 12). This is an area that the Review Team
felt needs further research.
For INGOs, the Code's stipulation that the laws of Sudan should be
followed mainly relates to the Country Agreement which the January
conference introduced (GOS, 1993). This new agreement, for purposes
of general registration, abolished the existing need for INGOs to
annually re-register. Reflecting INGOs concerns about short termism,
this reform was linked to the specific incorporation of the move from
relief to development within the Country Agreement (GOS, 1994, April
12: Item 4). In terms of marking out a specific policy goal, the new
agreement was also different from annual agreements that had preceded
it, which often gave the appearance of collecting information about
INGOs for information's sake, with little or no programme direction
The striking feature about the Country Agreement, however, is the
very tight regulatory framework that it establishes; a framework,
moreover, that is geared to increasing the power of the state. Indeed,
if all clauses in the agreement were to be enacted to the letter,
INGOs would become simply state extensions; in other words, they
would take on a parastatal role similar to that adopted by Islamic
NGOs. The Country Agreement also seeks to limit the number of INGO
expatriate staff to an absolute minimum; as many posts as possible
should be filled by Sudanese. All recruitment has to be done through
the Ministry of Labour, which issues permission to advertise and
receives, sorts, and comments on all applications. Moreover, the aim
of INGO presence in Sudan should be to strengthen local and national
capacity by working in cooperation with governmental and national
non-governmental partners (GOS, 1994, April 12: Item 1). In this
regard, the aim is that of "twinning" INGOs with national NGOs in
order to provided support and build capacity.
The January conference also set in train the creation of the
Commission of Voluntary Agencies (COVA) in March 1993. Initially,
COVA was under the Ministry of Interior, but was transferred in July
to the newly formed Ministry of Social Planning. During a notable
period of institutional stability, COVA remained there until changes
introduced toward the end of 1995. During this period, COVA was the
lead agency for the Country Agreement. The RRC, which had been
incorporated within COVA, was in charge of issuing technical
agreements with INGOs. These are still being issued on an annual basis
In November 1995, it was announced that COVA and RRC were to be merged
to form a new Commission for Humanitarian Assistance (HAC), under
the authority of the Federal Minister of Social Planning. In April
1996, when the Review Team was in Khartoum, this process of
amalgamation was still in the process of completion.
2.6.2 A Note on INGOs in the North
To the extent that INGOs have signed up to the Country Agreement,
they can be said to have accepted the strict regulatory regime that
it establishes. Restricted access to certain areas under government
control is only one aspect of this regime. By August 1993, some 50
INGOs were said to have signed (el-Ingaz el-Watani, 1993, August 2).
Most of the criticisms voiced at the time by INGOs focused on the
fact that, as far as possible, strictures on employment, twinning,
and so on should be voluntary. In August 1993, in an attempt to improve
INGO/GOS relations, the Special Envoy proposed four trial twining
projects between INGOs and national NGOs. In general, however, this
policy has failed, and INGOs have proven reluctant to enter such
relationships. (Twinning is discussed further in chapter 4).
The strict regulatory regime for INGOs established by the GOS has
meant that, rather than collective action, INGOs have tended to
cultivate bilateral relations with government bodies (INGO, 1996,
March 27). INGOs also perceive that the UN is not particularly helpful
or influential, reflecting the effective absence of OLS in the North.
For example, the missions of the Special Envoy, while useful, were
seen as not having produced any significant changes for INGOs
(Jackson, 1996, April 1). What improvements have been made have come
about more often because the changes have suited the government,
rather than through UN influence.
Within the past year, some INGOs have managed to gain more access
to the Khartoum displaced and parts of the Transition Zone.
Reflecting the strictures on employment, however, a common pattern
is that this access is mainly through the national staff employed
by the INGO. This is due to the fact that the movement of expatriates
in support of such programmes is subject to rules and restrictions.
For example, travel permits can still take a couple of week to be
issued. At the same time, residence can be restricted to certain
towns. This means that some project areas can only be visited during
the course of a single day.
2.6.3 Regulation in the South
A very different regulatory regime exists in OLS's Southern Sector.
Whereas in the North, the GOS has developed the means to regulate
the activities of aid agencies, in the South the position is almost
the reverse. Here, it is the UN which is attempting to regulate both
the INGOs and the opposition movements.
Discussions of the characteristics of the UN lead agency role usually
concentrate on coordinating functions, as if these were simply a
technical matter. In the context of South Sudan, however, were there
is no effective government control but rather a number of movement
jurisdictions, the lead agency can quickly find itself playing a
different role. Providing coordination in such circumstances easily
transforms into playing a quasi-governmental role.
In effect, UNICEF had little choice but to fill the vacuum left by
the absence of effective government (O'Brien, 1995, November 26).
This has been done through a systematic development of OLS's
humanitarian principles. Since 1990, these principles have formed
part of the Letters of Association (now Letters of Understanding)
signed by INGOs with UNICEF. In exchange for UN logistical and
programme support, these letters commit the INGO to neutrality in
the conflict, and to only providing humanitarian assistance to needy
civilians. Given that they also contain details of agency programme
needs and requirements, Letters of Understanding have also been
developed as a coordination tool.
2.6.4 Ground Rules and Working in Conflict
The development of UNICEF/OLS's Ground Rules has been most
significant in relation to the opposition movements, however.
The Ground Rules first emerged in response to the need to improve
the security of aid workers. In September 1992, four aid workers were
killed by SPLA forces near Nimule in Eastern Equatoria. Other than
temporarily suspending operations, this tragic incident revealed
that OLS lacked a framework for dialogue with the opposition
movements (O'Brien, 1995, November 26). At the same time, it brought
to a head a wider change within OLS.
The initial phase of OLS had been premised on "corridors of
tranquillity" linked to temporary cease-fire arrangements. This
formula quickly proved to be to inflexible in relation to an ongoing
war, however (Note for the Record, 1990, December 12). Apart from
renewed fighting, the split within the SPLA further complicated
matters (UNICEF/OLS, 1991, October). By mid-1991, rather than fixed
corridors, OLS was having to define access on an ad hoc basis (UN,
1992, July: 2). In this regard, it was felt that a system of continuous
dialogue with the warring parties based on an "open corridors"
approach would have to develop if the operation was to keep pace with
the changing military landscape (Janvid, 1992, July 2).
Spurred by the deaths of aid workers, this issue was tackled through
the development of the Ground Rule concept. A set of requirements
were developed aimed at minimum standards of conduct, to be agreed
between the UN and the opposition movement; agreement on these
standards would render the movement, or at least its humanitarian
wing, eligible for OLS assistance. While the Ground Rules would fully
incorporate humanitarian principles in 1994, when they first
appeared in early 1993 they were mainly concerned with improving the
security of aid workers.
The first step in improving security for aid workers was to employ
a security advisor to assess the situation. This work formed the basis
of a flexible and, in terms of its track record, an effective security
system. In March 1993, crisis management teams were established in
Nairobi and Lokichokkio. The latter comprised the security adviser,
senior agency representatives, pilots, and the flight coordinator.
In the following month, a series of security workshops were held with
NGOs to establish Standard Operating Procedures for South Sudan
(Harvey and Saunders, 1995, November 28).
The evolving system was directly connected with the development of
the Ground Rules. These were agreed with the SPLM/A in April 1993,
and subsequently with the SPLM/A United. Among other things, the
Ground Rules establish the inviolability of aid workers and their
property, including free access to radios (UNICEF/OLS, 1993, May 1).
In addition, opposition movements are charged with the protection
of aid workers, and of informing them in a timely manner of any
potential or real threat to their safety.
In a sense, the SPLM/A's signing of the Ground Rules were part of
its rehabilitation following the killings of the aid workers. That
it provided a form of recognition in the aftermath of the killings
was not lost on those involved (O'Brien, 1995, November 26).
Agreement also meant that the security adviser travelled extensively
during most of 1993, meeting Commanders on the ground, gaining their
trust, and getting a feel for the security situation. In this manner,
a network of local contacts, usually SRRA or RASS personnel, was
established. It should be noted that this was possible because
access, especially for Lokichokkio-based aircraft, had increased
following DHA involvement at the end of 1992. As Southern Sector
activities expanded, so too did its security network.
The security and evacuation system has proven central to the
expansion of OLS activities in the South. Indeed, without this
system, it is difficult to see how the programme could operate.
Because of its importance, the security system will be briefly
described before returning to the evolution of the Ground Rules.
2.6.5 OLS's Security and Evacuation System
Together with Bosnia, OLS has pioneered methods for working in
ongoing conflict. Unlike Bosnia, however, in South Sudan specific
techniques have been developed which do not rely on military
protection. Information, the ability to predict insecurity, and the
ability to quickly evacuate staff by air, are key ingredients.
By approximately September 1993, the main aspects of the current
security system had taken shape (Harvey, 1996, April 13). Regular
training sessions are held for new NGO and UN personnel to ensure
their familiarity, and NGO compliance with the system is part of the
Letter of Understanding signed with UNICEF/OLS.
The system is a trip-wire one, allowing for planned responses, and
geared to the conditions of South Sudan. It works on the basis of
four security levels, including: normal, potential security risk,
real security risk, and evacuation. Once level three (real security
risk) is reached, the security advisor immediately visits the
location to assess the situation. At the same time, NGO personnel
are reduced to a maximum of eight people - the number that can be
evacuated on a single Buffalo aircraft. To keep the system simple,
it works on numbers. All occupied locations in the Southern Sector
have daily radio contact at specified times; communications from the
field are preceded by the number of aid personnel at that location
and its security grading. Through the medium of routine fight
rotations, NGOs also give pilots written reports for the security
advisor on local developments. Aside from field personnel, a security
level of three or four can be ordered from Nairobi or Lokichokkio.
In the event of an orderly airstrip evacuation not being possible,
each location has a number of mapped escape routes. These routes
are also numbered and logged with WFP in Lokichokkio. In the event
of a sudden emergency, all that need be communicated by radio is that
an immediate evacuation is taking place, the number of people
involved, and the number of the escape route. All NGO personnel are
equipped with "run-packs" containing water and other essential
supplies. There have been several cases of rescue aircraft landing
in the bush to pick up aid workers after such an event.
The security system that has developed is well adapted to the
modalities of conflict in South Sudan. Based on a network of contacts
and free access to radios, a sensitive and responsive system has
emerged. Owing to the fact that opposition movement and militia
forces usually move on foot, in many cases it has been possible to
establish a one to three day lead time on specific locations coming
under threat (Harvey, 1996, April 13).
The evacuation and relocation of aid workers, on a few occasions with
only minutes to spare, is now a routine event for OLS. As a
consequence, humanitarian assistance closely follows the dynamics
of the conflict. This adaptability has increasingly come into its
own, for example, as areas of Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile became
more insecure from the end of 1994. Here, the system has supported
the development of mobile aid teams, enabling workers to remain on
the ground for shorter periods, but covering wider areas.
Apart from the fact that many would like more than one adviser, praise
for the security system is one factor that unites the aid agencies
working within OLS. Without it, fear of attack or being stranded
in a war zone would have kept away many of the NGOs currently working
in South Sudan.
2.6.6 Ground Rules and Civil Society
In mid-1994, UNICEF/OLS re-opened discussions with the opposition
movements in connection with expanding its Ground Rules. Following
the signing of the tripartite OLS agreement in May 1994, OLS's
humanitarian principles were fully incorporated within the Ground
Rule framework (UNICEF/OLS, 1994, June). Apart from retaining the
clause relating to security, this represented a significant
enlargement over the first version.
Apart from the specific rules, signatories also indicated a
willingness to support the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
and the Geneva Conventions. The humanitarian principles listed
within the Ground Rules are an elaboration of those developed within
OLS I and II. That is, humanitarian aid is given on the basis of need
alone, free access, impartiality and only to civilian beneficiaries.
The cooperating agencies must ensure that aid is properly used, that
distributions are fair, and that decision making takes place in a
transparent manner. Mutual obligations cover such items as, for
example, the fact that all UN/INGO staff must operate in accordance
with these principles, provide experienced staff, and so on. At the
same time, the counterpart organisation must ensure access and the
free flow of goods. The Ground Rules also establish INGO primacy in
relation to its own resources, including free access to radio
equipment. Moreover, unlike in the North, the INGO also has the right
to hire its own staff as direct employees.
The next development of the Ground Rules has to be seen in relation
to the SPLM/A's attempts to develop the basis of a civil
administration in South Sudan.
In March 1994, the SPLM/A organised the Chukudum Convention.
Regarded as a watershed, this convention saw the decision to
estanlish a separate civil administration and social welfare
functions from those of the military. At the same time, the "New
Sudan" was proclaimed, and the basis for a decentralised government
within a new regional structure established (SPLM/A, 1994, March 12
- April). The eventual signing of the new Ground Rules by the SPLM/A
in July 1995 has thus to be seen within the context of an overall
attempt at institutional deepening. The SSIM/A also signed the new
Ground Rules in August 1995.
The mutual obligations established within the Ground Rules have
played an important role in shaping the development of social welfare
structures in opposition movement areas. In this regard, there is
a symbiotic relation between the two processes. This can be seen most
readily in relation to the programme of capacity building and
institutional support that OLS has developed for the humanitarian
wings of the opposition movements.
2.6.7 Ground Rules and Human Rights
As a means of developing OLS work in relation to capacity building
and the Ground Rules, a Humanitarian Principles Unit was formed
toward the end of 1994. This move was opposed by the GOS on the grounds
that it was not involved, and that it could see no reason for such
a body (Ibrahim Abu Oaf, 1995, January 4). Among other things, the
work of the Unit has involved the organisation of workshops for
Sudanese Agencies on the Ground Rules and the principles behind them
(UNICEF/OLS, 1995, April 5-6). Research on indigenous notions of
humanitarianism has also been conducted. Perhaps the most innovative
of the Ground Rules, however, has been in relation to the upholding
In July 1995, shortly after the SPLM/A signed the new Ground Rules,
its forces were implicated in an attack on civilians in the SSIM/A
controlled area of Ganyliel (UNCEF/OLS, 1995, August 6-8). This was
thought to be a reprisal for an earlier SSIM/A attack on Akot. The
attack was particularly brutal, with over 200 people reported as
killed. An investigation was mounted and, through the SRRA, a dossier
of evidence placed before the SPLM/A. In March 1996, a series of raids
on villages in the Yirol, Tonj, and Gogrial areas was carried out
by what were believed to be SSIM forces (Young, 1996, April 18). Apart
from the looting of a considerable number of cattle, many people were
killed or abducted. Again, this incident was investigated by the
Humanitarian Principles Unit.
Given that both opposition movements are signatory to the Ground
Rules, such actions can be seen as being in breach of this agreement.
It is in this spirit that the evidence collected has been brought
to the attention of alleged perpetrators. Although UNICEF/OLS is
acting in a quasi-governmental role in South Sudan, unlike a
conventional state it has few sanctions it can apply. Apart from the
suspension of OLS assistance, which may penalise innocent people,
the approach through the Ground Rules is an attempt to exploit the
opposition movements' need for recognition and legitimacy.
Collecting evidence on violations is one way of attempting to
maintain pressure for internal reform and the development of an
effective civil code.
The use of the Ground Rules in this manner is still under development.
The Review Team is therefore not in a position to comment on the extent
of its success; there is certainly a need for further research on
the issue. At the same time, the Review Team noted that, by the very
fact that it is one of the few programmes in South Sudan that is
actually documenting how the war is being fought and attempting to
do something about it, the use of Ground Rules deserves special
mention. Indeed, the use of Ground Rules has achieved a rare thing
in relief work. Whereas usually aid agencies disregard human rights
as the price to be paid for access, the Ground Rules have brought
human rights and humanitarian aid together.
2.6.8 Contractual Regimes Compared
Compared to the Southern Sector, the contractual regime in the North
is highly restrictive. In this respect, the government's Code of
Conduct bears direct comparison with OLS's Ground Rules. While the
former seeks to extent state control, the latter seeks to establish
a set of mutually agreed obligations and responsibilities. In light
of this basic difference in contractual regimes, the Review Team felt
it would be difficult - if not impossible - to see the types of
programmes currently in existence in non-government areas being
administered from the North.
This can be illustrated by examining the nature of the security and
evacuation system currently in operation in the South. First, the
system is dependent on the full cooperation of the opposition
movements and their related agencies. Second, it depends on access
in the widest sense of the term; that is, the unhindered movement
of agency personnel in and out of the war zone, the ability to talk
to military commanders, free use of radios, and so on. Finally, under
the terms of the Ground Rules, the opposition movements are obliged
to provide information bearing on the safety and security of aid
workers. In the North, while access for INGOs has improved somewhat
over the past year, it is nowhere near this quality. Moreover, no
security system exists. When in the field, agency personnel are
usually out of direct communication with each other. Arranging
meetings between aid agencies and GOS security personnel is also
notoriously difficult. Even the ICRC reports problems in this area.
This situation has a direct bearing on government demands that the
Southern Sector be closed, and that all OLS activities be run from
GOS areas. Once moved, it is unlikely that the programmes currently
running in the South would be supported from the North.
2.7 The Current Crisis
Following the collapse of the IGADD peace process in 1994, the crisis
of OLS has slowly deepened. Since this period, Sudan's bilateral
relations with Uganda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia have deteriorated. This
has occurred simultaneously with growing GOS pressure on OLS Southern
Sector operations. Since the end of 1995, using the political weight
of its sovereignty, GOS pressure has become increasingly direct.
Within the South, the conflict has continued; its pattern, however,
has also changed. Over the past couple of years, while the SPLM/A
has continued a halting process of institutional deepening, other
factions have emerged. This is particularly the case in Bahr
el-Ghazal and Upper Nile. Insecurity in these areas has increased.
As a result, OLS activities have tended to gravitate further South.
Difficulties on the ground, plus government restrictions, form the
background to OLS's growing problems.
In terms of the crisis of consent within OLS, a distinct pattern has
emerged. Using its sovereign position, the GOS has been able to
restrict access not only in government areas, but in the Southern
Sector as well, through flight restrictions and stricter demands for
prior clearance of all movement. The pattern of restriction takes
a different form on the part of opposition movements and factions;
here, the pattern has been one of looting, intimidation, and aid
2.7.1 The View From the North
Since the stalling and subsequent collapse of the IGADD process in
September 1994, there have been no further proximity talks between
the warring parties. OLS is widely held to have suffered as a
consequence (O'Brien, 1995, November 26). Restarting such
negotiations was the object of the ultimately unsuccessful mission
of the Special Envoy in November/December of 1995.
The undercurrent of GOS criticism during the IGADD mediation process
has already been discussed. From this process came the insistence
that the Southern Sector must clear all assessments with Khartoum
in advance (O'Brien, 1995, November 26). Until this period, the GOS
was usually notified at the start of the assessment, or when it had
been completed. Since early 1995, however, major problems began to
develop. For example, the government banned the use of a Belgium Air
Force C-130 aircraft by OLS, alleging that it had been dropping arms
and ammunition to the rebels. While no supporting evidence has been
produced, the ban on heavy lift aircraft has remained. This has
restricted OLS's delivery capacity.
While OLS retained a potential access to over a hundred flight
locations for most of the period from 1994 forward, a slowly
increasing pattern of flight denial to areas controlled by the SPLM/A
has emerged (UNICEF/OLS, 1996, April). From an average of four
denials per month in 1994, there was an increase to ten denials per
month in 1995, and twelve denials during the early months of 1996.
In July 1995, following an attempt by non-OLS INGOs to access the
Nuba Mountains by air from the South, the government called for the
removal of the UNICEF/OLS Coordinator, the closure of the Southern
Sector, and the basing of all Southern Sector activities at Malakal.
In November, as a result of a unilateral flight ban imposed by the
GOS, more than 250 agency staff were stranded without warning in South
Sudan. Most of these were Kenyan nationals. Apart from the disruption
to programmes, the question of possible medical emergencies, and so
on, the flight ban was tantamount to a hostage situation. In the
event, for those emergencies that did occur, ad hoc special
arrangements were made.
The consequences of flight bans for the modus operandi of OLS have
already been discussed., including the ability granted to the GOS
to divide the South into "war zones" and areas "affected by war",
and, with the agreement of UNCERO, to restrict UN access to the
former. This resulted in the first imposed no-go area in the South,
in Western Equatoria between December 1995 and March 1996.
Following the lifting of the flight ban, the GOS has made increasing
demands for information on OLS activities, with a view to controlling
more of the Southern Sector operation from Khartoum. During the early
part of 1996, rather than accepting a list of destinations, this
largely concerned demands for information on the cargoes being
carried into South Sudan. In April, a request was made by HAC that
in future all flight requests should be accompanied by an Advanced
Information Table (UNHCU, 1996, April 1). This table should include
information on: the number of beneficiaries, the method of assessment
used, the author of the assessment, the amount and type of relief,
the cost of the commodities, the number of relief personnel, the
method and cost of transport, and so on. In the opinion of one aid
official, such demands are not only impractical, they indicate a
growing pressure from the GOS to manage all OLS activities from
The UN position in the face of such demands has been to supply as
much information as reasonably possible. This is fully in accord with
the principle of transparency. However, the provision of information
aimed at enhancing transparency does not imply an invitation for
greater government control. Rather, the enitre basis for UN
neutrality in South Sudan rests upon its ability to coordinate OLS
activities in an impartial and an effective manner; any reduction
in this ability would threaten the existence of OLS.
Following the departure of the Review Team from Sudan, pressure on
OLS has continued. In many respects, it looks as though the GOS is
putting into practice the opinions it has held about OLS consistently
for some years.
2.7.2 The View from the South
Developments in South Sudan give the impression of an increasingly
polarised situation. The GOS and its southern allies now confront
the SPLM/A, which has emerged as the main opposition movement. This
polarisation has much to do with the government's growing concerns
about OLS. It has also been accompanied, however, by increasing
factionalisation in South Sudan itself.
In 1991, the SPLM/A split roughly along ethnic lines. The SPLM/A
Mainstream under John Garang, and what eventually became the SPLM/A
United under Riek Machar are predominantly Dinka and Nuer,
respectively. The former occupy parts of Bahr el-Ghazal and
Equatoria, and the latter Upper Nile. Apart from several periods of
reconciliation, the two movements have been in contention, if not
open conflict, since the split. In October 1994, the SPLM/A United
changed its name to the South Sudan Independence Movement/Army
The present period of factionalisation began in 1994. In February
1994, Lam Akol was expelled from what was still the SPLM/A United
for alleged contacts with the GOS. He subsequently founded a separate
and predominantly Shilluk wing of the SPLM/A United, based in Western
Upper Nile. In July 1994, forces loyal to Kerabino Kwanyin Bol, allied
to the Riek faction of the SPLM/A United, became active against the
SPLM/A Mainstream forces in Bahr el-Ghazal and parts of Western Upper
Nile. This insecurity has continued intermittently through 1995 and
1996. In August 1995, a predominantly Lan Nuer group under William
Nyong broke from SSIM/A to form the SSIM/A II based in the Waat -
Akobo area of Upper Nile. The SSIM/A II has subsequently allied itself
with the SPLM/A.
By the end of 1995, there were four main groups: the SPLM/A, SSIM/A
II, SPLM/A United and SSIM/A I. In addition, there were several
smaller factions, including that of Kerabino in Bahr el-Ghazal allied
to SSIM/A I. Only areas controlled by two the four main groups - SPLM/A
and SSIM/A I - were receiving assistance under OLS.
In April 1996, SSIM/A I and Kerabino both entered into a
reconciliation agreement with the GOS. This appeared to confirm a
long period of speculation that these forces had been acting in some
form of alliance with the GOS. At the same time, the alliance of SSIM/A
II with SPLM/A suggests a picture of growing polarisation between
the GOS and its allies on the one hand, and the SPLM/A and its allies
on the other.
These developments have had major consequences for OLS. In terms of
the factional struggle, a new set of front lines has emerged (Saunders
and Harvey, 1996, April 11). To the east, the Ayod-Waat-Akobo line
divides the SSIM/A I forces to the North form the SSIM/A II and SPLM/A
forces to the South. To the west, Bahr el-Jebel marks the Dinka-Nuer
line, while in northern Bahr el-Ghazal, Kerabino's forces are active.
In the development of these lines, OLS has lost ground in northern
Bahr el-Ghazal, Upper Nile, and northern Jonglei areas. In northern
Bahr el-Ghazal, Kerabino's use of lorries and radios to mount attacks
on aid locations has undermined OLS's security apparatus (Saunders
and Harvey, 1996, April 11). Since mid-1995, within less than 48 hours
of aid workers being on the ground, security incidents have occurred.
Increasingly, evacuations have been last minute affairs. As a
consequence, continuous agency presence has been withdrawn from
northern Bahr el-Ghazal. A similar development has occurred in Upper
Nile. No agency personnel have returned to the Waat area since
February 1995, following a hostage incident.
During 1995, there emerged no-go areas associated with territories
disputed by the factions. Continuous OLS presence has tended to
gravitate to the south, to the more secure areas of Equatoria. In
Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile regions, at best, OLS has developed
a mobile presence. This development can only accentuate the uneven
development within South Sudan. Already, largely due to its
accessibility, the Equatoria area is relatively better supported
than other areas of South Sudan.
The change in the nature of the conflict, and especially the emergence
of areas disputed between factions, has affected the pattern of aid
obstruction on the ground. In February and May of 1995, in a new trend,
there were two serious hostage incidents in the Upper Nile region
(UNICEF/OLS, 1996, April). At a rate of one serious incident a
month, acts of theft, looting, and the intimidation of aid workers
have also occurred. For most of 1995, barge access has been blocked
by the failure of the SPLM/A United to allow passage. Apart from
routes in Eastern Equatoria, many road routes have been blocked by
the SPLM/A. While the SPLM/A has on occasion denied flight access,
by March 1996, SSIM I and SSIM II were also denying flight access
to each other's areas.
OLS is an example of a growing trend in humanitarian policy in
relation to internal war. This trend aims at assisting internally
displaced and war-affected civilians within the country concerned,
as opposed to assisting them as refugees in neighboring countries.
While OLS reflects this trend, it has important differences that make
it distinct. While other operations have often involved the military
protection of humanitarian aid and displaced civilians, OLS has not
involved this kind of military humanitarianism.
Rather, OLS is best described as an "informal" safe area programme.
It is informal for two reasons. First, apart from an equivocal,
temporary, and partial ceding to the UN, the sovereignty of GOS has
never been challenged. Second, in the absence of military
intervention, access has depended on the vulnerability of the warring
parties to international pressure and opinion.
Since 1989, a key OLS principle has been that of access to
war-affected people irrespective of who controls the territory in
which they are located. This principle has never been fully
implemented, however, especially in GOS areas. Following DHA
involvement in 1992, OLS agreements have adjusted to this de facto
situation. While the principle of free access has been retained,
under GOS pressure it has been re-interpreted as access to
war-affected areas only. Hence, although founded on principle, in
practice OLS has become an area programme.
Unable to directly challenge GOS sovereignty, there has been an
implicit understanding since 1992 that OLS, as a neutral
UN-coordinated operation, is confined to those non-government areas
that the GOS is willing to concede are temporarily beyond its control.
Restrictions and no-go areas have consequently been a continuous
feature of OLS operations.
The de facto division of Sudan has major implications for the modus
operandi of OLS. In exchange for a transient UN coordination in the
South, OLS humanitarian principles have never been robustly and
openly pursued in the North. The equivocal autonomy of OLS in the
South has thus been purchased at the expense of displaced and
war-affected populations in the North. In the North, the role and
effectiveness of OLS is both ambiguous and limited. This has been
reinforced by the retention of a UNDP-appointed Resident
Representative in Khartoum to act as overall OLS coordinator. For
a programme aiming to provide assistance to war-affected populations
within a sovereign country, the Review Team regarded this as a major
The effective confinement of UN coordination to the South is
reflected in the overall management structure of OLS. The de facto
division of OLS into Northern and Southern Sectors has resulted in
an ill-defined relationship between UN agencies in Khartoum and
Nairobi. As a way of countering the exercise of GOS sovereignty,
Nairobi's reporting relations to Khartoum have been informally
downgraded. This defensive strategy, mediated by DHA, has given some
protection to UNICEF as lead agency in the Southern Sector. However,
it has also exacerbated OLS's lack political cohesion and clarity
of purpose. In a protracted political crisis, it is exactly political
cohesion and clarity of purpose on the part of UN agencies that are
most required. This is especially true when the capture and
manipulation of aid by the warring parties is a distinct possibility.
During the course of OLS, two markedly different contractual and
operational regimes have emerged in North and South Sudan. Within
government areas, the GOS has established a very restrictive
regulatory environment. In contractual terms, INGOs are little more
than an extension of the state in Northern Sudan, and are bound by
a code of conduct which defines humanitarian aid as a purely
technical response blind to context or cause. This sits uneasily with
current international expectations, and calls into question the role
of INGOs in the North. Recently, physical access to some government
areas has improved; however, the operational environment remains
poor and restricted.
In the South, it is the UN that attempts to regulate the opposition
movements. Here, the UN has established an entirely different
contractual and regulatory system. As lead agency, UNICEF has,
perforce, come to play a quasi-governmental role. The basis of this
is the system of Ground Rules agreed between it and the opposition
movements. Based on the principles of free access and the neutrality
of humanitarian assistance, the Ground Rules seek to establish a
framework of agreed standards to govern mutual behaviour. As a
result, the extent and quality of access in the South is much greater
than in the North, and a broader range of programmes and approaches
have been able to develop.
In essence, the critical weakness of OLS is that, through the astute
exercise of its political authority one of the warring parties has
retained and augmented its ability to define the humanitarian space
that OLS occupies. It is this issue that indicates the extent of the
challenge of reform of OLS in future.
3. THE OPERATIONAL ENVIRONMENT - SOUTHERN SECTOR
This chapter considers the operational environment of OLS Southern
Sector. It begins with an overview of the war. As noted in chapter 2,
war is a constant feature of the Southern Sector landscape, and OLS
has been forced to adapt to the existence of protracted conflict as
part of the operational environment. The chapter then goes on to
condsider the specific mechanisms for coordination in the Southern
Sector. With UNICEF as lead agency, numerous NGO implementing
partners, and counterparts from among the various opposition
movements, OLS Southern Sector presents a highly complex scenerio for
coordination. The chapter will describe the structures that exist, the
various actors involved, and the extent of coordinational coherence.
Finally, the chapter will examine the distribution and scope of
humanitarian activities and programmes in the Southern Sector.
3.1 War and the Targeting of Resources
Whatever the broader political and military objectives of the warring
parties, the civil war has been fought on the ground as a resource war.
Battles between organised armed groups, with the intention of seizing
or holding territory, are only one aspect of the fighting. Civilians
have been systematically targeted in asset stripping raids since the
outset. The intention has been not only to seize whatever resources
they possess, but to deny these resources to the opposing side.
Civilian populations themselves have often been treated as resources
to control. The pattern of this resource war has also expanded to
include relief supplies, with the various parties adapting their
strategies either to secure relief items, or to interdict the delivery
of such items to their opponents.
The targeting of resources has changed as the pattern of war has
altered. In the early years of the war (1984-1988), the GOS relied
heavily on surrogate forces raised from tribal militias, now
incorporated into the Popular Defence Forces. The most prominent of
these have been the Murhalin (Missiriya and Rizeigat of South Kordofan
and South Darfur), the Rufa'a of Southern Blue Nile, the "Anyanya II"
(Nuer), the Murle of Upper Nile and Jonglei, and the Mundari and Toposa
militias of Eastern Equatoria. These forces adopted tactics aimed at
denying the SPLA a civilian base of support. Consequently, civilian
settlements were attacked at least as often, if not more often, than
SPLA troops. In Abyei and Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, attacks were aimed
at driving people away from their settlements; houses were burned,
crops destroyed, cattle seized, and people abducted.
The SPLA also attacked civilian