The outgoing U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan sees “lessons” Israeli and Palestinian leaders can learn from conflicts in Africa, particularly as they relate to peace talks.
Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who visited Pittsburgh Feb. 27 as a guest of the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition and the Ford Institute for Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh, gave a presentation at Pitt on the situation in region.
He told a classroom of students, faculty and members of the local Sudanese community at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs that Sudan and the newly independent nation of South Sudan distrust each other intensely; they fought a civil war for 20 years and they still have many unresolved issues, including border disputes, oil and refugees, that are not likely to be settled soon.
Sounds a lot like the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
But it was from Lyman’s time as U.S. Ambassador to South Africa from 1992 to 1995 that he drew lessons for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
“There are some lessons, although you have to be careful not to get the wrong lessons,” said Lyman, who is Jewish.
He served in South Africa while its last white president, F.W. de Klerk, and its first black president, Nelson Mandela, were negotiating the transition from apartheid to majority rule. As expected, there were acts of violence intended to thwart the process.
“De Klerk and Mandela made a decision and one of the decisions they made was no acts of violence will keep us from this negotiating process,” Lyman said. “Immediately, they took the power away from the spoilers. … They never stopped negotiations after that.”
“That’s a lesson, good for the Middle East, I think, also,” Lyman continued. “You don’t let the spoilers control the process.”
De Klerk and Mandela also chose to negotiate without the help of outside mediators. Lyman noted that then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush offered to send his secretary of state, James Baker.
“De Klerk and Mandela said, no, this is our country we got to solve this problem, and we’re going to do it ourselves.”
He didn’t say if that lesson would work well for Israel, but he adamantly believes the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan are not ready for that.
Lyman, the seventh special envoy to the Sudans announced his resignation late last year and will step down on March 15. President Barack Obama has said he would appoint a new envoy to the region.
Like the Israeli-Palestinian situation he said there would be no quick solutions to the issues between Sudan and South Sudan.
“This peace process is a long-term process,” Lyman said, “and the international community has to continue to be involved to keep the process going, even though it’s one the two governments should be doing all on their own.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)