The hallowed surroundings of Oxford University are a world away from the stifling, dusty heat of Khartoum or the lush rolling hills and plains of southern Sudan. Yet it is the location to speak with one of Sudan's most eminent and vociferous political voices; journalist, former minister and opposition leader Dr Bona Malwal.
Like many Sudanese politicians since independence, Dr Malwal's political journey has not been without periods of turbulence and personal sacrifice. Gaining a national profile in the early 1970s as publisher of the Sudan Times newspaper, he entered politics in 1972 as minister of information and culture; an extremely challenging position given the diversity of the country.
He later resigned when Muslim ideologue Hassan Al-Turabi was given a mandate to Islamise the legal system, an event which marked the beginning of a creeping process that culminated in 1983 in the imposition of full Sharia Law. Later imprisoned by President Jaafar al-Nimeiri between 1983-1984, he fled Sudan on his release, taking up academic positions in Columbia University, New York and finally Oxford.
Nowadays, Dr Malwal, a fellow at St Antony's College Oxford, frequently travels between Sudan and the US. Despite being widely portrayed as a doomsayer and opponent of the recently signed Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), Dr Malwal's position reflects a sophisticated calculation of the relative benefits of the agreement weighed against the cost at which it was finalised. He states:
"I want it recorded emphatically that I am happy that there is peace for the ordinary people in Sudan. The ordinary person has suffered for a war that did not need to go on so long. However, the negotiations are bound to be a series of compromises. The Government of Sudan and the SPLA decided that they would exclude everybody else, and as such, this is really their peace. They are the ones who can judge how good or bad this is, and we will judge them personally on the performance of their own agreement. I welcome the fact that there is now peace and now we must hold the parties to what they say they will carry out."
Of the shortcomings of the CPA Dr Malwal is blunt.
"There is no mention of what will happen to the millions of displaced persons in Sudan and the million refugees around the world. Nothing has been said in the peace agreement about people still held in slavery in northern Sudan. Am I expected to forget about them and embrace this peace agreement?
"Also this agreement allows the GoS and SPLA to share the oil resources in southern Sudan between themselves 50/50. We all know that the GoS has displaced 750,000 people from the oilfields in order to exploit oil. That both of them should be silent about the nearly one million displaced people in order that oil should flow is a blatant criminal act as far as the two parties are concerned."
Any discussion of Dr Malwal's position on the CPA cannot be separated from his highly publicised antagonism to Dr John Garang's leadership of the SPLA, the result of a long and often fractious relationship over the direction of the southern struggle. This disagreement has manifested itself largely in the debate over the SPLA agenda for creating a 'New Sudan'; a unified, decentralised and pluralistic model of the state. …