Waiting to explode! Sudan billows as region watches ahead of July big date

Sunday May 22 2011

SPLA troops in the disputed Abyei district. Picture: AFP

With only two months before South Sudan becomes an independent republic, the crucial post-referendum issues are yet to be tackled, raising prospects of a fresh round of conflict between North and South.

Security and political analysts say the pending issues –– mainly the north-south border, Abyei referendum, citizenship, oil revenue, external debt and popular consultation in Southern Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan — could frustrate chances of a peaceful transition.

Already, the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) have suspended talks on the border issue until after July 9 when the south will be declared a republic, but observers believe it was due to lack of political goodwill.

Last week, South Sudan’s ruling party SPLM said it would not recognise an election in the north’s main oil state and would not serve in its parliament or government because “Khartoum rigged the vote.”

The state of Southern Kordofan will stay with the north but analysts say any talk of fraud could spark violence between rival political groups.
Aly Verjee, a senior researcher at the Rift Valley Institute, said there is little chance of solving all these issues because the two parties failed to solve them during the six-year interim period. 

“The question now is whether these issues can be managed without causing a return to war. On the border issue, the most important question is not where the border is going to be but how the border is going to function,” he said. 


Mr Verjee argues that the issue of Abyei has dragged on for almost 40 years without a solution. It was discussed in the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, again after the signing of the CPA in 2005 and now after the referendum.

Recently, both the NCP and SPLM deployed troops in Abyei and it took the intervention of the United Nations before both sides withdrew. President Omar al-Bashir has so far threatened that Khartoum will not recognise the independence of the south if it lays claim to Abyei.

Adding to the tension, was the declaration by President al-Bashir before the referendum that should the south vote for separation, then there will be no need for multi-cultural Sudan but one Muslim country to be governed by Sharia Law.

This was not only against the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), but a threat to minorities in the north which could trigger separatist movements from other regions.

There is a belief within a section of NCP that the south will not be able to establish a viable state and that there will be tribalism and civil war. Thus, the policy is to prove this theory, raising fears within the south that Khartoum will not allow it to go peacefully. The question is whether Sudan will go the Ethiopia/Eritrea way?

Albaqir Mukhtar the director of KACE (al-Khatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development) based in Khartoum, believes that the issue of oil revenue in particular, has not been solved because there is no political goodwill in the north.

“If things stay the way they are, war could break out. Pressure within NCP could force them to make peace with the south or make war with the south to unite north against a common enemy as a means of political survival” he said. There is a growing feeling within the SPLM that Khartoum will not let them separate without a fight.

Southern Kordofan voted from May 2, which could be an indication of what might happen in the popular consultation within the state. The popular consultations according to the 2005 peace agreement, requires the two states to elect their representatives who will then decide on their behalf, whether they belong to the north or south.

The National Election Commission (NEC) that the governor’s race was won by the ruling National Congress Party’s Ahmed Haroun, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court over charges of war crimes in the Darfur region in the west of Sudan.

However, the Sudanese People Liberation Movement (SPLM) that fielded Abdul Aziz Adam Al-Hailu, claims that the votes were rigged creating a fresh flashpoint before the south secedes in July.

The issue of sharing oil revenues remains shaky, given that only Khartoum has refineries and a port to sell the southern oil. The International Monetary Fund recently warned that the independence of the south will have an immediate impact on North Sudan’s fiscal and external revenues, in that revenue loss could widen a fiscal deficit by three percentage points of GDP.

As it were, both the NCP and SPLM are facing many challenges within their parties. To the SPLM, the biggest challenges are the viability of the new state, drafting a new constitution and how to mop up weapons still held by various militia groups. However, the south already has a national anthem and the currency — the South Sudan Pounds.

According to Edmund Yakani the director of the Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections (SUNDE), the issue of a new constitution is likely to pose a major challenge because there was hope that the process could have been inclusive, but the SPLM is dominating the process based on the belief that having garnered 96 per cent of the seats in the last elections, it can as well handle the constitutional review issues without much input from other political parties.

The other challenge for the south is the process of integration of armed groups into the army. The integration has never taken a professional approach, because it only involves absorbing militias into the army, but the integrated militias still owe allegiance to their groups. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) lacks the capacity to carry out disarmament.

Then there is the north, that is not only facing tough negotiations with the south, but has to contend with tough sanctions imposed by the United States. Dr Mukhtar argues that Khartoum always takes issue from the point of domination, acting the role of the big brother that can influence the happening in Chad and the south.

“After the signing of the CPA, we were hoping for a one nation two states with friendly relations. But the north has not been co-operating. Then after the referendum, we were hoping that the separation of the south would motivate new thinking within NCP to learn from the CPA and avoid problems from other parts of Sudan. But instead, the south separation distorted relations with all regions, especially the east,” he said. 

David Abramowitz, the director of Policy and Government Relations with Humanity United, noted that the US had adopted a two-pronged approach to ensure a successful referendum in the south and a return to peace in Darfur. 

In a new approach known as constructive engagement with Sudan, the Obama administration decided to use the carrot rather than the stick, with the hope that violence in Darfur could have reduced. This new approach was spearheaded by the former US special envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, who is set to take over as the new ambassador in Nairobi.

The US started by proposing to remove Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism, but Mr Abramowitz says that sanctions will not be lifted at once, but gradually.

“The issue of being removed from this list is rather political but as far as economic relations are concerned, the status quo remains. There are still significant sanctions that were imposed by Congress which will still remain until the issue of Darfur is resolved,” he said.

Some elements within the NCP are arguing that al-Bashir is increasingly becoming a liability, in as far as Khartoum’s relation with the international community is concerned.

Al-Bashir is not only wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, but his continued presence at the helm is impeding the lifting of sanctions imposed by the US .

Due to pressure within the party, President al-Bashir has already announced that he will not contest the next elections, having won the 2010 elections in controversial circumstances.

The SPLM on the other hand is facing the question whether the low key Salvar Kiir, has the capacity to manage the birth of a new republic in a volatile region.

The south is full of militia groups that have since January killed over 300 people in various states. Rebel leader George Athor, who rebelled after losing the 2010 governorship elections, has upped his operations in Jonglei, while the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka, continue to clash in Abyei.