Don’t break away from Sudan, West tells South

Saturday March 20 2010

A general view of the ruins of burnt-out Abyei town in Southern Sudan in May 2008. Photo/REUTERS

Donor circles want Southern Sudan to drop its bid for independence in the referendum next January, as concerns grow that a rushed secession could trigger turmoil and instability beyond Sudanese borders.

In 2005, President Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, led by the late Dr John Garang signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended 22 years of war between the North and South.

That CPA left the door open for the South to break away from the union if 60 per cent of voters decide so in the 2011 plebiscite.

Although the United States, which is considered to have a vested interest in the outcome of Sudan’s peace process says it “takes no position on what the outcome of that referendum should be,”

The EastAfrican has separately learned that key Western democracies and institutions, fearing that independence for the South in its present state could see the area slide into anarchy, have quietly urged President Salva Kiir’s government to go slow on secession.

“Independence for the South should be put off for a few more years primarily because of lack of capacity in the South to run a stable and secure state,” said a source privy to Western analysis of the evolving situation in Sudan.


He added: “There is no institutional infrastructure to support a state, so there is a high chance that the country will degenerate into a Somalia-like situation. This would open a ‘corridor of terror’ across the region that could be infiltrated by Al Qaeda and its associates to create instability that would run counter to Western interests.”

The West is spooked by the prospect of sudden independence for a fragile state — with a corrupt and fractious national leadership, a nearly non-existent civil service, a poorly established local police and professional military — immediately disintegrating into a civil war.

This could draw the international community into a costly intervention to rebuild a state that few countries want to underwrite in the current economic climate.

With new discoveries of oil in both Uganda and Sudan and the likelihood of further discoveries in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, peace in the region is essential to the exploitation of these resources.

Western strategists believe that even under the best of circumstances, the absence of institutional infrastructure in the South and independent communication links to the outside world mean Juba would remain hostage to Khartoum, making it difficult to get energy and other exports to outside markets.

Such a scenario would deny the infant state the resources to deliver to the population the promised benefits of independence, leading to high levels of discontent that could result in a breakdown of law and order, said one analyst.

Other fears revolve around the fact that the South is far from homogenous and united, with a real risk that it could spiral into uncontrolled violence as the different regions jostle over resources.

Apparently, the West would like to see some slack factored into the timeline for Juba’s independence ambitions, while the shaky alliance between the SPLM and al-Bashir — who has largely been “contained” by the ICC warrants against him — is propped up until such a time that institutional capacity and critical infrastructure have been developed in the South.

Apparently, Kenya and Uganda, which have separately announced plans to build key road and railway links to Juba, are partly implementing this strategy.

While it denies any direct interest in the outcome of the referendum, the United States says it is concerned about peace and stability in Southern Sudan and is working with both the SPLM and the NCP to “prepare for the 2011 referendum, and working with the parties to ensure that the process is fair and credible and that the will of the people, as expressed through the referendum, is respected peacefully.” 

Lagging behind

Responding to enquiries by this newspaper, Joann M Lockard, public affairs officer at the US embassy in Kampala, said, “The United States is concerned about peace and stability in South Sudan. The parties in Sudan are behind in the implementation of the most contentious provisions of the CPA, which is why we have worked so hard in 2009 and will double our efforts in 2010 to implement the agreement before it expires in 2011.”

For their part, while officially professing the position of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (Igad), which is to encourage the parties in Sudan to make unity as attractive as possible, Kenya and Uganda are pursuing a two-track strategy.

On one track, fearing to set a precedent that could lead to a ripple effect with sections of their own populations agitating for secession, Uganda and Kenya are not officially breaking ranks with proponents of a unified Sudan.

Uganda is still wary of what a split of Sudan would mean for its restive north, while Kenya has for years kept a wary eye on its northeastern regions bordering Somalia.

“In international law, it is very rare to find a country openly calling for the partition of another country because it sets a precedent that could come back to haunt them; in the case of Uganda, you must have heard Norbert Mao (chairman of Gulu District Local Council in northern Uganda) suggest that the north should break away from Uganda,” said Uganda’s Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem.

According to independent sources however, Uganda and its EAC partners believe that despite the challenges the South faces, Juba is better off breaking away from its unproductive marriage with Khartoum.