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Hichem Karoui: Sudan versus Sudan
April 14, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The old conflict in Sudan known as “North/South” is not isolated from an area of overlapping conflicts, exacerbating problems of tribalism and ethnicity and religion, mineral resources, and political claims.  Sudan has been engulfed in almost continuous internal conflict since independence. The devastating South-North conflict, which resulted in almost 2,000,000 casualties, is now regaining steam.

Khartoum accuses South Sudan of supporting rebel insurgencies in its territory. The South accuses Khartoum of stealing its oil.

Recently, the old dispute grew violent, with the two Sudans clashing militarily around the border.  The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, spoke directly with the South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, urging an end to the fighting and a presidential summit meeting to ease tensions. The African Union also called South Sudan to withdraw its troops from the oil-producing region of Hajleej. But the drums of war are still resonating.

This is a dangerous game for still unstable neighbours. The eventuality for any war opposing the North and the South to expand across the borders to other countries is not excluded.  Observers note that in the event of a war between the two Sudans, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda will bear a significant cost in hosting displaced people and in dealing with the compromise to their own economic interests. Egypt and Libya may also get directly or indirectly involved.

The reasons of the conflict were known. The partition of the country is eventually a result of unresolved problems.

On July 9, 2011, Sudan split in two with the creation of the Republic of South Sudan. This event came as the end of a 6-year peace agreement after decades of civil war.  In 2005 the Naivasha Agreement, or Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), was signed by the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum.

It was believed at the time that the CPA would bring one of the longest conflicts in Africa – the so-called Sudan north –south conflict – to an end. The CPA sought to resolve the root causes of Sudan’s conflict by providing a six-year temporary solution aimed at laying the foundation for a country that is based on pluralistic democracy and rule of law by granting Southern Sudan autonomous status and fixing a timetable on the question of the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan. It established a dual legal system (a Sharia system in the north and a secular system in the south) and a comprehensive Bill of Rights to be enshrined in the National Interim Constitution (INC).

The responsibility of the fanatics in the conflict that ended up with the partition of the country is clear.

Since the independence of the country in 1956, the role of Islam in the state and the application of Sharia throughout the country have been contentious issues. During the north-south peace process, the initial positions of the parties to the conflict consisted for the north in the application of Sharia for the whole country, and for the south in laying the foundations for a secular-based state. Reconciling the claims of both parties was the purpose of the CPA. A dual legal system emerged from the Machakos Protocol, as the parties agreed that laws applicable at the national level have as one of their sources Sharia law, while laws applicable in Southern Sudan are to be based on the “customs and traditions of the people of Southern Sudan [and the] popular consensus of the people of Southern Sudan.”

In a multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, multiethnic, multi-religious country like Sudan, such a system would eventually end up bogged down.

The problems causing so many pains to Sudan are much similar to those that caused revolution in other Arab states. In Sudan, the civil wars that have been fought since independence are understood as reactions to the long trend of marginalisation of Sudan’s peripheral regions and peoples. Many of the conflicts in Darfur or the East of Sudan have a similar genesis to the problems that faced South Sudan.

Some northern Sudanese elite have found easy avoidance of their responsibility in throwing it on Israel. Thus, Israel and the USA have fomented trouble for Sudan in order to undermine its unity and dominate it. But while external powers always act according to their own interests, they would not find the way to accomplish their plans of dominance if the political class of the country were doing honestly its job and trying to answer their people’s expectances and provide: welfare and prosperity, integrity and uprightness, justice and happiness.

The point is the political elite of Sudan performed similarly to other Arab elites (from Tunisia to Syria).  When you ask people in the Arab countries why a revolution occurred, they answer: bad economic situation, injustice and oppression, and corruption. The three are also visible in Sudan, and Israel has nothing to do with this.

Evidence? Well, the six-year transitional period from the signing of the CPA to independence of South Sudan was supposed to provide time to resolve a series of key issues. Where should the north-south border be drawn? How will the citizenship of southerners living in the north and of Arabs living in the south be established? How should the dispute over the oil-rich area of Abyei, which straddles the current, tentative border, be settled? How should the country’s debts be apportioned? How much oil revenue should Juba give Khartoum for the construction of the North’s oil pipeline and port and the South’s use of them? And how much water from the Nile River, which flows from the south, will the north (and Egypt) be allowed to use?

The questions are still on the table. Unanswered. The South independence has not resolved them. The crucial area of continuing disagreement is over oil. Most oil lies in South Sudan (although some reservoirs do cross the international boundary) but the pipeline and refineries that turn oil into currency are in North Sudan. Prior to the partition, revenue from Southern oil has been split 50/50.

Some observers predicted that if the South increases its share of oil revenues, it will achieve economic parity with Northern Sudan by 2020. This scenario presented a high probability of conflict, as the North would oppose the loss of significant oil revenues.

The expansion of conflict is also predicted. Some say, within the Horn of Africa, this outcome may result in the realignment of forces and a strong Muslim versus non-Muslims if the issue becomes increasingly important to Egypt. A realignment of oil producers versus non-oil producers may also emerge, with international investors brokering the deal.
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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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