Friday, October 12, 2012

The Intertwined Fates of Sudan and South Sudan

In July 2012, after long negotiations, the governments in Khartoum and Juba signed into agreement what was hoped to be a significant step toward peace between the newly separated states. Forged out of economic necessity, the agreement called for the resumption of oil production in South Sudan, which halted earlier in the year in response to Sudan and South Sudan narrowly avoiding war. The enmity stems from the fact that South Sudan's independence ceded not just land but 75% of the known oil reserves as well. Left strapped for cash and resources, Khartoum has grown desperately reliant on duties taken from South Sudanese oil travelling through Sudanese pipelines to the Mediterranean. Today, oil production is still at a standstill with promises from Juba that oil shipments will resume by the end of the year. Undoubtedly, the oil crisis has had vast implications for both countries that generate most of their national income from oil revenues, including cross-border violence, soaring food prices, economic vulnerability and diplomatic tension. Such is the immediate and medium-term future for both countries, whose symbiotic economies--hampered by lack of oil revenues and border and territory disputes--will define the peace process that moves forward. With economic strains stemming from violence along the border, and as border violence continues to justify political stagnation, Sudan and South Sudan's crisis is looking more and more cyclical and threatens to plunge both nations further into chaos and discord. 

Photo by Steve Evans, 9 July 2011

The issue of oil is central to the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. It was the cause of the Second Sudanese War (1983-2005), when Nimeiry declared Sudan an Islamic State and invaded the south for oil fields, therefore terminating the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region. This was ultimately a violation of the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended the First Sudanese Civi War. Oil, then, was the driving force for the dissolution of internal agreements, civil war, and is currently doing more of the same. Just this summer, oil production in South Sudan was shut off because of mutual accusations of agitating political developments through proxy forces in the other's country. Almost all of the violence, instability and refugees sit atop known oil fields in historically disputed areas. Quoting the UN, these are considered "outstanding issues" between Sudan and South Sudan.

South Sudan faces other challenges in addition to its control over 75% of Sudanese oil. Stationed in the Juba Mountains and across South Kordofan, Sudan, is the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North (SPLA-N), displaced from their host organization in the south by an international border. Violence flared in these areas this summer, and the SPLA-N's presence continues to be a point of tension between the two countries. Juba has been resistant to criticize the SPLA-N, adding to the friction. The militia group also intends on engaging with the political process in Khartoum, although still technically part of the broader Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in South Sudan. This duplicity adds to the unpredictability in the region, especially since the SPLA-N has been implicated in numerous skirmishes within Sudan. 

Another focal point of violence and instability is the disputed Abyei region. Jointly administered as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Abyei holds rich oil fields, despite its size. At the UN, the Security Council established the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) to deter the fighting and act as a buffer so as to facilitate negotiations on Abyei's final status. For now, it's a demilitarized zone occupied with peacekeepers and once again put on the back burner for future negotiations. In addition to the UN providing a peacekeeping mission for the small region, the African Union has been asked to intervene as well in the hopes of facilitating a peaceful settlement.

UNMISS, or the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, has encountered difficulties in maneuvering toward peace as well. Initiated as a complementary mission to the government in South Sudan, UNMISS appears a less and less effective means toward nation-building, given the outstanding issues of inter-communal violence, inadequate disarmament-demobilization-reintegration (DDR) policies and the lack of political will to reach a comprehensive agreement. One of these challenges is UNMISS' DDR programs. For the estimated 150,000 non-SPLA-affiliated combatants in South Sudan, UNMISS along with partner organizations have only established three, 50-person DDR sites. UNMISS is also supremely limited in what it can achieve on the ground with regards to military personnel and equipment, especially regarding the lack of badly-needed helicopters. Without the necessary military equipment to facilitate monitoring violence along the border and within South Sudan, UNMISS remains extremely limited in its ability to engage and prevent the problems it's intended to fix.

The future of Sudan and South Sudan looks uncertain, and indeed unstable, but ultimately their fates are intertwined both economically and politically, which inherently renders the peace process complex. Only until a final decision is reached on the oil-rich disputed regions will there be a chance for enduring peace between the newly-separated countries.

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