The Two Sudans

On July 6 2011, the world’s diplomatic elite flocked to one of the globe’s most underdeveloped regions to bask in the warm glow of the birth of a new nation. That South Sudan’s struggle for independence had claimed the lives of an estimated 2million people, and that the majority of its inaugural citizens had been displaced by decades of war, ensured that the Juba inauguration was all the more remarkable – brimming with the promise of peace, and the fruits of freedom. Now, in an act of apparent economic suicide, South Sudan has literally turned off the taps of their economy. “This is a matter of respect,” Pagan Amum, the South’s chief negotiator with Khartoum asserted, “We may be poor, but we will be free.” By shutting down 90% of the country’s oil production Juba seems willing to entirely forego 98% of the government’s non-aid related foreign currency earnings. How did we get here?

Recent events are almost inexplicable when one considers the developmental and economic progress that accrued to both Sudans in the six years that spanned the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, and the independence of South Sudan last year.

But then again, perhaps not: Khartoum began to act in bad faith with regard to the terms of the CPA almost as soon as the ink had dried: siphoning money from the proceeds of oil fields in the South; failing to administer a referendum on the final status of the disputed, and oil rich, Abyei region; reneging on their commitment to conduct “popular consultation” processes in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile; and failing to demobilize and integrate Northern rebel militias affiliated with the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLM) into the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF).

As secession grew near, critical issues of resource division, citizenship, inherited debt, and the final status of borders remained unresolved. Hardliners, and military men, in the northern establishment, emasculated by the failure of Omar al-Bashir to extract any concessions to end or mitigate Sudan’s pariah status, buttonholed the president in a soft coup, forestalling the prospect of effective conciliation with the South. Fratricidal, petty, and pathetic politicking is now the order of the day.

Rump Sudan now faces a chronic fiscal crisis. Having lost 75% of known oil reserves to the South, the Khartoum regime, under the shadow of the Arab Spring, must enact 26% spending reductions in the face of a restive population, whose marginal livelihoods are being squeezed at the crosshairs of inflation, failed or conflict affected cultivation, and the lifting of government subsidies on staples. The full extent of the bankruptcy of government’s current fiscal positions was exposed in December when Finance Minister Ali Mahmood Abdel Rasool admitted to a hostile Majlis that current fuel subsidies accounted for a gobsmacking 25% of government expenditure.

That the SAF has invaded and occupied Abyei, and vast swathes of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, will divert more resources to oppressive state apparatus in lieu of poverty reduction and the provision of basic services. The UN now estimates that as a consequence of these new conflicts a quarter of a million citizens have been “severely affected”, and that half a million may require food aid. The government’s refusal to allow international aid groups to work with conflict-affected populations has the potential to induce a catastrophic, but entirely avoidable, humanitarian disaster.

Moreover, the destabilization of Libya – actively supported by Bashir – has forced Darfuri rebels from their former safe haven. Notwithstanding the assassination of the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in December, the influx of battle-hardened militia and military hardware to the Darfurs, and Kordofan states, has breathed new fire into that conflict. Increasing cooperation between the SPLM-North and Darfuri rebel groups now trace the contours of a new “South” and, potentially, protracted conflict.

Domestic protests – often spontaneous – have been suppressed, amid allegations of torture and human rights violations.

In this cauldron of unrest and economic decline, perhaps it is no surprise that the Sudanese government began to ‘officially’ confiscate Southern oil to offset their demands for a $36 a barrel surcharge to cover the costs of transit through the Red Sea pipeline. The South now accuses Khartoum of stealing more than $800m worth of oil, a charge that is not denied.

Ongoing efforts to negotiate a sustainable compromise appear to be floundering with the South offering to pay a $1 surcharge per barrel. Both sides are, moreover, insisting on linking any agreement to border disputes, allegations of proxy warfare, and the Abyei conflagration. The negotiating teams appear bent on holding hands and plunging off the economic precipice together.

The North may be in an economic crisis, but the South desperately needs money. Human development indicators for the region are abysmal, but for the South they are positively medieval. The influx of 362,000returnees’ from the North, joined by throngs of refugees from Abyei and South Kordofan, has strained the limited welfare capacity of the new state, while bloody internecine violence in Warrap and Jonglei states continues to undermine internal security, with tens of thousands dead, and hundreds of thousands displaced. Khartoum will soon consider 700,000 South Sudanese resident in the North as foreign; their return would trigger unthinkable social destabilization.

Against this backdrop, the Government of South Sudan is shutting down oil production. If oil does not flow the pipeline will atrophy and become moribund, leaving both nations economically adrift in a sea of conflict.

With the United States utterly alienated from the process – comprehensive and longstanding sanctions against the North leaving them with few card to play – and both sides unwilling to consider the African Union’s interventions, it is difficult to see who can bring the parties back from the cliff face.

China, however, could still play a significant and constructive role, but only if they were to blur the edges of a longstanding policy of non-interference in the sovereign affairs of African states. China’s burgeoning and commodity intensive economy derives 6% of oil needs from Sudanese oil fields. There are also over 100 Chinese companies, with over 10,000 employees, heavily invested in the extraction and refinery capacity of both Sudans, whose security is increasingly tenuous. These sunk costs, in conjunction with the compounded opportunity cost of economic growth foregone as a consequence of diminished oil resources, could force China’s hand. Already diplomats have been shuttling, amid calls for restraint. A selfish foreign policy could yet bring Sudan back from the brink.



    1. @la diva: Quibbling with regard to the “point of view” aside (it is a blog, for gods sake), if there is anything factually incorrect in this piece, please let me know. The De Waal article is referenced in the first hyperlink; but thank you, nevertheless.

      @maurer… not sure what you’re on about, or why

  1. Why are you all so surprised, this is Africa after all and we have always lived by the code of “if I can’t have it then no-one can”!
    Maybe we should blame religion, or the Colonialist who drew borders where they should not have been, or the OAU who accepted the borders at the inaugural meeting.
    It’s a tragedy and I feel for the unfortunate people on the ground who are starving but at the same time, I’m so tired of hearing how everyone else is to blame for Africa’s woes other than Africa itself. I don’t trust any politicians, period, as they only have their own personal interests at heart.

    1. @Egte Safrican: you’re response reads like the silly letters I read in the local Cape Town papers throughout the 1980s. Actually I still read that kind of nonsense by Egte Safricans today.

  2. @Jonathan Faull re: “if there is anything factually incorrect in this piece, please let me know.”

    Yo, here we go:

    “Khartoum began to act in bad faith with regard to the terms of the CPA”
    Well, first of all, whatever criticism one may direct at them, one has to acknowledge that no previous Sudanese government had made such concessions, and it did honor the referendum after all, which hardly anyone expected. BTW, SPLM was part of the Government of National Unity (GoNU), i.e. Khartoum.

    “siphoning money from the proceeds of oil fields in the South”
    SPLM held the GoNU ministry of oil. What happened to all the cash? Good for Hummer sales in Juba, bad for maternity mortality.

    “failing to administer a referendum on the final status of the disputed, and oil rich, Abyei region”
    SPLM had a part in this as well, making no concessions on voting rights of the Misseriya pastoralists who cannot simply be discounted as non-residents.
    Plus, it is a common mistake that Abyei is oil rich. The PCA in The Hague ruled that the main oil fields like Heglig are outside of the disputed region. Abyei is about pastures.

    “reneging on their commitment to conduct “popular consultation” processes in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile”
    Popular consultations were held in Blue Nile. In Southern Kordofan not, because SPLM there under leadership of notoriously brutal warlord Abdelaziz Al Hillu refused the offer to continue its coalition with NCP for preparing pc.

    The claim of a “soft coup” somewhat naively neglects the fact that the army has always been the central power pillar of the regime.

    “the SAF has invaded and occupied Abyei”
    After SPLA troops attacked a UN convoy (!). GoSS even admitted that, though claiming it was an accident. UN reports clearly condemn the assault. Plus, SAF did not occupy all of Abyei, but “only” up to the Kiir river. South of it the SPLA has been occupying Abyei, as documented by UN reports. It is indeed not all black and white.

    “and vast swathes of South Kordofan and Blue Nile states”
    What do you mean? It is the national army after all in its country. Are they supposed to simply tolerate a large rebel militia? Which country would do that? I am not condoning the bombing of civilians there at all, on the contrary, but for heaven’s sake check again the UN reports or Julie Flint’s accounts: SPLM/A did have a big chunk of responsibility in escalating tensions there before and after the elections – simply because of Hillu’s ego. Oh, and talking about SPLM’s respect for democracy: Hillu’s SPLM rival for governorship Telephon Kuku is still held incommunicado in Juba, is he not. The fact that Juba supports SPLA-North is even reported by Africa Confidential which is usually not exactly Khartoum-friendly.
    @ la diva: yes, “while both play god and havoc, its the people who pay the price.”

    “assassination of the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)”
    Come on, sorry: live by the sword, die by the sword. Islamist JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim, when he was still with Bashir, himself hunted down and executed renegade islamist Daoud Bolad in 1991, so he knew that bloody game even before fighting alongside Gaddafi until the very end. Should I cry for him? Umm, nope.

    “Domestic protests – often spontaneous – have been suppressed, amid allegations of torture and human rights violations.”
    I totally agree with la diva: it is extremely one sided to ignore that this is mirrored in the South, e.g. the bloody suppression of the 2010 protests in Unity state after the fraud elections there and the disarmament campaign in Jonglei with hundreds of deaths in 2005/6, to mention but a few. When it comes to torture in the South, just check what happened recently to the two journalists who critisized – though in an admittedly xenophonic way – the president’s daughter, or to Mading Ngor, or to Jok Madut Jok.

    Blog or not: since I really appreciate AIC, give it more balance for gods sake!

  3. Ambrose: Many thanks for the time you obviously put into this.

    Thank you for correcting me on the issue of popular consultations in Blue Nile, and the attachment of the oil rich label to Abyei (the increasingly depleted Diffra oil field, remains within the region and, if entirely independent, would make Abyei residents “rich”; the pipeline, as you no doubt know, also traverses the region). My pen erred.

    Everything else you point out does not undermine the veracity of the account. Facts include: Khartoum did renege on the terms of the CPA; money has disappeared from the national treasury (Ministry of Finance, which was never in SPLM hands) and national accounting is notoriously inept; a referendum has never been administered in Abyei; SAF invaded and occupied Abyei, Blue Nile, and SK (more in a moment); JEM’s leader was assassinated; and, the North is subject to ongoing domestic protests.

    The SAF is a “national army”, but it is one without civilian oversight, and little is done domestically to hold it to account. That hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced through scorched earth and bombing raids, and many of those that remained are now far more food insecure, testifies to the abnormality of SAFs operations (the UN records are extensively referenced had you clicked through on the hyperlinks), and that targets appear to include civilian populations. Then again, perhaps they are just incompetent at targeting militia.

    The CPA was supposed to integrate the “large rebel militia” to which you refer, and had it been fully implemented the situation in BN and SK may not have deteriorated to the extent that it has (all parties take some blame on this – too long a story to go into here – but the NCP and the entrenched military elite, in my opinion, bear the weight of fault).

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