10 January 2013

South Sudan: Is Durable Peace Between the Two Sudans a Nut Too Hard to Crack?


Juba — The stalling of the "cooperation agreements", though not surprising, has disappointed many people. Much hope had been pinned on this suite of post-independence deals, on both sides of the north-south divide.

When the presidents of both states signed the deals, on 27th September 2012, in Addis Ababa, it was expected that the partners would prioritise the implementation of the Demilitarised Buffer Zone and the resumption of South Sudan's oil export through Sudan's oil pipes, thus reducing border tensions and bringing much needed hard currency into both cash stripped economies.

With the peace process faltering and each side continually accusing the other of harbouring rebels antagonistic to it, there is – as was in April 2012 during the Panthou/Heglig crisis - mounting fears of all-out war. Thankfully, things have not yet deteriorated to that extent.

But Sudan has since then launched several provocative attacks on South Sudanese border villages, claiming it was merely engaging rebels inside its own borders. In the last round of talks, Sudan reportedly demanded that South Sudan disarm the Sudanese rebels. This has been described as impossible by South Sudan and other international players, as it would involve preparing a huge army and launching a risky military operation inside Sudanese soil.

Here in South Sudan, where people remain supportive of the government's earlier decision to suspend oil export through Sudan, there is suspicion that Sudan is still unwilling or unable to face up to the new reality in which South Sudan is a sovereign country. It is using the troubles in its Nuba, Funj and Darfuri regions to justify its continued hostility to South Sudan.

Khartoum's procrastination over permitting the passage of the oil through its soil is seen as an attempt to defeat South Sudan by way of economic asphyxiation. But Sudan can't be sure who will suffocate first!

It surely can't be so blind as to not see that, like conjoined twins, neither country can at this stage live without the other. It is as cash strapped as South Sudan and it must be secretly pleased with the oil deal. Under its terms, South Sudan, over the next three years, will pay Sudan $3.5 billion as assistance and a similar amount as oil transit and export fees.

Khartoum's cross border attacks are deliberate and are designed to arm-twist Juba into siding with it against its insurgents. Or worst still, to precipitate a war with South Sudan that it believes it can win, with the occupation of South Sudan's oil fields as the jewel in the crown.

But what if South Sudan's suspicions are unwarranted? What if Khartoum, in its desperation to ward off the rebels, is only rummaging in the dark for an exit? What if it is only sabre rattling?

Either way, Sudan needs to put weapons aside and look for peaceful solutions to the problems with its own people and with its most important neighbour, South Sudan.

After 50 years of war, with the loss of millions of lives and immeasurable resources, Sudan failed to impose its will on the South Sudanese and eventually conceded to them the right for self-determination. South Sudanese were magnanimous in their victory and have commended the NCP for honouring the CPA and Bashir's personal role in it.

Sudan faces new internal problems and needs to tie up the loose ends of the CPA. It can choose the painful decision of embracing peace and shunning its tragic and tarnished legacy; or it can lumber forward intransigently, retracing old blind allies and recycling exhausted tricks with results that are all too predictable.

Mawan Muortat is a Juba-based IT professional and a contributor to the New Sudan Vision.

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