2 October 2017

Sudan: Time to Turn a New Page

Photo: The Rwandan Focus
South Sudan leader Salva Kiir Mayardit.

Come Tuesday Khartoum is scheduled to receive South Sudan President Salva Kiir in a visit that needs to be treated in a different way. Despite a long history of animosity during the civil war and even after South Sudan became an independent state where the two countries engaged into a fruitless encounter, it is time to turn that page and start a new one based on mutual interests.

And there is a lot to achieve for both governments and peoples of the two countries. It is so interesting to note that Juba is keen on improving its relations with Khartoum to the extent that it urged the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikkie Haley, who was visiting Juba last week, to get Washington to use its good offices with Khartoum for that purpose.

"The Government of South Sudan thinks the US can do more and provide additional inputs that will improve the relations," Nhial Deng Nhial senior presidential advisor and special envoy told Sudan Tribune Thursday.

The statement was interesting given the fact that Haley came basically to provide a strong message to Juba that it is time to act to put its own house in order, not talk.

"What I told him [Kiir] was that the United States does not want to hear a lot of talks. I was not to listen what he wants to say. I was here to say the United States is at a cross point. It not about the talks, it's about the action. We have to see a willingness of the Government and the military to stop the violence and stop the abuses that are happening in the country," said Haley.

Sudan is part of the IGAD initiative that is working to bring peace to the war torn South Sudan. Despite the stalemate, but behind the scenes activity have reached a stage of proposing a venue for the combating partners to meet and Khartoum is on that list among others to host that meeting. As a parent country, with more than two thousands km of joint borders and the only exit for its oil exports, Sudan is more than qualified to play a more significant and constructive role, if it opted it.

And that brings to the fore the issue of bilateral relations that should be based on mutual benefits. Gone are the days when Khartoum was suspicious of Juba spearheading a plan for regime change and ally with its former comrades in arms in the SPLA-N. The internal problems of both South Sudan and SPLA-N have created a new environment that needs to be utilized fully.

However, for Sudan to play a more positive role in settling the war and peace issue in South Sudan, it needs to work and build on areas where it has a comparative edge and along the ways that can help its own domestic agenda. After all almost one third of the population of the two countries live in border areas with abundant natural resources from oil, to animal husbandry to arable lands.

Sudan, which suffers from a huge deficit in its balance of payment have a nearby market of South Sudan, where some of its traditional commodities like onion, salt, durra etc. can fetch reasonable amounts of much needed hard currency .

Moreover, and in terms of investing in the new generation of southerners, Sudan can make a big push to teach Arabic language. Juba Arabic is the kind of lingua franca used to address all people in Southern Sudan given its ability to cut across tribal languages divide. It is interesting that an open invitation to spread Arabic came from First Vice President Taban Deng, who wanted Sudan to play a role here and not leave South Sudan open for the Swahili only.

Providing oil expertise is another area Sudan can make a difference given its first-hand knowledge of oil industry in South Sudan and the technical expertise it accumulated during the era of the oil boom in the country before 2011.

The first step to take is to bring Sudan embassy in Juba to the level it used to have manned by senior and enough diplomats able in charting a workable map for developing the bilateral relations, but such an effort awaits as green light from Khartoum, which should be based on a strong political will. It remains to be seen whether Kiir's visit will send the white smoke.


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