Friday, November 26, 2010

Sudan: “Khartoum likes to spit fire, but will not go war with the South this time round. Both sides know the cost of war"

JUBA, 25 November 2010 (IRIN) - A January referendum in Southern Sudan is likely to lead to the creation of a new country - the first in Africa since Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 - but much work needs to be done to ensure the separation is more peaceful than that of its Horn of Africa neighbours.

“It is like a divorce,” Chaplain Kara Yokoju, a professor at Juba University and a specialist in international relations, told IRIN in the Southern capital.

“Once concluded, you may have to sell the house so that each party takes away something. You cannot divide the house and the bricks into two and give each party some to carry away,” he added

“The foundations for a constructive post-referendum relationship are yet to be laid,” warned the International Crisis Group in a new report, adding that the pace of negotiations to date was “cause for concern”.

Over recent months senior officials from the National Congress Party (NCP), in power in Khartoum, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which heads the government of semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, have met to discuss crucial issues such as citizenship and nationality; natural resource management; currency; assets and liabilities; security; and international treaties.

Another round of talks, aimed at agreeing at least a basic negotiating blueprint on these issues is due to start later this week, either in Khartoum or Addis Ababa.

“Neglecting the groundwork for positive post-referendum relations would be short-sighted and possibly a recipe for renewed conflict,” states the ICG.

Another war in Sudan could cost the country and its neighbours US$100 billion in lost economic output as well as humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance, according to a report commissioned by Aegis Trust, a London-based charity.

Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war between 1998 and 2000. The conflict was triggered by a border dispute, but this followed years of mounting tension over unresolved economic and political issues, coupled with a breakdown in relations between the two countries’ leaders, former brothers-in-arms. There is still no sign of détente.

In Sudan, fears of fresh conflict have some foundation. On 25 November, the Southern army (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) accused the Northern Sudan Armed Forces of mounting a gunship attack on two SPLA positions in Northern Bahr al-Ghazal state.

An SPLA spokesman said the alleged incident, denied by Khartoum, was among several “open provocations…. Designed to drag Sudan back to war, to justify the impossibility of conducting the referendum.”

Negotiated settlement

Giving an example of the details that need to be ironed out, Yokoju, the professor in Juba, said, “The South has the oil but the North has the pipe for selling it. So the South and the North will have to negotiate. The South might eventually rent the pipe and give the North something.”

Aside from its relations with Khartoum, Southern Sudan also has much work to do to put its domestic affairs in order.

“If the South votes for secession, we will have to learn to behave as a nation… But the first challenge will be that of leadership. We need a new democratic system where everybody plays a role,” Yokoju said, alluding to complaints that the SPLM had monopolized power.

Jok Madut Jok, Under-Secretary in the Southern Sudanese Ministry of Culture and Heritage, said his government would have to work hard to meet the aspirations of its citizens.

“The expectations of our people, especially the returnees, are very high, and some of the things they expect are within the capacity of government to implement. The returnees in particular have challenges finding accommodation, social services and food,” he told IRIN.

“In the event that the people vote for secession, we plan to give priority to security and rule of law. We will also give priority to economic development, especially infrastructure, social and human development, especially health, education and capital development, and to encouraging foreign investment,” he said.

“There are tangible deliverables that require massive financial investment. Unfortunately, the ability of the government to deliver them is limited. So will have to manage expectations,” he added.


One Juba-based observer, who requested anonymity, said in the event of secession, an all-inclusive government would need to be formed to prepare for elections in the South.

“The CPA [the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan’s civil war] ceases to have effect on 9 July 2011,” he said.

“That is when the implementation of the referendum outcome will start. After 9 January [the date of the referendum], there will be constituent formalities like somebody moving a motion in parliament in Khartoum for the dissolution of the government of national unity.

“Then CPA structures have to be dissolved by July, including the joint defence board, the petroleum board and indeed the Salva Kiir [president of Southern Sudan] government. Recently, over 20 political parties in the South met to discuss the options,” he said.

A western diplomat in Juba said the government of Southern Sudan would, in the event of secession, need to improve its capacity to govern and to manage localized conflicts between communities. It would also need to strengthen accountability mechanisms, attract more qualified Southerners in the diaspora to help run the country and encourage private investment.

“First, the government will have to establish working institutions in the South,” he told IRIN. “Many returnees, for example, enjoyed free education and healthcare for their children in the North. Now they have come back to find the school system in shambles. What would stop such people from returning to the North?”

Risk of violence

Inter-communal violence in Southern Sudan, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, has generally declined this year. Cattle raiding and conflicts over grazing pasture and water have decreased with the onset of recent rains. But political and ethnic tensions remain high in some areas.

Between July and September, more than 150 people were killed in various incidents and over 25,000 displaced across Southern Sudan. These incidents raised the cumulative total of newly displaced Southern Sudanese in 2010 to more than 212,000.

“Regardless of the results, there are increasing concerns around the humanitarian impact of the referendum. The risk of outbreaks of conflict in contested areas and specifically along the North-South border remains extremely high,” noted the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Another observer, who wished to remain anonymous, said a decision to secede would also have ramifications in the North. “The ruling party will have to figure out how to govern alongside a new country carved out of itself. And the North is aware that the Southerners are deeply angry over the way they were treated for 40 years. President Omar al-Bashir will have to handle that situation in a clever way.

“Khartoum likes to spit fire, but will not go war with the South this time round. Both sides know the cost of war. The North may instead try to destabilize the South through localized proxies to create the impression that the South cannot govern itself,” he added.

The referendum outcome, the observer added, would also have a bearing on the situation in Darfur and eastern Sudan. “In Darfur, it could encourage a secessionist struggle or free up resources that Khartoum could deploy to resolve that problem,” he added.

An analyst at the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies suggested the problems Sudan was going through represented a broader governance issue.

According to Nompumelelo Sibalukhulu: “The fundamental task facing Sudan is to overcome the failure of governments since independence and to transform Sudan into an equal inclusive society by equalizing the distribution of wealth and share in the benefits of political power.”

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