Sudanese stalemate as neither North nor South can make decisive move – By Nanne op’t Ende
The tactical calculations in the conflict between North and South Sudan are staggeringly complex but they have one thing in common: neither party has the slightest consideration for the wellbeing of the population. I tend to feel that there is little use for analyses when the men in charge are so determined to wear each other out at any cost.
Alex de Waal’s conclusion that the parties are unable to compromise seems to be about the only sensible thing to say. The other issues he mentions follow from this inability to co-operate and compromise. Both parties have operated under the assumption that the other side would eventually try to get the upper hand – and rightly so: Khartoum and Juba constantly look for slight advantages on the ground, with public opinion, in the international arena.
To discuss both parties’ rationale in the conflict is pure speculation. If I were to give it a shot my analysis would run along the lines of a mutual expectation with the NCP and the SPLM that the other side will, sooner or later, crumble and lose the ability to continue its rule.
At the time of signing the CPA, the NCP might have believed it would be better to leave the South to its own devices for a while and concentrate on reinforcing its grip on the North. Knowing that the South Sudan government would depend entirely on oil revenue while the existing pipelines run through the North and estimating that an alternative (up-hill) line to Kenya would be too expensive, the NCP calculated that the SPLM would rather contribute to the North’s economy by paying high oil transport fees than risk being cut off from any revenues at all.
The NCP probably also figured that fear of revenue loss combined with the fear of losing too much credit internationally could refrain Juba from taking action when the Sudan Armed Forces would try to deal with the remaining SPLA forces in South Kordofan and Blue Nile. After all, that is an internal affair. Furthermore, the NCP might have thought that, with its obvious lack of development and human resources and all the ensuing problems of corruption, popular discontent and tribal conflict, the South might well implode within a few years.
The SPLM in its turn might have believed that being the ruling party of an independent country with large proven oil reserves would secure substantial sums in foreign investment and strengthen its position in the international arena. China in particular would no longer be so eager to defend Khartoum, while the United States, for a host of reasons, would be happy to continue its support to Juba.
Knowing that the government in Khartoum had become entirely dependent on oil revenues that were now severely reduced, the SPLM figured that the NCP would be in a tight corner economically, no matter what. Add to this the enormous and continuing cost of fighting the armed opposition in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and it would be only a matter of time before the NCP government would collapse.
In this line of reasoning it is entirely logical not to budge on transport fees and to give covert support to opposition groups across the border. If you can’t win the war, try to win the peace. Whatever the exact calculations were on either side, the peace obviously has not lasted long enough yet for one of the parties to collapse.
In the North, the Sudan Armed Forces defeated SPLA forces in Blue Nile rather decisively and managed to hold on to the large towns in South Kordofan. The rebel movements from Darfur, though still active, seem unable to make any progress in the West. The NCP government is in dire need of foreign currency but so far it shows no clear signs of losing its grip on power.
In the South the SPLM faces strong criticism over corruption, nepotism, tribalism and incompetence but the internal division of the South is nowhere near the level of 1991, when a rift in the movement nearly caused its demise. The SPLM government seems to be in firm control, even though it has a serious budgetary problem since the North provoked it into shutting down oil production.
There is little chance that the NCP and the SPLM will actually compromise on anything. This is a serious game of poker: which country will run out of chips first? I guess that beyond today’s horizon all kinds of other calculations are being made for the event of full scale war: who will let himself be provoked into continuing his advance beyond the border areas? Who can count on support from his allies? Who can sustain a prolonged military campaign when the financial resources are all but depleted? Is there any chance the international community will intervene?
I see no reason why either side would now be in a better position to defeat the other than seven years ago when they signed the CPA. They both used the oil money to build up their respective armed forces. Perhaps Juba has the better fighters, but Khartoum has the fighter jets. At the same time I think neither party is comfortable with letting time alone decide who might win the peace. So they up the ante. Sudan continues to harass South Sudan along the borders, South Sudan shuts down the wells.
Personally I think it is clear Khartoum has the greatest contempt for the people, bombing civilian areas day in day out, with al Beshir calling the SPLM “˜insects’ and Haroun telling his troops in South Kordofan to “˜hand over the place clean’ and “˜make no prisoners’. It is evil, I have no better words for their conduct. Meanwhile Juba seems to gamble recklessly with the future of millions of citizens of a new nation… what to make of that?
All I know for sure is that the population is the party that is certain to lose, and for the most part they are not even allowed to play.
Nanne op’t Ende is the author of Proud to be Nuba and long-time commentator on South Kordofan.