Juba and Khartoum: No Velvet Divorce
Only days before south Sudan celebrates its independence from Khartoum, fighting that has targeted military and civilians alike is overshadowing the euphoria. Tensions are high. Khartoum’s military has occupied Abyei, a disputed province in the centre of the country. To the north in oil-producing South Kordofan, Khartoum and its proxy militias are targeting the indigenous Nuba people, who occasionally fought on the side of the south during Sudan’s protracted civil war, in what many describe as ethnic cleansing. During this year alone, two hundred and sixty thousand people have been displaced and almost two thousand have died during the hostilities. In response to the recent conflict, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a U.S.-drafted resolution authorizing the deployment of over four thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers to Abyei for six months. On July 4, Juba and Khartoum announced that they would continue talks on unresolved disputes after independence, although quick agreement is unlikely.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ostensibly established a framework for the regions to resolve differences and build a genuine federation. It also provided for a 2011 referendum on southern independence should the south desire it. At that time, southern independence did not look inevitable. First, African governments have a deep aversion to changing the boundaries inherited from the colonial era out of fear of unleashing endless secessionist movements across the continent. Second, there was the possibility that the differences between the two regions could be negotiated, given several practical reasons to stay together: some ethnic mixing, the concentration of natural resources in the south, and the downstream infrastructure largely in the north.
However, in January 2011, six years after northern and southern Sudan signed the CPA to end that country’s twenty plus year civil war, south Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence from Khartoum. The excitement over the prospect of independence in The South’s new capital, Juba, was equalled only among the large south Sudanese expatriate community. The international community, too, was profoundly satisfied with how the referendum was conducted and its outcome.
Although the referendum was a success, reconciliation of numerous issues has not taken place, with most (but not all) of the responsibility resting with Khartoum. Three unresolved problems are particularly salient. The delineation of the boundary between northern and southern regions remains incomplete; citizenship issues for southerners living in the north and vice versa are not resolved; and a formal agreement on a formula for sharing oil revenues does not exist. Abyei did not participate in the 2011 referendum, and its status remains in limbo.
Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s authoritarian leader of twenty years, appears reconciled to Juba’s independence. But he may be facing challenges to his leadership. He is an indicted war criminal, which limits (but does not eliminate) his role in international and continental issues. After Juba’s independence, his government will have Africa’s largest national debt, and reduced oil revenues to service it. Perhaps more important, he has a significant, if often fragmented, opposition inside and out of the governing National Party, many of whom are more hardline Islamist than he is. His critics argue that he has “˜lost’ south Sudan and has failed to “˜pacify’ Darfur. Bashir’s repression of his political opponents has angered and irritated them rather than defanging them. Sudan has a tradition of coups from which Bashir may not be immune.
Juba is weak, too. After independence, south Sudan will be one of Africa’s poorest and most undeveloped nations. Despite significant support from the south Sudan Diaspora, non-governmental organizations, and the international community, the Juba administration of Salva Kiir Mayardit resembles a liberation movement rather than a governing party. Government institutions are still developing, and corruption is widespread. While much of the oil is located in the south with the potential for generating revenues, the region’s large army absorbs much of the government’s operating budget. Furthermore, Africa provides countless examples that commercial exploitation of natural resource wealth is no guarantee of economic or social development.
Rather than resolving the generations-long Sudan crisis, Juba’s independence on July 9 merely opens a new chapter in a familiar, complicated story. The international community’s role in the future is likely to be at least as important as in the past. With so many issues unresolved against a backdrop of ethnic and religious conflicts, international peacekeepers are likely to be required for a long time. International diplomatic pressure on both sides will be required to establish the meaningful dialogue between Juba and Khartoum required to address the outstanding, vexing issues between them. And both sides of the border – once it is demarcated – are likely to be the venue for humanitarian assistance for the foreseeable future.
*John Campbell is the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He blogs at ‘Africa in Transition.’ Follow him on Twitter @johncampbellcfr