Motivated in large part by the fragility of their respective economies, the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan meet in Ethiopia January 4-5 to try to resolve oil and border conflicts.
After months of stalemate, a resolution to the crisis gripping the two Sudans could be in sight.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir met his South Sudanese counterpart, Salva Kiir, in Ethiopia on Friday, January 4, at the urging of the African Union. The two countries, which signed a peace deal in 2005 after a long civil war, were expected to discuss the possibility of establishing a demilitarised buffer zone along the disputed border separating them.
The resumption of oil flows will also be one of the most pressing issues on the table.
Since the two Sudans separated on July 9, 2011, Khartoum has been deprived of 75% of its oil resources, located in the south. Meanwhile, Juba, the capital of landlocked South Sudan, has had to rely on the north’s pipeline, refinery and export terminal at Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Tensions reached a head in January 2012, when a spat with the north over transit fees prompted South Sudan to halt its oil production entirely.
Sudan faces economic consequences of split
South Sudan accuses Sudan of incursion
Sudanese troops clashed with South Sudanese forces along their restive border, South Sudan's army said Thursday, a day ahead of planned talks between the presidents of the two rival nations.
Sudanese planes also dropped bombs as the rival forces clashed on Wednesday in South Sudan's remote north Raja region of Western Bahr el-Ghazal state, said the South's army spokesman Philip Aguer.
"They attacked on Wednesday, and the fighting continued until late in the afternoon... It is a remote region so we are still awaiting updates on casualties," he said.
United Nations peacekeepers could not confirm the reports and the claims could not be independently verified.
“It’s the economy that is forcing the two sides to sit down together at the negotiating table,” explained Benjamin Augé, a researcher on African affairs at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). “Without the oil revenue it used to have, the north is economically asphyxiated, while the south – which doesn’t yet have a well-established economy – is struggling to dig up funds. Their short-term strategy of fighting each other and creating instability along their border cannot last.”
According to Augé, the north did not prepare sufficiently for the economic fallout from the separation from the south. “The leaders in the north should have put in place some kind of policy to compensate for the loss of three-quarters of their oil resources – notably by investing in the exploration of new oil deposits or beefing up the industry,” he noted. “But they waited too long.”
Now, with rebel attacks becoming more frequent, Sudanese are becoming increasingly angry with their political leaders. “The rise in prices coupled with enormous inflation has made the cost of living unmanageable for many inhabitants,” Augé said.
Shaky administration in south
In the south, things hardly look more promising. “Now that the civil war is over, there is a population of 10 million to oversee – people with legitimate expectations from their government,” Augé explained. “Many countries contributed, either financially or with technical support, to the construction of South Sudan’s government – particularly the US and Norway – but there’s still much to be done.”
Without solid infrastructure and a functioning administration, South Soudan, which produced 350,000 barrels of oil per day before gaining its independence, is currently overwhelmed. “In Juba, there are not enough people working in the government, and many of the employed civil servants are far from competent,” Augé said. “It will take several years to get things up to standard. Some people who received their training in South Africa or the US have returned home but don’t necessarily have access to the highest-ranking positions, and are not always accepted by those who stayed during the civil war.”
At the same time, the economic interdependence that has weakened both Sudan and South Sudan is precisely what has pushed them toward a possible resolution. In his vows for 2013, President Salva Kiir of South Sudan announced that he would temporarily withdraw forces from the border areas in order to facilitate the creation of an “operational” demilitarised border. Such a zone would nevertheless likely be monitored by soldiers from both Sudans, as well as UN forces.
Still, the outcome of the upcoming meeting in Addis Abeba is uncertain. “There is so much mistrust from both sides that has built up over the past 50 years, that it’s extremely difficult to predict whether these talks will be fruitful,” Augé assessed.
Aside from oil and border issues, Augé noted, there is the still-unresolved matter of contested regions like Abyei, as well as the thorny question of Sudan’s debt, which it is asking South Sudan to help pay off.
Date created : 2013-01-03