Asmaa El-Husseini looks at the backlash against Sudan's "framework" deal
22 - 28 March 2012
Issue No. 1090
For a while, it seemed that Sudan and South Sudan were about to find a way
to get along. An agreement signed in Addis Ababa was supposed to end border
tensions, settle the status of expatriates across borders, and pave the way
for in-depth talks about the things that matter, oil for example.
Then critics on both sides of the borders started assaulting the deal,
something that suggests that instead of moving closer, the two parts of what
was a united Sudan were set for more bickering, and perhaps renewed
Preachers disparaged the agreement, newspapers called it names, and human
rights activists found fault with the very idea of reconciliation. If the
criticism continues, the Addis Ababa deal, instead of being a landmark in a
future of cooperation, may be just an aberration in the two countries'
steady record of mistrust.
Everyone was looking forward to a deal. Border clashes had been sapping the
power of both countries, and oil production was grinding to a halt. Until
the negotiations in Addis Ababa bore fruit, both Khartoum and Juba were
accusing each other of fighting a proxy war, a charge that illustrates the
lack of confidence the two countries have in each other.
According to the Addis Ababa agreement, the two countries were to address
security issues and the status of citizens living on the wrong side of the
borders. Once progress is made on these matters, the more thorny issues of
oil and borders were going to be raised. Had everything gone smoothly, Omar
Al-Bashir was scheduled to visit Juba, in what would have been his first
visit to the new country since South Sudan earned its independence in July
Now this seems to be a remote possibility. As soon as the negotiations teams
went back from Addis Ababa to their respective countries, a torrent of
criticism was unleashed against them.
The current criticism of the Addis Ababa deal poses questions about future
cooperation between the two countries. Some blame the intensity of criticism
on the kind of rhetoric both Khartoum and Juba are in the habit of
In the past, criticism of this sort succeeded in scuttling two agreements
concerning borders and the situation in Nubia and the Blue Nile.
Idris Abdel-Qader, a key figure in Sudan's ruling National Congress Party
found himself beleaguered in his own mosque, when the imam lashed out at
him, accusing him of treason. Abdel-Qader stood up to refute the charges,
but while trying to explain himself to the rest of the congregation broke
into tears. Abdel-Qader was a member of the delegation which negotiated the
Addis Ababa deal.
In Sudan, one newspaper was particularly venomous in its opposition to the
Framework Agreement. The Intibaha newspaper, run by Al-Tayeb Mustafa,
Al-Bashir's maternal uncle, has made a habit of demonising the southerners.
The latter are denounced regularly as being inferior, dangerous, and a
burden on the north.
There are 700,000 southerners still living in Sudan. Many of them have never
even visited the south, and unless a deal grants them residence rights,
their situation will soon become untenable. A mass exodus to South Sudan may
spell trouble for the fledgling Juba government.
According to the Framework Agreement, the southerners living in Sudan will
have "four rights" that allow them to reside, engage in business, and own
property. So far, Sudanese official are downplaying this point in order to
pacify the hardliners who blame the southerners for all the ills that have
befallen their country. Until a few days ago, the government was actually
encouraging those hardliners to speak out, and even calling for mobilisation
to fight South Sudan.
To make things worse, the government keeps warning of possible attacks by
the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, a coalition of opposition movements that
is said to be backed by Juba.
In South Sudan, the outlook is hardly more encouraging. Pagan Amum, who
negotiated the Framework agreement, is being reviled for arranging for
Al-Bashir to visit Juba. South Sudanese rights groups and activists now say
that Al-Bashir, if he comes to Juba, should be arrested and handed over to
the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The Juba government is trying to defend itself by saying that it has not yet
signed the ICC agreement and therefore is under no obligation to arrest
Al-Bashir. This argument has not connived human rights activists and civil
Legal rights activist Deng Samuel said that arresting Al-Bashir would be a
service not only to South Sudan but to Sudan itself. "South Sudan was a
victim of major crimes including ethnic cleansing. Most leaders of the
Sudanese regime were implicated in these crimes but none more than Al-Bashir
himself," Deng said.
Juba rights activists argue that a visit by Al-Bashir to their country would
send a wrong message to the international community, and would be insulting
to those who escaped his atrocities.
The intensity of debate, and the recurring criticism of the Addis Ababa deal
show how deep the mistrust between the two countries has grown. This
mistrust complicates any attempt to narrow the differences over crucial
matters such as the production and taxing of oil. Take for example the fees
Juba has to pay to transfer a barrel of oil from the south to the north.
Juba is offering $1 for the privilege, while the north is asking for $36.
Both sides are using the plight of civilians for their own political gain.
The southerners caught in the north are but one aspect of the problem. The
other aspect is northern Arab cattle herders who need access to water and
pasture in South Sudan.
Millions in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile fear for their lives unless a
peace deal is in place.
Negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan have not been easy, partly
because both countries have different priorities. The North wants to settle
the matter of oil first, while the south wants a package deal involving
concessions on Abyei and the export of oil.
Security is also a big issue. Khartoum, for example, needs guarantees that
Juba wouldn't lend support to rebels in Nubia and the Blue Nile, who have
been quite active of late.
Peace between the two countries is further complicated by the fact that each
faces real problems at home. Some of these problems are not going to go away
just because Khartoum and Juba have signed a peace deal.
Facing domestic problems in a prudent manner, instead of taking the easy way
and blaming them on outsiders, can be the key to peace between the two
This is not easy, especially in the north, where the regime is still coming
under intense international pressure. The ICC has issued a warrant for the
arrest of yet another Sudanese official, Defence Minister Abdel-Rahim
Washington has pressed for the postponement of a conference in Istanbul that
was supposed to look into economic development in Sudan. The postponement
came as a blow to Khartoum, which was waiting impatiently for this event.
The US Congress ponders a bill that would imposed more sanctions on Sudan.
Furthermore, public figures such as actor George Clooney and Senator Frank
Wolf have demanded that Khartoum to sign a peace agreement with the south
and allow relieve organisations unconditional access to South Kordofan and
the Blue Nile.
Khartoum is sceptical. Sudanese officials say that once relief is allowed
in, rebels usually start getting military aid, something which happened
before during Operation Life Line.
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Received on Sat Mar 24 2012 - 16:27:21 EDT