Sudan and South Sudan: Beyond Brinkmanship
Wednesday 26 April 2012 by
> Ahmed Soliman,
Research Assistant, Horn of Africa, Africa Programme
Less than a year after South Sudan's independence, Sudan and South Sudan are
on the brink of a return to full-scale war.
In the last few weeks there has been increased militarization around the
oil-producing border areas of Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile and Unity States.
A battle for control of oil-producing Heglig and the aerial bombing of
Bentiu by the Sudanese Armed Forces has led to noises about the declaration
of war from both sides.
The increase in tension results from a failure to implement the provisions
of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement before South Sudan's independence.
Demarcation of the North-South border and reaching a deal with Sudan on
sharing oil revenues are arguably the most pressing issues. The failure to
properly demarcate the border area allows for contested claims of ownership
over areas such as Heglig, which until last week produced almost half of
The rhetoric of war is a distraction from the worsening economic situation
in both countries. The current military escalation provides both governments
with a comfortable fall-back position: calling on their respective peoples
to unite against a common enemy shifts attention away from urgent domestic
Simply put, Sudan cannot afford to live without oil and South Sudan cannot
survive without it. Sudan's economy is suffering - the independence of the
South meant that it lost 75 per cent of its reserves and 20 per cent of its
consumer population; key drivers of growth. Both countries remain
interdependent: currently, oil from South Sudan can only reach the
international market through Sudan's pipelines, refineries and port.
Discussions over a new pipeline to Lamu, Kenya are premature - it will take
years to build, funding is not secured, and an interim agreement will still
have to be made with Sudan.
South Sudan has lost around 95 per cent of government revenue since it shut
down oil production in March; a result of Sudan taking oil as payment for
alleged unpaid transit fees. Because of this, South Sudan is unable to meet
its developmental challenges as a new state. Plans to build infrastructure
and exploit its huge agricultural potential have been put on hold
indefinitely. International donors and foreign businesses are reluctant to
invest when the security risk is uncertain.
The Horn of Africa's history serves as a warning of the potential danger to
fledgling states. The optimism that followed Eritrea's independence from
Ethiopia in 1993 was checked by a devastating border war between the two
countries from 1998-2000, and hostilities remain today. Renewed war between
Khartoum and Juba could lead to a military and humanitarian crisis that
would eclipse what has been seen in Darfur.
The international community has been vocal but thus far has been unable to
prevent a decline in relations, with attention focused on Syria and the
financial crisis in Europe. US President Barack Obama has asked both
presidents to resume negotiations and argued that conflict is not
inevitable. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the European Union have
done likewise. The African Union's High-Level Implementation Panel attempts
at negotiation have yielded few results. Chinese mediation and consolidated
efforts by Meles Zenawi, Mwai Kibaki and Thabo Mbeki, have made little
No one is relying on al-Bashir and Salva Kiir's relationship to prevent
conflict. North and south brinkmanship means that deals usually happen at
the last moment but increasingly, economic pressures are driving the
political decisions that will determine whether Sudan and South Sudan return
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Received on Thu Apr 26 2012 - 09:24:04 EDT