Sudan's Bashir threatens war against South Sudan
An interview with Nii Akuetteh by Paul Jay, The Real News Network
2012-04-26, Issue 582 <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/582
US wants to use South Sudan to gain strategic advantage but China may be the
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul
Jay in Washington.
In Sudan, President Bashir has said it's a time of reckoning with South
Sudan, the newly formed country (Juba is its capital). He says either South
Sudan will take Khartoum and control all of Sudan or, the other way around,
Bashir says he will take South Sudan, where most of the oil now is. And, of
course, that's what in the final analysis most of the conflict in Sudan is
Now joining us to talk about this is Nii Akuetteh. He's an independent
analyst of African and international affairs. He writes regularly on
Pambazuka News, and he's a former executive director of Africa Action, and
he was a professor of African studies at Georgetown University. Thanks very
much for joining us, Nii.
NII AKUETTEH, FORMER DIRECTOR, AFRICA ACTION: It's my pleasure. Thank you
for having me.
JAY: So before we get into the specifics of what's happening now, these
threats and what seems to be intensification and possible open, all-out
warfare between North and South Sudan, give us some basic context, some
historical context of how we got here.
AKUETTEH: Yes. You know, Sudan, South Sudan, the smaller of the two
countries in the conflict, became independent just a few months ago. In
fact, it's designated as the youngest country in the world. It broke off
from Sudan. So this is a sort of a divorce, a bitter divorce.
The quarrels leading to the divorce have been a very long way in coming.
Sudan actually got its independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, but the
quarrel between the North and the South actually predates independence,
before independence, the Southerners agitating. In fact, Southerners in the
national army broke out in revolt in some camps before independence. So
there's been a big quarrel.
What has the quarrel been about? Number one, one of the reasons is just
cultural differences. The North is largely, quote, Arab and Muslim. The
South is, quote, "African, black African", and non-Muslim: some Christian;
some indigenous religions. And the capital, Khartoum, it has always
maintained power. It has marginalized the South. Incidentally, it has
marginalized other peripheries too, such as Western Sudan, which most
Americans will remember as Darfur. So Sudan is a big country where different
groups felt marginalized and repressed, in the South particularly so, and
they have been fighting the North for a long time.
Eventually, in the last ten years or so, the world got very concerned, came
up with what is known as the CPA, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And
under the agreement, it was agreed that the South, who [would] vote to see
whether it wanted to succeed or not[. T]hey did have that vote a year and a
half ago, and 90 percent of the voters chose to secede. So they peacefully
The problem we have now, as you rightly said, is being aggravated by the
fact that Sudan is a big oil-producing country now. Most of the oil is in
the South. So now that they've split into two countries, about 75 percent of
the oilfields are in the South, but the outlet for selling the oil
internationally, the pipelines go through the north to Port Said which is on
the sea of north Sudan. So these two countries hostile to each other are
stuck over oil, transporting the oil.
But there is also the issue of where the proper borders have to be drawn.
There is also the issue of ethnicity. And there is the issue also of each of
the two countries sponsoring dissidents and fighters in each other's
JAY: Now, in theory, at least, a deal is there to be had, because the South
needs the North for its refineries and infrastructure for shipping the oil
out. They could come to some kind of revenue split. Some people even talked
about a 50-50 split. So it's not like inherently there has to be this
conflict over who's going to control South Sudan's oil. On the other hand,
the conflict continues. And let's just add one more factor to this, which is
most of the oil, if I understand it correctly, produced in South Sudan is
being done by the Chinese. So you also have that ingredient, and then, of
course, U.S. foreign policy here, which would like to topple Bashir in the
North and is financing, if I understand it correctly, a lot of the army of
South Sudan and is fully backing South Sudan. So that's a complicated,
AKUETTEH: It absolutely is. And, in fact, before independence, some of us
actually expected that China would put all its weight behind north Sudan
(and I'm saying north just to distinguish it from the South, but officially
it is Sudan). The surprise, the pleasant surprise, is that China has
actually not shunned the south; it has also started wooing the South. So if
there is going to be a broker who both sides might listen to, it might be
As you rightly said, the United States and the West have been behind the
South for a long time, so they are not seen as being able to talk to both
sides. Incidentally, they have indicted Omar Bashir in the north, and
therefore it's unlikely that he's going to listen to them. They've been
putting pressure on a lot of countries to arrest Omar Bashir. Those
countries have not.
So I think in all this I'm looking to see what the Chinese are saying.
And I think you are right. The two countries have to live with each other
forever. In terms of the oil, they have to have a deal for a while. And
actually there is a deal on the table, with some disputes over how much is
to be paid.
I think that this recent flare-up, the obstacle's been--of course, as
everywhere, it's been the politicians and the generals who are running the
country. But most of the ordinary people there, I think, will very much like
to have disputes resolved peacefully so that the oil can flow and the
revenues can be used to improve their lives.
JAY: Why is the United States so antagonistic towards Bashir? I mean,
Bashir's been playing ball with the IMF, if I understand it correctly. He
follows IMF guidelines. I mean, it's not like the U.S. has a problem dealing
with dictators. It's just they don't like dictators that don't play ball.
But to some extent Bashir does play ball.
AKUETTEH: He played ball a little bit. But, you know, Darfur--I'm sure that
many of the people watching might remember Darfur from a few years back,
which was the big issue in the administration of George W. Bush. I think
that during that time, the dominant narrative was that Khartoum and Bashir
was brutalizing--I mean, we have been talking about things done to the
South, but he was brutalizing people in the West, which is called Darfur,
and it was from there the indictment--the ICC indictment is based on
atrocities committed in Darfur. And this was the time when I was actually
running Africa Action here in Washington. So Darfur was the number-one issue
for us. So part of the Western animosity toward Omar Bashir is, number one,
over what he did in Darfur. It is also because until now he's been a very
close friend of the Chinese.
And also you are right: U.S. has backed so many dictators across Africa.
They used to--actually, Sudan, when it was being run by Nimeiry, another
general who took power before Bashir--he was America's best friend. But then
Bashir and others who followed Nimeiry made a hard turn towards Islam,
because to keep power they wrapped themselves in Muslim religious rhetoric
and tried to politicize Islam. So that is also another part.
Of course, it's very complicated, because one other thing I need to throw in
is, for all of George Bush's rhetoric about Sudan being terrible and
committing atrocities in Darfur--under the table he was working with them in
Iraq, because, apparently, they had a joint program to infiltrate the
insurgents in Iraq. And therefore Bush's administration, while it was
talking tough publicly, was cooperating behind the scenes with some of
Bashir's generals who had committed atrocities. We know that at least one
was flown to the CIA to come and advise them and give them intelligence.
JAY: Well, we saw the same thing where Bush administration worked with Assad
in Syria, Gaddafi in Libya, and they were all cooperating on this supposed
war on terror. But let's go a little further. So this kind of talk we're
hearing from Bashir now, you know, saying he's either going to conquer the
South or the South is going to conquer the North and it's an all-out war, I
mean, is this bluster? Or are we on the precipice of all-out war?
AKUETTEH: I think it is largely bluster. I will say 70 percent bluster. But
the reason I will not--and my reason is that Bashir has a long record of
this kind of bluster and talking tough and saying all-out war and saying, "I
have given the order for the troops to go to war" but they haven't done so.
I mean, I remember last fall we had such a situation, where he had just come
back from China, and it was "it's all-out war, I don't want to talk to the
South," but we didn't get that kind of all-out attack.
On the other hand, I don't want to say that we can completely dismiss it,
because, number one, he has a strong, big army; number two, in the last--the
most recent flare-up, it was actually the South, based on all the news
accounts we can get, that was the aggressor. They crossed the recognized
lines and took the oilfield of Heglig. But now they've been forced to give
it back. And Bashir was--in fact, his statement was in that oilfield,
Heglig, which is right on the border, and he's saying now he will fight.
I believe that he does most of that talk for domestic consumption, because
he has a hard time. Sudan is huge. There is a lot of different groups that
are not happy. So to hold them together, he's talking tough and pushing war.
It is a lot of bluster. But I would not dismiss it, all of it, because in
the cauldron that we have on the border, a little mistake can lead to a lot
of war. Moreover--.
JAY: And what's the U.S. interest here? Because some people have suggested
that the U.S. would like to destabilize the situation, one, hoping Bashir
falls as a result of it, and two, maybe the Chinese get muscled out as well,
and that you have a kind of pro-Western South Sudan take control of it all.
I mean, do you see evidence of that?
AKUETTEH: Well, in terms of the goals, I can share--I mean, I can believe
that, I can share hypothesis that U.S. goals will be--would love to get rid
of Bashir and get some more compliant person in Khartoum, and that they
definitely would like it if they were the big recipient of the oil instead
of the Chinese. So I think those two goals sound credible to me.
I'm not willing to go as far as saying that it is in U.S. interests to
destabilize the area, because I think the other thing that is important to
the U.S. is to build up South Sudan as a strong, self-reliant, rich country
because it has a lot of oil. The U.S. has a number of dictators in the
region that are its friends--Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, and even the Kenyans.
So it would like--I think that a war, if it comes--and this is part of why
Bashir is blustering so much: he has more muscle than South Sudan. South
Sudan is young, and even though it has oil resources, it cannot exploit it
fully right now. So it's fairly weak.
So it doesn't sound credible or smart to me that the Obama administration's
policy would be to destabilize the area, because if they do, the country
that they support, South Sudan, is likely to lose that war.
So I think they will want to use other measures. If anything, they wouldn't
want to start war until South Sudan is stronger. In fact, as I said,
President Obama has been quite measured since the recent flareup. My reading
is that it's because the backers, the Western backers of South Sudan are
chagrined, and they don't like it that South Sudan went and took Heglig,
because they feel like it's not yet ready, doesn't have the military--.
JAY: Heglig is this oil town right on the disputed border with North and
South, and the South took it. And if I understand correctly, Bashir has now
either pushed them out or they withdrew.
AKUETTEH: Yes. Yes. You know, actually you are right. We have heard both
versions. The South said, oh, we withdrew because Obama and others in the
Security Council told us to withdraw. But Bashir says no, they did not
withdraw, we kicked them out, and we're going to go all the way to the
JAY: Alright. Well, we'll come back and discuss this further as events
unfold. And viewers, I suggest: please send questions for Nii that we can
ask him next time we talk about this. And we'll try to come back and dig
further into the situation in Sudan in the next week or so. Thanks very much
for joining us, Nii.
AKUETTEH: It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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Received on Fri Apr 27 2012 - 18:18:43 EDT