War in the Sudan
Ottaway Q&A, May 17, 2012
Hope for a lasting peace following South Sudan's independence last year has
receded with Sudan and South Sudan already engaged in acts of war. In a new
Q&A, Marina Ottaway analyzes the tensions in the Sudan and the challenges
that both sides face.
do Sudan and South Sudan appear on the brink of all-out war?
issues still need to be resolved between the two countries?
is the risk of economic and political collapse for both countries?
should the international community respond?
Q: Why do Sudan and South Sudan appear on the brink of all-out war?
Middle East Program
This is the final failure of the international efforts to solve the problem
of the Sudan.
There has been war between the Sudanese government and southern movements,
with only temporary pauses in violence since Sudan gained its independence
in 1956. This is an old conflict. What is new, though, is that after South
Sudan became formally independent the conflict has become a war between
states rather than a civil war.
An enormous international effort managed to finally negotiate and sign the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. This seemingly addressed all aspects
of the conflict, but critics claim that there was not enough effort made to
ensure its implementation. Regardless, the real problem is that there are
now two countries more interested in scoring points against each other than
in making peace.
This became clear as soon as South Sudan officially became independent. The
Khartoum government theoretically accepted the South's decision-made through
a popular referendum with an overwhelming majority-to choose independence,
but it never really digested the decision. Conflicts have proceeded unabated
In many ways, both sides need conflict with the other as a diversionary
tactic for their own internal problems so neither is anxious to reach a
settlement. Sudan and South Sudan are faced with intractable domestic
challenges without easy and quick solutions.
Q: What issues still need to be resolved between the two countries?
There are two main conflicts between Sudan and South Sudan-oil and
There are now two countries that share a major source of revenue as well as
a single oil pipeline and one oil terminal. The South controls 75 percent of
the oil, but it can only realistically export its oil through the pipeline
that runs across Sudan and to the port controlled by Khartoum.
In theory, the South can truck oil through Kenya over unpaved roads with
tremendous wear and tear on the vehicles, but for all practical purposes the
only option is to rely on Khartoum's pipeline as it would take years and
huge amounts of money to build a new one to Kenya.
Sudan and South Sudan can't reach an agreement on the transit fees. Industry
experts estimate that for a pipeline of this length, Sudan should charge
South Sudan $2-3 per barrel for moving oil to match going international
rates. Sudan is asking for $32 a barrel and the South is offering $0.41. So
it is clear that there is a long way to go to break the impasse.
After months of negotiation and attempts at mediation by a number of
countries and international organizations, the South has now stopped pumping
oil. This is likely to affect exports from Sudan as well, because the North
may not be able to keep the pipeline running without the oil from the South.
Both countries are taking a tremendous economic loss. China has even
intervened (one of the big players in the South is a Chinese company), but
there is still no sign of a breakthrough.
The second conflict is over border regions.
There are non-Arab populations living close to the border in the North that
sympathize with the South. These groups fought alongside the South during
the war, and yet they are supposed to remain part of Sudan. The line between
the North and South is an old line that was drawn by the British, so this
problem was anticipated.
To complicate matters even more, the boundary is not completely delineated.
This is not only important for the effect on the pasture lands of various
tribes, but also because this involves oil producing areas.
The latest heightening of tensions occurred when the Southern army pushed
past the border to occupy the oil fields in Heglig, the most important
remaining source of oil for the North. The South claims that it was provoked
by bombings from Khartoum, but has since retreated back to its side of the
border. There is plenty of blame to go around for this.
The scary truth is that at some point either side may take out oil
installations to spite the other.
Q: What is the risk of economic and political collapse for both countries?
South Sudan is not a country for all practical purposes. Even as it gained
independence it had many of the characteristics of a failed state, or at
least one that had not yet come into existence. It has very little
infrastructure-for example, there are no paved roads outside the capital,
South Sudan has tribal structures that complicate the country's political
dynamics, something that Khartoum typically exploited by playing one tribe
against another to weaken the South.
The economic situation is very serious in the South despite its oil revenue
and the international aid flowing into the country. Juba does not really
have a cash flow problem, the challenge is more about determining how to
spend money in a way that actually makes a difference.
And the oil revenue devastates the rest of the economy. The so-called Dutch
Disease, the curse of natural resources driving up currencies and hurting
local industries, is already being seen. Agriculture was once seen as the
hope for the country, but it is neglected, just as it was neglected in the
North after the discovery of oil.
This all means that the South has an impossible problem of building a state.
The North has an equally impossible problem of keeping its own state
together. Sudan faces internal conflicts on all sides-disputes in Blue Nile
and South Kordofan in the south, Darfur in the west, and major non-Arab
tribes that spill over from Ethiopia are up in arms in the east.
There is also increasing unrest in the countryside over Khartoum's ambitious
energy projects that displace many people as existing dams are expanded or
new dams are built. And the ones most affected are the least likely to
benefit from the greater energy capacity. There is also a great deal of
discontent in Khartoum. Food prices are high and keep on going up,
university students and youth groups are restless, and the political
leadership is old-without new, younger voices, it is total political
Sudan clearly faces huge economic problems and lost billions of dollars in
oil revenue, almost 25 percent of its total revenue, when South Sudan broke
away. The country is still under sanctions because of the conflict in
Darfur, so it is going to be next to impossible for Sudan to make up the
Q: How should the international community respond?
The main players in the international community are rushing in to try to
revive negotiations and find new hope for a lasting solution. But this may
be a situation where there is very little the outside world can do to help.
By continuing to funnel foreign assistance and food aid to the governments,
the international community is empowering both sides to avoid making the
hard choices that are necessary to ultimately find peace. While the rest of
the world should try to stop needless, immediate violence, political
distance from both capitals is the least bad option available today.
Correction: Due to an editing error, this originally stated that Sudan is
asking for $2.50 a barrel when the correct figure is $32 a barrel.
More from Ottaway...
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. Egypt's Next President
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the Wrong Turkish Model?
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Received on Thu May 17 2012 - 17:52:35 EDT