Rows over oil … Khartoum attacks on rebels with suspected Juba links … US double-dealing. Independence is proving tough
It is now a year since the people of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence from Khartoum. But the vision of a new era of peace and co-operation between north and south, endorsed at the time by President Omar al-Bashir and the southern leader, President Salva Kiir, is fading fast amid deepening disputes over oil revenue-sharing, cross-border conflict, and looming famine. These multiple crises combine to pose a fundamental question: can South Sudan survive as a viable state?
The row over oil produced in the south but exported via the north's pipelines and Red Sea terminal has been rumbling on since South Sudan seceded in July last year. Despite ongoing mediation efforts by the African Union (AU), there is no agreement on transit fees. After Khartoum began confiscating oil in lieu of payment, the government in Juba took the dramatic step last week of shutting down oil production.
Pagan Amum, the south's lead negotiator, told the Sudan expert and AU adviser Alex de Waal that his government would not bow to pressure from old enemies in Khartoum. "This is a matter of respect. We may be poor but we will be free," .... De Waal suggested the move was "suicidal" because oil money comprises 97% of the south's budget.
"South Sudan has set off its economic doomsday machine. The shutdown of wells is already beginning and within a week the oil companies will begin flushing the pipeline with water, so the oil it contains does not jam and turn into a 600-mile asphalt tube. After that, the best case would be six months' work to reopen exports," De Waal wrote.
Head-of-state talks this weekend on the periphery of the AU summit in Addis Ababa attempted to end the oil stand-off. But analysts are sceptical any deal will stick. Juba meanwhile has announced an ambitious agreement to build an oil export pipeline via Kenya. Even if it gets off the ground, this project could take years to complete.
Khartoum is far from blameless in the oil dispute, unhelpfully linking its resolution to simultaneous progress on intractable border, security and debt issues. In particular, Bashir's government claims rebels loyal to the Sudan People's Liberation army (SPLA) in the south but based in the northern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile are being directed from Juba. Ali Ahmed Karti, Sudan's foreign minister, made the point forcefully in an interview....
"Nobody can hamper us from taking our right. This is our entitlement," Karti said, referring to oil confiscations. "If you are hosting rebels, preparing them against me, supporting them by munitions, by salaries, by everything, by training, by giving them all facilities, what shall I wait for? I'm waiting for war."
As usual, Khartoum's over-strong rhetoric undermines sympathy for its position. But it does have a point. Juba's claim that it has nothing to do with the SPLA-North rebels is unconvincing. Sudan's economy has suffered serious contraction since oil revenues dried up. And the US, which pressed Khartoum hard to honour the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement and allow the south the secede, has cynically withheld previously dangled rewards, failing to lift economic sanctions and provide debt relief. This American double-dealing is not the product of sound policy thinking but of a craven disinclination to take on the evangelical right and the Darfur "genocide lobby" in Congress.
Tensions are being exacerbated by what looks like an escalating bombing offensive by Khartoum's forces targeting rebel bases, which usually entails attacks on refugee camps. The latest incident came this week at a UN-assisted camp at Elfoj in Upper Nile state, South Sudan, six miles from the border, that left 15 people wounded or unaccounted for. A settlement at Danfona on the northern side was also attacked, reportedly by helicopters. Juba blamed the north for the violence.
The apparent, rapid disintegration of north-south relations comes against the backdrop of a major famine alert in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where half a million people are reportedly in need of food aid. Khartoum has played down the issue and restricted aid agency access, ostensibly because of the security situation. The problems there were highlighted last week by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN and a long-standing critic, who accused Khartoum of a "deliberate policy" of blocking outside help.
"If Sudan does not allow immediate, meaningful humanitarian access to the conflict zones in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile so life-saving humanitarian assistance can be provided to civilians in need, we will likely see famine conditions," Rice said. Valerie Amos, the UN chief aid co-ordinator, has applied similar pressure. But in Khartoum, such apparently well-meaning statements are viewed with suspicion, a legacy of the Darfur controversy. Humanitarian intervention is seen as a possible pretext or prelude for intervention of a more muscular nature, as in neighbouring Libya.
Lack of trust, old enmities, weak and self-seeking leadership, chronic under-development, internal tribal unrest in Jonglei state, international meddling and disingenuousness, and now a self-imposed cut-off of its main source of income: this is the poisoned inheritance of South Sudan as it struggles to translate hard-won independence into a sustainable future.
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