Is There A Solution For Sudan? The North, More Than The South, Needs To Contemplate

11 May 2012

By Osman Mirghani

If a Sudanese person tells you that the situation is "bad", then you should know that in reality the situation is far worse, because a Sudanese person by nature is patient, and due to their upbringing they are always content with what they have. However, this negative description of the situation, as well as its derivatives, can be heard constantly in Sudan these days when someone talks about the current situation and the prospects of the days to come, particularly after successive crises, worsening economic and living conditions, the vanishing dreams of peace and stability, and the prevailing language of war, all being grave omens of greater problems to come.

Although the regime and its supporters refuse to admit the current state of deterioration and are trying to conceal the truth behind the dust of war, what people see, hear and witness all stress the gravity of the crisis. In the past few days, the headlines of newspapers, news agencies and television networks have all reflected this situation, as evidenced by this small extract: "Sudan loses 20% of its oil revenues as a result of suspension of work in Hajleej oil field", "Al-Bashir declares state of emergency on the border with the South", "Sudan reduces gasoline consumption to support the army", "Al-Bashir vows to punish the Southerners", "The African Union sets a time-limit of three months for Sudan and South Sudan to sign an agreement", "Salva Kiir: We know that our economy is collapsing, but this is the price we must pay", and "UN preparing to open a new camp for Sudanese refugees in Kenya."

When one reads such headlines and sees the scenes of tanks approaching the border between the north and the south, and military convoys carrying troops and rushing amidst the dust to instigate new battles between the two sides, then they would inquire: What madness is this? What stupidity prompts both states, which were one state only until a few months ago, to decide to commit suicide by destroying themselves? The two sides will not be able to withstand such a war, which will also be utterly fruitless as all past rounds have ended at the negotiation table. 38 years of conflict between the north and the south, over a million people killed, hundreds of thousands injured and several million displaced for many years. This was the result of failing to establish the principles of balanced citizenship, peaceful coexistence, development, political stability and the transfer of power. These are also the very same issues that now threaten what remains of Sudan, following the secession last year, whether in the north that is plagued by three wars extending from Darfur to Southern Kordofan to the Blue Nile, or in the South that may witness fierce tribal warfare if it fails to learn from the history of its prolonged conflict with the north.

The reason behind the new wars is that the concerned parties failed to sincerely put into effect the articles of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005, and hence failed to address all outstanding problems before the self-determination referendum in the South. The six-year period between the signing of the CPA and the referendum, when all efforts should have been invested in enforcing measures and policies to make unity an attractive option, was squandered in political maneuvers. This is because both sides were not serious about maintaining unity, and each side had its own calculations and secret projects, which made the referendum a one-way road. Yet the real catastrophe is that even after the Sudanese people paid such an exorbitant price, they have not been able to enjoy any semblance of peace ever since. The atmosphere of war was renewed even before the Southerners voted for self-determination, and battles broke out only a few months after the new state was officially declared.

Politicians had two models to choose between: a peaceful split along the lines of the Czechoslovakian example, where Slovakia separated from the Czech Republic and each state embarked on democracy, construction, development and neighborly relations, or secession in the style of Yugoslavia, where the state was dismantled in stages through bloody conflicts that left behind much bitterness. It is clear that Sudan has not followed the Czechoslovakian path, but it seems to be following a road that will take it to more wars and further disintegration, not only in the north, but in the south as well. The ongoing destruction in the border areas and the fight over oil fields - where production has been curbed and harm has been inflicted upon both sides as a result reflect the English proverb of "cutting off your nose to spite your face." Curbing or ceasing oil production will have destructive results both sides, for they need these resources to meet their basic needs, otherwise they would be in an even more difficult and volatile situation. In addition to this, each side the government of al-Bashir and that of Salva Kiir believe that their stay in power is conditional upon the overthrow of the other side. Thus, the situation has developed from a proxy conflict to a direct war.

The situation would have not reached this stage if both parties had settled all volatile outstanding issues before the referendum date; instead of leaving them open to spark off new wars. If it is understandable that the southerners, in the midst of their anxiety to fulfill the referendum and achieve their own independent state, failed to persist in settling such issues beforehand, then what excuse should we give to the al-Bashir regime - which had all the cards in its hand - for failing to resolve such issues before the referendum date? It is clear that it was arrogance that prompted the regime to believe that it could force the Southerners to submit to all its demands purely by threatening to use its military superiority or to instigate an economic war. The regime in the north was deluded into this misconception because South Sudan's oil-exporting pipelines run through the north, which is also responsible for many trade links.

The regime's supporters attempted to justify its stance by saying that under intense pressure it was forced to sign the CPA, and that now it is facing foreign conspiracies to overthrow it. Such rhetoric does not convince anyone, particularly as the regime long boasted in front of the Sudanese people that it never feared anyone, nor would it submit to any pressure. Even if these were mere slogans, it is the responsibility of any regime to maintain the country's sovereignty and the rights of its people, but the al-Bashir regime neglected both.

Sudan, with its two states, needs to promptly retreat from war and stop destroying both countries' wealth and resources. The north, more than the south, needs to contemplate the causes for the situation it is experiencing now, so that it can address them before it is too late.



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