ForesightNews world briefing: Independence and violence in Sudan

July 5, 2011

By Nicole Hunt, international news reporter ForesightNews

On Saturday, 9 July, over 30 African heads of state and diplomats from around the world will gather in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, to celebrate the independence of the world’s newest country.

The secession from Sudan marks the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed to end 21 years of civil war in the country.

The bulk of the CPA focuses on wealth sharing, the Abyei Conflict, the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile Conflict, and security arrangements during the transition period (2005-2011).

Six years on, these same issues still threaten peace between the north and south.

Speaking in London on 6 June, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Kirti discussed the future of peaceful relations between the two countries, including plans for oil revenues and border control.

Though Kirti’s plans primarily focused on an open border, the fact that much of the border region is still mired in violence or of uncertain status means that this is highly unlikely, at least in the short term. Security arrangements between the two neighbours are going to be a contentious issue as the Sudanese government pursues rebels in South Kordofan, and until proper arrangements are made for South Sudanese citizens who want to work in Sudan, and vice versa.

And mere days from independence, it doesn’t seem an oil deal is any closer, with Sudan threatening to shut down the northern pipeline to block the south’s exports. Though most of Sudan’s oil is located in the south, the refineries and export pipelines are controlled by the north, making cooperation crucial.

Despite negotiations in Doha and Addis Ababa, armed conflict persists in Abyei and Nuba; the recent signing of a Framework Agreement on Political Partnership and Political and Security Arrangements in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan seemed forgotten on Friday when President Omar al Bashir ordered military operations to continue until the area was ‘purged’ of rebel fighters.

In Darfur, a promised referendum on the region’s status was postponed for at least a year, while negotiators scramble to try and put a peace agreement in place before Saturday.

In recent weeks, Bashir’s government has not been shy about exerting whatever control it can over the south and the disputed border regions, ignoring pleas from the UN, the African Union and other governments to end military action in South Kordofan.

What happens when these actions are taken not against a breakaway region, but against an internationally recognised sovereign state?

How will the new Southern Sudanese state react to continued displacement of and violence against the people in the Nuba Mountains region, who fought alongside the southern militias in the civil war but were left on the northern side of the border when the state was partitioned?

The January referendum on independence and Saturday’s celebrations are undeniably milestones in the Sudanese conflict and are an important step toward what will hopefully eventually be peace in the region.

But in some ways the south’s independence will do little more than make an ongoing and escalating national conflict international, and the politicians present and watching on 9 July should be wary of celebrating independence as if it were synonymous with peace.

Join us at the Frontline Club to discuss what independence will mean for the South and North of Sudan on Wednesday 13 July.