By Athiaan Majak Malou
January 30, 2014 - When all the dust has settled, South Sudan should establish good relationships with Khartoum. Why? For years northern Sudan has been the arch-enemy from whom South Sudanese voted to secede. That period has gone. South Sudan is now an independent country. South Sudanese have achieved their goal of a separate entity from Arabised and Islamised old Sudan. Protracted wars were fought because of this and millions of lives were lost. Development was halted for years. South Sudan is now the least developed country in the eastern Africa region, if not in the world.
Although South Sudan has enormous oil resources and very small population, very little is being done by the current government to improve the lives of common people. Because of war experiences the people of South Sudan have become militarised or military-minded. According to arms sells monitoring by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), South Sudan is the biggest military buyer in the region. According to SIPRI’s 2012 figures, South Sudan spent US$ 964 million on arms that year compared to US$798 for Kenya, US$319 million for Tanzania, US$288 million for Uganda, and Rwanda US$79.8 million.
A report in the Washington post newspaper said part of the reason for the high military expenditure is that the government of South Sudan has been preparing for a long war, probably with Sudan on unsettled border issues or to avert internal rebellions by David Yauyau or what happened in Juba on 15 December 2013. In fact, all woes of South Sudan, except the recent crisis, are rightly or wrongly being blamed on Khartoum.
However, in the current crisis President El Bashir of Sudan has played his South Sudan cards very well. He would have caused a lot of pain to people and the government of South Sudan if he did not stand neutral in the current conflict. But he chose to be a peace facilitator and travelled to Juba to promise support to President Kiir’s government.
In addition, he assured Kiir of his support in securing South Sudan’s oilfields, which are just across the border from Sudan. When all the dust has settled, President Kiir and people of South Sudan should positively review the relationship with Sudan. The Sudanese leader, who is indicted by International Criminal Court (ICC), seemed to have matured politically.
President El Bashir did not take neutral position out of nothing. Having being engaged in wars throughout his 25 years in power, he has endured the bad effect that war brings. There is also mutual benefit when peace prevails in the two countries. The follow of oil and trade across the border of the two countries provide mutual benefits. 98% of South Sudan’s revenue comes from oil proceeds, while Sudan gets 9 to 11 dollars from every South Sudanese barrel of oil passing through its pipeline to international market outlet at the Red Sea.
According to official government data, South Sudan has over 1.14 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and by 2011 was producing 326,000 barrels per day. At current global crude prices, that would bring in about US$30 million per day. This amount, if well-managed, can afford all South Sudanese decent life within a very short period.
Khartoum appears to be comfortable with South Sudan’s government since the last government reshuffle in July 2013, when the elements believed to be hostile to Khartoum were purportedly weeded out. The real bone of contention between two countries has been support to each other’s rebels. Despite the signing of several cooperation agreements, peace between the two has been illusory.
The rebels fighting Sudan government are culturally and ideologically affiliated to South Sudan. The group that call itself Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-North (SPLM/A-N) fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states of Sudan were part of the larger SPLM/A when the country was one. The rebels in Sudan are ethnically Africans as opposed to the majority of north Sudanese who are Arabised Africans (like Nubians in the far north of Sudan and southern Egypt) or people of Arab origin in central Sudan.
These social and political linkages put the government and people of South Sudan in very awkward position, when it comes to south-north relationships. Leaving them under the mercy of Khartoum government(s) is morally unacceptable to many South Sudanese, especially their former comrades in the larger SPLM/A. To them it will be betrayal or sell-out to Jalaba (Arabs/merchants).
What should be done, in this regard, is for the government of South Sudan to make use of the current positive relationships with President El Bashir to initiate lasting peace settlement with all splinter groups in the north. While peace talks are going on among southerners in Addis Ababa, there should be similar peace talks among northerners elsewhere. There can be no peace in one Sudan when another is at war within itself. Though separated, the two countries are still very much politically, culturally and economically intertwined. When one of them catches cold, the other sneezes.
Now that President El Bashir is casting himself in a positive role with regard to South Sudan, he is getting close to achieving a lot of his objectives in the international arena. He recently received a lot of applauses from western governments such as US and UK. President Kiir should reciprocate by helping in normalisation of Sudan relations with these countries. US government had imposed sanctions on Khartoum since 1997 which were also renewed two months ago.
Peace with Sudan spells development, as a bulk of resources that are being spent on military will go to development projects. In the current national budget, 51% is earmarked for security sector which has something do with military operations. Peace with Sudan will cut the number of the army as there will be no rebels or militias who usually cross the border to Sudan and come back to be integrated in the national army. Peace with Sudan will enhance democracy as there will be no needs for military rulers/governors who are always there to deal with war or crisis situation. Peace with Sudan will narrow differences on Abyei and other border issues as discussion will take place in a mutually convenient environment.
The author has formerly served in the government of Lakes state of South Sudan as the County Commissioner for Yirol East and state Minister for education. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org