Warring Sudans try for reconciliation

The government has done little to diversify the economy and diminish dependency on oil revenues.

Last weekend the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan met on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Ethiopia and pledged to resolve peacefully disputes left outstanding when the south seceded from the Republic of Sudan on July 9th, 2011.

The western powers sponsoring the division of Sudan were so eager to effect the break that they did not insist on the resolution of these disputes before South Sudan emerged. Consequently, a year, valuable resources and many lives have been lost in fighting, undermining, and contestation.

This was the first meeting between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir since their countries clashed in April over oil revenue, borders, and security. They were under pressure to act as they face UN Security Council sanctions if they do not resolve these problems by the end of this month.

Success could, however, be impossible to achieve in such a short time since the two men have failed to solve these problems ever since the peace accord was signed in 2005. The two sides have, so far, agreed to respect a buffer zone along the border. The two sides clashed and came close to full scale war in April over the disputed Heglig area containing oil resources claimed by the north.

Military operations

They have agreed to stop backing rebels in each other’s territory. Juba has, specifically, promised to halt support for rebel groups fighting the government in Khartoum which has prompted the Sudanese military to conduct military operations in rebel-held areas that have driven 200,000 refugees into South Sudan.

International relief agencies are begging for aid for the refugees who are living in camps, swamped by heavy rains without adquate food and shelter.

Bashir and Kiir have also reached an accord over the exchange of ambassadors. They also seem to have made progress in talks over the contested Abyei region, the transit of oil from the fields in the south to export terminals the north, and border trade.

South Sudan could resume oil production and send exports through Sudan if a “fair deal” on dues is reached and assurances given that the government of Sudan will not divert South Sudan’s oil to its refineries. Juba shut down oil production, the main source of revenue for South Sudan, last January.

Both countries have been seriouly harmed by this particular dispute. South Sudan has had to reduce overall expenditures while the Sudanese government has imposed austerity measures which have given rise to angry protests and calls for regime change.

Austerity is particularly controversial in the north because until the secession of the south deprived Khartoum of oil revenues, Sudan had a thriving economy. Today, instead of oil, agriculture is the country’s most important sector, employing 80 per cent of the labour force and providing 39 per cent of GDP.  But drought and fluctuating prices for farm produce ensure that the farm sector is unstable and farmers remain poor.

Sudan remains torn between Muslim fundamentalists who press for deepening ‘Islamisation’ - a major contributor to the break-up of the republic and minorities, moderates and secularists who would like to oust the authoritarian fundamentalist regime and replace it with a democratic system.

Similarly compelled to resort to austerity, Kiir has pledged to cut the number of ministers in his government and provide more social services to the south’s poor. South Sudan has 59 national ministers and deputy ministers as well as 21 commissioners who enjoy similar pay and perks. Civil society activists are calling for the president to reduce the 332 seats in parliament and the number of civil servants.

In the twelve months since it emerged as a separate state, South Sudan remains a country under threat of dissolution and war.

In addition to its problems with Khartoum, South Sudan suffers from lack of development, insecurity, corruption, and poor leadership from the country's ruling party. The government has done little to diversify the economy and diminish dependency on oil revenues, which in the past provided 98 per cent of the national budget.  Juba has also failed to obtain international loans to replace its dwindling reserves.

Kiir has been unable to quell rebellions, inter-ethnic and inter-tribal violence, and cattle rustling or settle widespread land disputes. Of the 10 states that comprise South Sudan, seven are torn by revolts or inter-tribal disputes.Economic development has stalled, leaving more than half the new country's population below the poverty level.

Neither Sudan nor South Sudan can afford to court sanctions by defying the Security Council by in order to carrying on with disputes which could, with concerted effort and mutual good will, be resolved,if not by the August 2nd deadline, soon afterwards.

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