by Austin Bay
January 4, 2011
Last August, the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), the
semi-autonomous government administering Southern Sudan, asked South Sudanese
lyricists to write a national anthem.
The anticipatory anthem was one of literally thousands of
tit-for-tat political exchanges between the GOSS and Sudan's national
government in Khartoum, as both governments maneuvered for advantage in the
Jan. 9, 2011, referendum on southern independence.
Diplomats and international aid workers in the region report
that southerners will overwhelmingly choose independence. If they do, sometime
in 2011 the GOSS will become the newly independent state of Southern Sudan,
complete with new national anthem.
Except the north's president, Omar al-Bashir, and his ruling
National Congress Party insist on calling independence "southern
secession." This is the same northern government that directs the war in
Sudan's western Darfur region. This is the same Bashir indicted by the
International Criminal Court for war crimes. Prosecutors also believe Bashir
has embezzled billions of dollars in government oil revenues.
North-South political wrangling is one thing; combat between
their forces another -- and on a few dangerous occasions fighting has occurred.
The GOSS also claims the north has stirred tribal violence in the south in
order to weaken it. This is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called
Southern Sudan's referendum "a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence."
Sudan, like many other African states wrapped in
colonial-era borders, is a complicated time bomb.
The north is predominantly Muslim and Arab or Arabized. The
south is predominantly Christian and animist, and black African. The 2005
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended two decades of civil war,
stipulated that an independence referendum be held by 2011. The GOSS also
retained its own security force, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
SPLA guerrillas became the conventional force of the semi-autonomous but
effectively separate state. The north already had the national army.
The CPA also stipulated that the north and south accurately
demarcate their border. However, a number of border issues remain unsettled.
Northern and southern soldiers and several tribal militia forces have clashed
along the murky frontier, despite the limited presence of a U.N. peacekeeping
force deployed to monitor the CPA.
Another flammable mixes in this ethnic, religious, tribal
and geographic cauldron: petroleum. Sudan's most productive oil fields lie in
the south or in the border region.
Before the ink began to dry on the 2005 peace treaty,
diplomats worried that oil would ignite the cauldron if ethnic and religious
strife did not. Oil has been contentious. The GOSS relies on oil royalties for
over 90 percent of its budget and argues the north cheated it of $300 million
in 2009. Those fields are the source of Bashir's alleged stolen billions. The
fields have also bought the northern government China's support in the United
In the last week, however, Bashir has visited the south and
changed his tune. He told the GOSS that he preferred a unitary state but would
support the south if it chose to secede. Bashir kept the term secession but
conceded to the reality of separation. Bashir's numerous critics contend he is
also capitulating to the economic reality of northern Sudan's own oil revenue
dependency. A big north-south war would shut down oil production and likely
damage the fields. Better to separate peacefully and pump than to wage a war
Will common economic interest (and perhaps Bashir's personal
greed) secure peace between Sudan and Southern Sudan? At the moment, it is a
fragile tie -- but one that recognizes economic interdependency despite
If this recognition of mutual payoff succeeds in avoiding
renewed war, it would be a welcome example of political evolution in preference
to another round of bloodletting.