On Point: As Sudan Divides

by Austin Bay
January 4, 2011

Last August, the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), thesemi-autonomous government administering Southern Sudan, asked South Sudaneselyricists to write a national anthem.

The anticipatory anthem was one of literally thousands oftit-for-tat political exchanges between the GOSS and Sudan's nationalgovernment in Khartoum, as both governments maneuvered for advantage in theJan. 9, 2011, referendum on southern independence.

Diplomats and international aid workers in the region reportthat southerners will overwhelmingly choose independence. If they do, sometimein 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 rulingNational Congress Party insist on calling independence "southernsecession." This is the same northern government that directs the war inSudan's western Darfur region. This is the same Bashir indicted by theInternational Criminal Court for war crimes. Prosecutors also believe Bashirhas embezzled billions of dollars in government oil revenues.

North-South political wrangling is one thing; combat betweentheir forces another -- and on a few dangerous occasions fighting has occurred.The GOSS also claims the north has stirred tribal violence in the south inorder to weaken it. This is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calledSouthern Sudan's referendum "a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence."

Sudan, like many other African states wrapped incolonial-era borders, is a complicated time bomb.

The north is predominantly Muslim and Arab or Arabized. Thesouth is predominantly Christian and animist, and black African. The 2005Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended two decades of civil war,stipulated that an independence referendum be held by 2011. The GOSS alsoretained its own security force, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).SPLA guerrillas became the conventional force of the semi-autonomous buteffectively separate state. The north already had the national army.

The CPA also stipulated that the north and south accuratelydemarcate their border. However, a number of border issues remain unsettled.Northern and southern soldiers and several tribal militia forces have clashedalong the murky frontier, despite the limited presence of a U.N. peacekeepingforce deployed to monitor the CPA.

Another flammable mixes in this ethnic, religious, tribaland geographic cauldron: petroleum. Sudan's most productive oil fields lie inthe 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 religiousstrife did not. Oil has been contentious. The GOSS relies on oil royalties forover 90 percent of its budget and argues the north cheated it of $300 millionin 2009. Those fields are the source of Bashir's alleged stolen billions. Thefields have also bought the northern government China's support in the UnitedNations.

In the last week, however, Bashir has visited the south andchanged his tune. He told the GOSS that he preferred a unitary state but wouldsupport the south if it chose to secede. Bashir kept the term secession butconceded to the reality of separation. Bashir's numerous critics contend he isalso capitulating to the economic reality of northern Sudan's own oil revenuedependency. A big north-south war would shut down oil production and likelydamage the fields. Better to separate peacefully and pump than to wage a warguaranteeing poverty.

Will common economic interest (and perhaps Bashir's personalgreed) secure peace between Sudan and Southern Sudan? At the moment, it is afragile tie -- but one that recognizes economic interdependency despitepolitical differences.

If this recognition of mutual payoff succeeds in avoidingrenewed war, it would be a welcome example of political evolution in preferenceto another round of bloodletting. 

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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