No one will gain from new war between the Sudans
Posted Saturday, April 7 2012 at 19:42
Africa’s two newly configured nations – Sudan and South Sudan – appear to be veering dangerously towards a new conflict.
Yet there are few good reasons why the political elite in Khartoum and Juba would consider it in their interests to go back to war.
The Omar el-Bashir regime in the North faces considerable domestic pressure in addition to the international isolation which it has grappled with since the conflict in Darfur broke out.
The same problems that led to uprisings in the Arab world last year are evident in Sudan.
Inflation is running high, they have a young, restive population that has to endure unemployment and under-employment and the government lost more than half of its annual income when the South opted for separation in the January 2011 referendum.
In addition, the opposition has framed the South’s breakaway as a historic failure by the el-Bashir regime while the president faces an International Criminal Court arrest warrant and has to demonstrate to his National Congress Party that he is not a liability who should be replaced.
The Sudan leadership may imagine that launching a new war will help rally domestic support to its side.
But such a war would achieve little. It would harden attitudes in the South, quicken a final economic parting of ways between the two nations and lead to a complete collapse in Sudan’s standing in the international community.
As things stand, many view Sudan as the aggressor, a sore loser unable to accept the South’s democratic right to self-determination.
South Sudan has even less incentive to go back to war. The new nation draws 98 per cent of its revenue from oil.
The standoff with Sudan has meant that the path to the sea for exports has been closed and this has, in effect, meant the coffers in Juba are running dry.
There are reports of delayed salaries for government staff – a major issue in a nation where the government is virtually the only employer – and an austerity drive has been launched by the authorities.
That is a less than desirable situation for a country which is building up its infrastructure virtually from scratch after years of neglect and violent oppression by its former rulers.
The mutual disincentives for war make this a situation which, with effective mediation, can be retrieved from the dangerous pass at which both sides have arrived.
There was never any doubt that the process of breaking up Africa’s largest country would be a difficult one.
Some historians view the referendum which led to the separation of these two difficult neighbours as the most significant political event in this part of the world since the end of Apartheid.
The issues which the two sides are struggling to agree on – the status of the disputed region of Abyei, payment of transit fees for oil, debt sharing and border demarcation – are not easy to resolve.
But Khartoum and Juba must understand that fresh war will not offer any solutions. It will just lead to mutual hatred, economic strife and loss of life.