Cooperation: The Better Option for Sudan
The notion of mutual dependence on oil as an asset in the service of averting war has become a comforting but erroneous myth.War possible is a very risky statement. To be sure peace means different things in different contexts. Between impossible deal and improbable peace comes a range of what is probable for the next six months.
Risk relevant index changes in Sudan
Index no. 1 The January referendum for the south will definitely go ahead, however poor and inefficient the process might turn out to be. There are several technical problems surrounding the referendum and everybody knows that. The process is daunting, as time and resources are in short supply. But the event will take place. What this probably means is that everybody is ready to accept a sub-standard referendum process. The north cannot stop the southern vote for independence and the south cannot improve the referendum process from what it is right now and both sides seem to agree that even a low quality referendum is just fine.
Index no. 2 The likelihood of a deal on Abiyei is very limited. Efforts to muster a strong diplomatic pressure on the NCP will continue to run in to difficulties; at best it will be very slow. There is no way the NCP will agree on a parallel referendum on Abiyei. For the top leadership of the NCP, Abiyei is not only a technical embarrassment, it is also politically awkward. President Al-Bashir repeatedly indicated that he cannot afford to let the south and Abiyei go at the same time. He has told some friends that he cannot do this i.e. make a final deal on Abiyei at this point in time. This is unlikely to happen in the coming year at least. The north is prepared only to make a deal on one thing at a time. Any proposal by Mbeki will not change anything, not to mention his credibility as he lacks the trust of the southerners and Darfurians alike. The international community is not up to the job. The CPA owes much of its success to the aggressive diplomatic engagement of the international community and the united position of the region. In the meantime, they stayed out of engagement; now they crack whips.
A referendum on Abiyei is a distant prospect. President Bashir argues that, it is impossible for him to do it short of losing power in the north. We are being told that without Abiyei Al-Bashir may lose power in the North and Salva Kiir may lose face in the south. The justification for not agreeing on Abiyei (or for losing power) is not merely flawed or imperfect-it is wrong in almost every detail, and completely wrong at the head. There is no imminent danger of losing power, indeed there is no distant danger. The real problem is the lack of trust. In any case, the referendum for south Sudan will have to go ahead without a deal on Abiyei. The question of Abiyei is at once the most technical and the most fundamental today.Paradoxically, it is not enough to go to war. Southerners are pained but not totally shocked by the deadlock. This alone may not take us to war. But war is probable due to other less publicized but crucial issues.
Index no. 3 War is probable over other disputes. Many would like to argue that both the north and the south will not risk war because of their mutual dependence on the oil. As a result, there may be a slight opportunity for cooperation between the north and an independent south Sudan as both countries seek to contain instability along the common border so as to exploit oil and seek the support and friendship of major powers. There are also strong cross-border economic ties and it is likely that the local population will seek to avoid all-out war. Points well made. But, the biggest political danger now is that the NCP may not be satisfied by keeping Abiyei as a ransom for southern independence. All indications point to this direction.
Index no. 4 The risk of escalated fighting between south and north Sudan over control of the oil fields will increase few months after the referendum. No matter what happens after the referendum, the north wants to stick to the status quo for some years to come. The notion of mutual dependence on oil as an asset in the service of averting war has become a comforting but erroneous myth. What then is the truth about the relation between the border, mutual dependence on oil and peace? To answer this we should ask ourselves who controls most of the oil fields. In other words, irrespective of the referendum the status quo and respective areas of influences will remain unchanged for sometime to come. So the ransom for southern independence is not only Abiyei but also the disparate oil fields in other border states. In terms of territorial control, the southern army controls most of the areas along the border, mainly agricultural lands and a token of oil-rich spaces, while the northern army as per the CPA controls smaller but oily ground. This sort of argument is seldom heard. In a position statement that is sometimes combative in tone and judgenment, the North tells the south that its military will continue to control the oil fields even after the referendum. It is a surprise to find a strain on this. This is the fastest ticket to war.
There is, however, little point in trying to guess in the end of 2010 what this complex war situation will be in six months into 2011. What one can do is to sketch a range of possible and probable outcomes.
Index no. 5 The North will control the oil fields and reinforce and guard them by a conventional military force. This web of military network will be supported by dissident militias from the south. The Mukhabaraat will definitely be busy on this. At present, none of the protagonists are militarily strong enough to defeat the others without either internal alliances or external intervention. The armed forces of the Government of Sudan are not sufficient and strong enough to exert monopoly of force and sustain it, particularly in southern and central areas of the oil fields including much of Abiyei and Kordofan.
Index no. 6 The southern army will definitely resort to a people’s war compounded with the parallel mobilization of the marginalized groups in Sudan. It is likely that Darfurian insurgent groups including militias from marginalized regions (such as southern Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains) will continue to play a major role in the conflict. Without this support, the south is highly unlikely to be able to reclaim control of the oil fields and surrounding regions. The official military is insufficient in numbers, training and equipment to successfully confront multiple insurgent attacks in key strongholds.
The best interest of both the north and the south lies in peaceful transition, dialogue and political and economic cooperation. The stakes are high; both have every reason to avoid complications. They need each other. However, years of talk about wealth sharing and post-referendum issues, have only generated a mystique of mistrust that chills doubt and freezes confidence. Many tend not to believe anymore in the notion of a new war between north and south. They cannot seem to get enough of the nuances and intentions of the NCP.But it would be silly to pretend that war could be avoided altogether.
By Medhane Tadesse
The author is a political analyst based in Ethiopia. He is the editor and administrator of the online journal The Current Analyst. His main area of research is peace, and security in the Horn of Africa.
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