Tensions Rise as South Sudan Independence Approaches

The situation in Sudan is growing more precarious as South Sudan’s independence draws nearer. A month ago, the focus was on the fighting in Abyei; however, as the border region quickly deteriorates and economic concerns intensify, the situation is becoming more volatile. For a region that has seen more years of conflict than peace, Sudan risks returning to war and perpetuating an already extensive international humanitarian crisis.

South Sudan’s official independence is on July 9, and the tension is obvious. The issue of oil and oil revenue is still important. Sudan is expected to lose 36.5% of its income with the succession, and potentially more if an agreement cannot be reached on oil revenue sharing.

To date, Sudan and South Sudan have split revenues, but as independence approaches, it has become obvious that South Sudan no longer favors the existing arrangement. In response to the deadlock, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has threatened to cut off the pipelines that bring the oil to Port Sudan.

Rumors indicate that South Sudan President Salva Kiir has been in negotiations with Kenya to bypass Sudan all together, and deliver the oil to ports through Kenya. Toyota Tsusho Corporation proposed the pipeline last year.

Border security is also a major concern considering that South Kordofan, which lies on the border in northern Sudan, has been embroiled in clashes for several weeks. The fighting has been between the military and tribes of the Nuba Mountains — a minority in the predominantly Arab Muslim Sudan, the Nuba tribes fought against Sudan in the civil war and prefer an African identity over an Arab one. There have been claims that Sudan has been attempting ethnic cleansing of the Nuba people, and many of the 73,000+ refugees have been forced to return to the conflict zone.

The future of Abyei remains uncertain, despite a potential short-term peace agreement negotiated in Ethiopia. If the plan is approved, both sides would withdraw their troops from the region, replaced by 3,000 Ethiopian forces. A cooperative North-South council would then govern the region, in which both sides would have to agree on the members.

Marring the potential agreement, however, have been claims by al-Bashir’s government that South Sudan has relinquished all claims to the land. This has only furthered agitation and mistrust of Khartoum and their claims to honor the separation. South Sudan’s growing mistrust of Sudan’s government is exemplified by recent rumors that the Nile River had been contaminated by Khartoum after fisherman spotted dead fish floating in the water (water tests proved that the water had not been poisoned).

As the conflict and political weariness intensifies, it is hard to imagine either side will simply walk away from national interests. History has proven that international pressure has little influence over the behavior of al-Bashir. If South Sudan proceeds with plans for a Kenya pipeline, it is almost certain that Khartoum will escalate the fight for Abyei. In the meantime, the precarious humanitarian situation continues to intensify, and the world can only look on as international aid fails short of providing any real relief.

My South Sudanese friends and family are still optimistic that their independence will proceed as planned; it is easy to understand the reasons for their hope. The alternative is almost a guaranteed return to the conflict and oppression that ravaged the country for so long. My cynicism has convinced me that, even if the secession continues as planned, the jubilation will be short lived as the rising tensions will only escalate.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Kathleen O'Neill

Kathleen O'Neill is interested in migration and refugee issues as well as international politics, with a particular interest in the Middle East. She has a double BA in economics and international studies with a concentration in Middle East studies from Washington College in Maryland. She has an MA in Middle East studies and a graduate diploma in migration and refugee studies from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Kathleen has co-authored two short articles published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and London Middle East Institute at SOAS. She has lived in the MENA region for more than seven years.

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