Collective suicide Sudanese-style
The two Sudans are edging closer to war, but will Washington manage to save the day, writes Asmaa El-Husseini
"The governments in Khartoum and Juba are committing collective suicide," is how Princeton Lyman, United States special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, described the dispute between the states of North and South Sudan, who failed after 10 days of intensive negotiations recently in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to reach an agreement on any of the many outstanding issues. These issues should be completely settled, according to UN Security Council Resolution 2046 that calls for sanctions according to Chapter VII of the UN Charter against the party that is blocking progress.
Collective suicide, as Lyman put it, does not only apply to economic conditions in both Sudans, but also includes all aspects of political, social and security conditions, and even the state of mind of citizens in both countries.
"The governments of both Juba and Khartoum are waiting for the other to collapse and are using oil as a weapon to this end," Lyman explained. "But in reality, both are being harmed." He ridiculed assurances by both sides that they do not want to start all-out war despite continued violence. In fact, conditions for citizens in both countries can no longer endure more suffering which is on the rise as political tensions and military escalation continues, and fighting continues in many regions.
Hunger and famine are spreading in both countries as both economies fail, their currencies collapse and prices rise. The cost of living is no longer affordable for the average citizen in cities and villages in North Sudan since the country lost three quarters of its revenues after the secession of South Sudan. Khartoum is now taking harsh measures to weather the new conditions as conditions for Sudan's citizens continue to deteriorate in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The levels of misery, destitution, poverty and disease are on the rise, as are the numbers of deaths, displacement and refugees.
Things are not much better in the nascent South Sudan whose citizens had aspired for a leap forward in their lives. For the majority of the South Sudanese, life is harder and worse after independence, which failed to achieve the once hoped for stability or development. The country stopped producing oil in January after Juba accused Khartoum of stealing its oil.
Dire economic conditions could now have serious consequences on the political situation which is usually resolved not through consensus and political solutions, but by paying the opposition for their silence or fragmenting it. Disputes are also resolved through extensive spending on armament, weapons, armies and mobilisation, which some observers estimate at a staggering 70 per cent of the budget or even more. There is also excessive political spending because of sagging state agencies and increased political appointments.
Making economic conditions worse is corruption and misappropriation of available resources, a malaise that both countries suffer from in a variety of ways. Some are easy to pinpoint and discuss in specific figures, while other cases are witnessed by citizens, but due to corrupt conditions it is difficult to bring perpetrators to justice. Corruption not only consumes state resources but is also an obstacle to investments in both countries, since the pristine territories of Sudan are less attractive if they do not address corruption or achieve security and stop going to war.
The scale of corruption is indicated in statements by Silva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, who said current and former officials in his government embezzled $4 billion. The young country has yet to even celebrate its first anniversary after independence.
Today, after the first round of talks between the two sides failed, Kiir has called for international arbitration in regions of dispute between the two states. This may not be acceptable for Khartoum, and even talks took place, they may not resolve the outstanding issues which require a different mindset, prioritising good neighbourly relations over conflict, division and war.
Neither will arbitration resolve disputes; in the past, arbitration was used in Abyei but the conflict there is not over yet.