Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Getting the oil moving

Salah Khalil asks if the Sudan-South Sudan agreement will begin to repair the damage of the past few years

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 8 March, in Addis Ababa, Sudan and South Sudan signed an agreement intended to resolve the outstanding security issues between the two countries. The Sudanese and South Sudanese ministers of defence witnessed the signing of the accord which is the culmination of the efforts of UN Special Envoy Haile Menkerios and former South African President Thabo Mbeki who had shuttled between the two countries, meeting with both President Omar Al-Bashir and President Silva Kiir Mayardit. The agreement included, for the first time, specific arrangements and timeframes for the implementation of provisions of previously security agreements.

Since the secession of South Sudan from the north, the two sides have engaged in several rounds of negotiations over a number of unresolved issues, such as borders, oil and debts. The negotiations would always collapse due to the mutual mistrust that was bred by decades of war between the north and south. However, it was not just the lack of trust that led to the non-implementation of previous agreements but also the lack of the necessary political will to fulfil their provisions. After all, it is easier to apply a stroke of the pen to a piece of paper than to take the necessary steps to follow through on the ground. Therefore one still has cause to wonder whether the agreement signed in Addis Ababa two weeks ago will mark the end of the disputes between Khartoum and Juba or whether one or both sides will renege on their commitments bringing them back, again, to square one.

Although the agreement won praise and support from the African Union, the EU, the US State Department and Beijing, it is important to bear in mind that it did not address the outstanding differences between Juba and Khartoum over the contested region of Abyei. Perhaps the international parties are pinning hopes on additional doses of good will that would be derived from the success of forthcoming talks between Juba and Khartoum over remedying the humanitarian situation and solutions to the conflicts in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces.

Under the new security agreement, the two sides are required to withdraw their forces 10 kilometres away from the disputed border area, a process that the agreement stipulated had to be set in motion between 14 and 20 March. On top of this, Khartoum and Juba signed a security matrix agreement marking the first time that the negotiating parties announced that they would implement the controversial security matrix that had brought several previous negotiating rounds to a standstill.

Mediators played a crucial role in brokering the cooperation agreement that provides for the export of oil from South Sudan via northern Sudan, the freedom of the movement of citizens between both countries, the freedom of the movement of trade between the two sides. By paving the way for these freedoms, the agreement has been hailed as an opportunity for both countries to focus more effectively on their economic reconstruction and development, and has been warmly welcomed by domestically, regionally and abroad as a major shift in the bilateral relations between the two countries.

The security agreement also stipulates that the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) is to be tasked with monitoring the troop withdrawals after 33 days from the date when the initial orders are given, which was set for 10 March.

Meanwhile, Khartoum and Juba also agreed to resolve the matter of more than $45 billion foreign debts by the end of this year. Towards this end they will explore possibilities of having the debt written off by donor agencies or dividing the burden between the two countries in accordance internationally accepted economic criteria. The meetings between the two sides will also discuss how to implement the nine cooperation agreements that had been concluded between the two countries in September 2012 but suspended as the result of the change in the security protocol. The cooperation agreements cover such crucial issues as cross-border trade and the resumption of oil flow.

The key to solving the security conundrum was to establish a Safe Demilitarised Border Zone (SDBZ) supervised by an international force, thereby forestalling future military friction between the two sides. With this breakthrough in security arrangements, which had obstructed the implementation of agreements signed between the two countries in September and dispute over which had been the source of mounting friction between South Sudan and Sudan, tensions have been alleviated along a broad swathe of border territory between the two countries and the way appears to have been cleared for the resumption of South Sudanese oil exports through northern Sudanese ports and economic recovery for both countries.

But the way still may not be entirely smooth. Khartoum has held that the implementation of security arrangements had to precede other arrangements as a matter of principle in order to ensure the resumption of the flow of oil through northern ports. It also argues that establishing the borders between the two countries should be prioritised, as well, as this would promote the resumption of cross-border trade and economic recovery.

At the same time, Khartoum has charged that the Juba has been using the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North as an instrument to pressure Khartoum in negotiations. Juba, for its part, accuses Khartoum of arming and funding militias working against the central government of South Sudan. Following the recent security agreement, Khartoum has postponed talks with SPLM-N pending the results of the security matrix and demonstration of good intentions on the part of South Sudan. It is therefore possible to say that the solutions are based on security as opposed to political aspects and this has complicated the situation rather than solving it.

Simultaneously, one must wonder to what extent the security agreement will affect the relationship between Juba and SPLM-N, the Revolutionary Front and the New Dawn Charter. How will the agreement and the implement of security arrangements under international supervision impact on the  military operations of the Revolutionary Front? Such question assume greater urgency now that Khartoum has decided to defer talks with SPLM-N that had been set for 15 March in Ethiopia.

On the other hand, SPLM-N appears not to have been concerned by the agreement. Does this suggest a disengagement between this movement and Juba or is it a manoeuvre on the part of one or the other, or both? UN Resolution 2046 calls on both Khartoum and SPLM-N to seek a negotiated solution to their crisis, but the latter was one of the parties to sign the New Dawn Charter in Kampala which calls for the downfall of the regime in Khartoum.

In addition to the foregoing questions, the 2,000 km long border between Sudan and South Sudan is the longest border in Africa. Could the trans-border tribal demographics, movements of nomadic pastoralists, not to mention the temptations of the livestock and mineral wealth that abounds in the border areas become the sources of sparks that could reignite hostilities?

In light of the foregoing, one can only conclude that the agreement may be the beginning of the solution of some of the problems, but that many more agreements will be needed to resolve the plethora of other problems. In addition, it took heavy regional and international pressures to bring the two sides this far, which suggests that they still lack the necessary political will to follow through. The hostile media exchanges between South Sudan and Sudan support this and may also feed the hawks on both sides which are already fired by major outstanding issues in Abyei, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile regions

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