Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1130, 10 - 16 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Desalegn’s diplomacy

Gamal Nkrumah asserts that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn’s statesmanship has offered an all too rare cause for optimism between Khartoum and Juba

Sudan
Sudan
Al-Ahram Weekly

Here we go again. Something good could finally be happening between Sudan and South Sudan, thanks to Ethiopia. Doomsayers must not be given a chance to crow. Yet amid the crowing, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Haile Mariam Desalegn urged the teetering, ill-matched Sudanese neighbours to seek salvation by compromise. It is too late for smugness.
The two Sudans are teetering on a precipice. They cannot plunge headlong into all out war. The status quo is untenable. The failure of Sudan and South Sudan to respond favourably to previous peace plans has strengthened the suspicions of sceptics that this latest mediation effort is doomed to fail.
In short, for all their seemingly friendly encouragement, the Sudanese protagonists are uncertain about the outcome of Ethiopian mediation efforts. Yet in an emergency, they warily accept Ethiopian diplomatic mediation efforts, any lifeline will do.
The Arab world is embroiled in the Arab Spring and has little time to spare for Sudan. And, it is against this backdrop that Ethiopia seized the initiative. Desalegn invited Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart Salva Kiir to fly to the Ethiopian capital for peace talks, or at least an ironing out of the differences between them. Both readily accepted the Ethiopian invitation. Sudan is about to experience something akin to an Arab Spring, and Al-Bashir understands that Ethiopian mediation efforts will leave him some wriggle room in the face of a fast-developing domestic Sudanese political crisis.
South Sudan, too, is tired of Al-Bashir bashing. In part, Salva Kiir’s pragmatism is economic. South Sudan exports all of its oil, its main source of export revenue and foreign currency reserves through Sudan. Ethiopia wants to capitalise on the mutual dependency of the two Sudans and arrange a marriage of convenience between Khartoum and Juba.
Ethiopia, too, has an eye on Sudanese oil. Addis Ababa would gain nothing from standing in its two western neighbours’ path towards reconciliation. The Ethiopians are sympathetic to the two Sudans’ predicament. But, not entirely for altruistic purposes.
Ethiopia hopes peace prevails in the two Sudan’s. Violence erupted in Western Bahr Al-Ghazal Province of South Sudan, an oil-rich region rife with tribal clashes. MPs, including deputy speaker Edward Ukujure, and two other parliamentarians were arrested this week. South Sudan came under criticism by Amnesty International for the detention of journalists. Ashab Khamis, director of state television and Louis Pasquale, director-general of state broadcasting were detained in Bahr Al-Ghazal. “This is not a matter of MP or constitutional post holders. These are acts against the state and nobody is above the law,” Bahr Al-Ghazal Governor Rizik Zekariya retorted.
The Sudanese protagonists made quite clear their wish to avoid rows in Addis Ababa. They posed for the cameras, barely embraced, and it was clear that in spite of the plastic smiles there is no love lost between the presidents of Sudan and South Sudan. The coldness was palpable.  
Sudan could fragment further as decision-making gravitates to an inner core of militant Islamists surrounding President Al-Bashir and his ruling National Congress Party. The peripheral border regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile along with Darfur are among the least developed in Sudan. The impoverished inhabitants of these regions want change, both political and economic. These areas also happen to have the largest oil reserves in Sudan.
This is rock and hard place territory. The Sudanese government accuses the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), closely affiliated politically and ideologically with the secularist ruling party, the SPLM in Juba, of aiding and abetting separatist armed groups in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Sudanese government also charges the SPLM-N with fomenting trouble in the disputed oil-rich enclave of Abyei.
Sudan and South Sudan were on the brink of war last April because of disagreements over border demarcations.         
Another major prickly subject concerns oil. Khartoum is adamant that South Sudan should pay Sudan hefty transit fees to use the oil pipelines transporting South Sudanese oil through northern territory to Port Sudan on the Red Sea.
Abyei is a seemingly insoluble dilemma. And, there is the equally controversial question of the granting of citizenship and civil rights to the estimated 500,000 South Sudanese in Sudan, most of whom were born and bred in the North and have never set foot in South Sudan.
Sporadic border clashes have claimed the lives of many Sudanese in the North and the South. Periodic purges of dissenters in both countries are rife. An estimated 80,000 Sudanese in South Sudan also face similar problems. The persecutors of the two respective minorities in the two Sudans go unpunished. The human rights record in the two Sudans leaves much to be desired.
Yet even sceptics admit that there could be more hope this time round. The two presidents have reiterated their commitment to the agreement signed in Addis Ababa last September.
“They have agreed that actions should be taken immediately to implement all the existing agreements unconditionally,” African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki told reporters at a press conference at the end of the meeting of the two Sudanese leaders in Addis Ababa.
“The presidents have also agreed to create a safe demilitarised border zone,” Mbeki added. The AU will determine a timeline for the implementation of the Addis Ababa agreement and the peculiarly complex technicalities it entails.
Amid much haggling and despite the near-impossibility of practically accommodating all the demands of the Sudanese protagonists, never have the peace prospects appeared more plausible, thanks in large measure to the political acumen and deft diplomatic skills of Desalegn.
So is this a change to believe in? Desalegn is the first Ethiopian leader to hail from the country’s south. Hard-nosed Western diplomats have been surprised by Desalegn’s shrewd political manoeuvring both at home and abroad.

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