Reyna with the kids in Fiamah, Monrovia, Liberia

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Deadly Divorce: The Breakup of Sudan

Some marriages should have never happened, and such was the case with the African country of Sudan. You could say the marriage was arranged by the imperial power Britain, and it brought together ethnic groups that had opposed and oppressed each other for centuries. The arrangement was for rather selfish reasons that only benefited the colonizer, as was the case with most African countries whose boundaries were carved out by European powers.

The crown jewel of the British colonial empire was India, and in 1896 the Suez Canal opened which gave Britain a direct route to India through the Mediterranean and Red Seas rather than sailing all the way around the southern tip of Africa. In order to consolidate its hold on this precious trade route, the British found it necessary to control the Nile River , which fed into the Mediterranean Sea and is the longest waterway in the world, flowing through 10 African countries, from source to mouth. This involved taking over Sudan. They used the same principle of indirect rule to cover this vast country that they had employed in other colonies. They nurtured a Sudanese elite in the capital of Khartoum which was mainly from the northern half of the country, Muslim,  and Arabic-speaking. Outside of the capital, and especially in the vast southern regions of Sudan, they bought the allegiance of  local chiefs but left them to rule their people as they always had as long as they accepted ultimate British authority. England ruled the northern and southern parts of Sudan as separate entities until 1947, a mere nine years before the country gained independence. It was natural to do so since the two regions and their people have almost nothing in common. British journalist Richard Dowden said that Southerners are as physically and culturally different from Northerners as Chinese people are from Norwegians. Northerners are Arabic and Muslim, and their land is vastly desert. Southerners are mostly black African, and their religion is a mixture of Christianity and tribal beliefs. They are farmers who live off the land. Within the South, there are a number of  different tribes, the largest being the Dinka and the Nuer, and there are at least 60 indigenous languages spoken.

At the first independence, that of the whole of Sudan from Great Britain, power was handed over to the Khartoum elite that England had carefully selected and trained. 83% of investments were concentrated in the northern half of the country, mostly in Khartoum and Blue Nile province. From 1955 to 1972, a group called the Southern Sudan Resistance Movement and its military wing, the Anya-Nya,  fought for the secession of the southern part of the country. They didn't achieve their ultimate goal, but they did strike a deal with the government in Khartoum which gave the South more resources and more autonomy. However, eleven years later, in 1983, the mainly Islamic government reneged on their agreement. The fight for succession and freedom for South Sudan was taken up by a new group named the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) led by Colonel John Garang.

This second war would last for 22 years, and in the process what little development was present in the southern parts of Sudan would be reversed. 2 million people would lose their lives, mostly civilians who had been displaced and succumbed to starvation or disease, and another 4 million would lose their homes routinely and repeatedly by this nomadic war. The war was fought mainly in the South, and consisted of the Sudanese army and the rebel SPLA capturing and recapturing towns from each other. For two decades, there was no clear victor and no real outside attempt at a resolution.  The war was further complicated in 1991 when there was a split in the senior ranks of the SPLA, and Riek Machar , a young Nuer chief whose marriage to British aid worker Emma McCune became legendary, started his own rebel movement. This movement was made up of mostly Nuer, and they fought more against the Dinka-led SPLA than they did against the army of Sudan. At one point ,they were even being supported covertly by the government in Khartoum in an attempt to weaken the SPLA 's power and popularity. While the ideals of both southern rebel groups were noble in many respects, their fighting created a new version of hell for the innocent people who lived in these  regions, as they were often attacked or caught in the crossfire by any one of the three groups and could not feel protected, even by those factions that were "fighting for them". Riek Machar broke away from the government again in 2000, and then rejoined the SPLA in 2002 as a senior commander. As the war dragged on, the ideals that the groups in the South were fighting for became clearer and succession from the North seemed to present itself as the only viable way to achieve them. This new focus brought unity to the southern rebel movements once again and  that unity was a key factor in their success in brokering the peace agreement that was finally reached in 2005.

The main features of the peace agreement were that it granted Southern Sudan the opportunity for secession and independence which it had fought for for half a century, and it granted them 50% of the oil revenues of the region. Both of these were huge victories for Southern Sudan.There are large amounts of oil reserves located in Sudan, estimated at 560 million barrels per day. 80% of these reserves are in the South. Yet the only pipeline travels through the North to Khartoum and on to the Port of Sudan at the Red Sea. The only refineries are located in the North as well.  So until this agreement, the South was receiving no benefit from this vast natural resource that it harbored. As for independence,  the agreement set up a referendum in 2011 that would let the people of Southern Sudan vote on the question of succession. In January of 2011, the decision was made for independence with 98.8 % of the votes in support of it. That figure alone gives you a clue as to the oppression and injustice the southern people suffered at the hands of the government. South Sudan officially became the world's newest nation on July 9 of 2011.While this was a great democratic victory for the people of South Sudan, and a cause that many freedom fighters like John Garang gave their lives for, it remains a fact that divorce is never easy. In the past few months it has become increasingly clear just how difficult the separation,  and now rebirth of South Sudan  as a new nation, will be. Especially when you have such a jealous, jilted ex-partner as Sudan.

Possibly the biggest point of contention is the question of oil revenues. As stated by the 2005 peace agreement, South Sudan currently receives 50% of the revenues from the 80% of the oil reserves it controls. Reserves which are now entirely theirs since they are now a sovereign nation. Yet the reliance on Sudan is  still there since they control the pipeline and the refineries. Currently, there are talks taking place in Addis Adaba to resolve this crisis that poses the risk of huge losses to both sides. For the North, oil revenues accounted for 50% of domestic revenues and 93% of their exports in 2009. They have lost much of this since the South's independence in July. It has left a gaping 36% gap in their budget that has them scrambling for ways to cover the deficit. Already, inflation has caused prices of basic necessities to rise significantly and people in the capital of Khartoum have not been shy to express their frustration. One way they have tried to compensate for the loss of revenue is to impose exorbitant transit fees of $36 US per barrel on the oil that is transported from South Sudan through the pipelines in the North. Since July, the two governments have not agreed on these fees and South Sudan has refused to pay them. So in return, Sudan has taken the revenues from the oil, saying that it is in lieu of the fees. South Sudan President Salva Kiir estimates that Khartoum has "stolen" $815 million worth of oil since July. In classic Khartoum style , the North has  responded that they have "confiscated" some of the revenues, but only to replace the transit fees that are owed to them.

As talks continued to deterioriate over this crucial economic issue, South Sudan announced on January 20th that it would halt its oil production. Then five days later, it announced that a deal had been reached with Kenya to build a pipeline from South Sudan's oil fields to the Kenyan port of Lamu on the Indian Ocean. They claim that it could be ready in a year, but oil industry experts say it will more likely take 3 years for the pipeline to be complete and ready for use. President Kiir stated that South Sudan would rather struggle for a while than continue to hand over its revenues to Sudan. At first glance, it seems like a disastrous choice to shut down production of oil. 98% of South Sudan's budget depends on oil revenues. But you have to consider that they are not receiving much of that money right now anyway because Sudan is stealing huge amounts of it. Also, 85% of the population in the South are farmers who live off their land and animals. They will not be greatly affected by the loss of revenue since they don't see much of it anyway. However, the financial strain would make it almost impossible to pay their large military, and there are fears that could lead to resentment and more instability. Whatever happens with the oil, a few things are clear. South Sudan will continue to look away from Sudan and south to Kenya and other East African countries to ally itself with in business and other matters. And the country will also need to seriously tackle the challenges of development and diversifying their economy so they are not so dependent on oil for their livelihood. If they are able to do this, the future will become brighter.

Another huge and often deadly point of contention is the issue of the border states, and this is where the oppression and brutality of Sudan becomes horrifyingly apparent.  The border states are home to both northern Arabs and Southern Africans. The states allegiances were all clearly delineated in the 2005 peace agreement, except for the disputed territory of Abyei, whose fate would be decided by a referendum in 2011. It was widely expected that the people of that territory would vote overwhelmingly to go with the South, but they were never given the chance. In May of 2011, the army of Sudan bombarded and overtook the territory, causing the 110,000 Dinka who lived there to flee. Riek Machar, who is now Vice-President of South Sudan, called this an attempt at ethnic cleansing by the Sudanese government and alerted the UN Security Council. His cries seemingly fell on deaf ears, though, as no action was taken.  It is not clear now if or when the referendum will take place.

Sudan has also made a habit of bombing refugee camps in South Sudan in the past few months, a charge which of course, it vehemently denies. In November, a refugee camp in Unity State for Northerners fleeing the fighting in South Kordofan province just across the border was bombed . Just last week, the UN confirmed that another refugee camp in Upper Nile province that houses some 5, 000 people fleeing fighting in Blue Nile province in Sudan was also bombed. It is probable that both attacks were carried out by the Sudanese Air Force since Antonov planes, planes which are a staple of the SAF, were used. Sudan accuses the South of supporting northern rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces. South Sudan accuses Sudan of supporting southern rebels behind attacks in Unity State and Upper Nile Province. While those accusations are probably true on both sides to some extent, they provide a convenient place to lay the blame for bombings rather than admitting that the Sudanese Air Force carried out attacks on innocent civilians. President Salva Kiir has said that Sudan wants to drag South Sudan back into a "meaningless war". Khartoum denies that there are any refugee camps in the South and that people from the Northern provinces are fleeing to them, while at the same time it is closing off escape routes from the North into Unity State and other border areas in the South.

It seems that Riek Machar's claims of ethnic cleansing are accurate, and more and more calls for intervention and humanitarian aid are being made. Princeton Lyman, the US envoy to Sudan, warned last week that half a million people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile province in Sudan will face an emergency bordering on famine by March if international aid organizations are not allowed in. He also called on the UN Security Council to intervene. The government of Sudan, in another classic denial, says that these areas are too dangerous for NGO's to operate in. In what may be the most stunning foretelling of Sudan's brutal campaign against the black African peoples that are still residing in the North, the Satellite Sentinel Project , the brainchild of Hollywood star George Clooney and John Prendergast which uses satellite technology to observe the border of South Sudan, released a report this week that shows that the Sudanese army may be preparing for a final assault on the Nuba people remaining in the province of South Kordofan. Their satellites show that the Sudanese Air Forces (SAF) have cut off all the main evacuation routes for people wishing to flee the Kauda valley where 200,000 Nuba still remain. These 200,000 people are currently cut off from all humanitarian aid. It appears from the satellite images that the SAF is only a few weeks away from being ready to launch an all-out assault on this valley. They have encircled this population, and broader images showed that the army is building roads into the area for their equipment and lengthening the closest airstrip, presumably to allow it to accomodate bomber planes. In fact, the governor of South Kordofan, Ahmed Haroun, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in Darfur, stated last October that "These road construction projects will be the weapon for defeating the enemies."

What makes these reports even more chilling is the fact that the Satellite Sentinel Project noticed the same sort of buildup and road construction taking place last March around the disputed territory of Abyei. They issued warnings up to 6 weeks in advance, but those warnings went unheeded, and the Sudanese army overtook the district in May and displaced over 100, 000 black Africans, as was mentioned earlier. These warnings cannot go unheeded again. This technology is unheard of in this part of the world,  and so crucial to the protection of South Sudan, but it is only effective if  the warnings are taken seriously. The writers of the SSP report pleaded that "the community of nations must not again fail to act while some 200,000 Nuba civilian lives are in danger."

On Thursday, January 26th, the government of Sudan announced that all Southerners who remained in Sudan would be treated as foreigners. Yet, the military of Sudan is blocking the escape routes and building up their presence around the areas where Southerners are concentrated. All the signs point to the building up of a genocide. This is very serious, and anyone who cares about human rights should condemn what the nation of Sudan is doing and be gravely concerned about the status of the Southerners trying to return to their homeland. The world needs to pay attention to what is happening and call on international leaders to take action to prevent another genocide. And the international powers and members of the UN Security Council, those with the power to exert protection, need to take seriously the plight of South Sudan.  The world's newest nation and its people need to be given every opportunity to succeed.


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