Sudan after the South’s Independence
Sudan after the South’s Independence
International Crisis Group
1. The Current Situation
On 9 July 2011, Africa’s largest country split in two, formalising the long-awaited independence of South Sudan following decades of war and acrimony between North and South. While the January 2011 referendum on Southern self-determination passed relatively peacefully, under close international scrutiny, tensions mounted in months leading up to the South’s independence. Much remains to be done to achieve peace in the transitional areas and negotiate a foundation for future North-South relations. Meanwhile, both states also face enormous domestic challenges in the months ahead.
Khartoum’s army recently invaded the long-disputed Abyei area and triggered conflict in South Kordofan – both regions could remain contentious for the foreseeable future. Mounting militarization on both sides of the disputed North-South border remains cause for concern. In the North, ICC indictee President Omar al-Bashir is facing a growing economic crisis, as well as dissension within his own party the NCP. Southern Sudanese are jubilant, but the South will be born one of the world’s most underdeveloped states. It also faces a significant political challenge in building a genuine multi-party democracy.
This page summarises the current situation in the two Sudans, and links to a wealth of Crisis Group resources.
The dispute over Abyei — a territory geographically, ethnically and politically caught between North and South — is one of the most intractable in Sudan. The region was given special status in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and,its own referendum (a choice to join the new South or remain a special administrative territory within the North), but this did not take place in part because of heated disputes over who was eligible to vote. Ngok Dinka constituents are overwhelmingly in favour of joining the South, while Misseriya communities fear annexation could prevent migration and thus threaten their way of life. But the Abyei dispute has also assumed broader political dimensions, and been used as a bargaining chip between North and South. Despite common perceptions, the dispute is not primarily about oil, as the fields currently in Abyei constitute a very small percentage of Sudan’s total production.
Following months of recurring incidents, Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in May 2011 took control of Abyei, citing an alleged attack by Southern Sudanese police forces on a UN convoy carrying SAF troops. Tens of thousands have since been displaced, and the UN has reported at least 100 civilian casualties. The Government of South Sudan (GoSS) declared the invasion an “act of war”, but has showed significant restraint and vowed to not retaliate.
Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kiir reached an agreement on 12 June that all SAF troops will be withdrawn by 9 July and replaced by the Ethiopian-led UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), approved by the UN Security Council in late June. This will ideally facilitate the return of Abyei’s residents and result in improved security and civilian protection, but otherwise only maintain an unstable status quo. With no clear path to a resolution of final status, Abyei could remain a flashpoint for the foreseeable future.
Both Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile were heavily contested during civil war between North and South, and will likely be areas of continued instability and insecurity well beyond the South’s independence. Instead of having their own referendum, both areas were granted more vague popular consultations—to decide whether or not the CPA had met the aspirations of the people, but the findings placed little or no obligation on the central government in Khartoum. The consultations were supposed to be completed by 9 July 2011, but will now be extended.
Violence in South Kordofan intensified ahead of the gubernatorial and state assembly elections, held on 2 May. The NCP candidate Abdul Aziz al-Hilu narrowly beat the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) candidate, but the SPLM alleged the voting was rigged. Tensions mounted, and fighting ultimately commenced in early June when SAF moved into South Kordofan’s capital Kadugli and initiated aerial attacks, triggering clashes with Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) units in the region and mass displacement.
As Crisis Group has argued, the SPLA-SAF outbreak of hostilities was predictable. Over the last few months, the North announced its intent to redeploy its army to the 1956 border, while Salva Kiir asked to delay until a new security arrangement could be negotiated. As Abyei escalated, Bashir gave the army the green light to deploy in all areas, thus giving the SPLA in the two areas just two choices: either to disarm or relocate its forces—who come from these territorities– south of the border.
After weeks of fighting and negotiation, the two sides finally came to an agreement on political and security issues in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. The Two Areas Framework Agreement, signed on 28 June, was a promising development, which recognizes the concerns of the northern SPLM leaders and the SPLA units they control. However, it was a basic agreement on which to build, and commitment from Khartoum was soon withdrawn.
For background, see Crisis group’s report Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur? (21 October 2008).
Sections of the 2,100 km border remain hotly contested. Mounting militarization on both sides makes it highly unstable. As such, the two parties have tentatively resolved to create a 10km demilitarized zone along the border. The new border security agreement also calls for troops to be drawn from UNISFA to provide protection for the monitoring teams in the demilitarized zone.
This arrangement may indeed be necessary to help avoid renewed North-South hostilities, but a predominantly military operation (and oversight mechanism) will, on its own, struggle to cultivate an environment of mutual trust and confidence in border localities. Deterring encroachment of unauthorized armed actors is critical, but a complement of civilian monitors is necessary to support cross-border initiatives, dispute resolution, local border management, and effective and transparent information gathering and reporting. Lessons may be drawn from previous successful mechanisms employed in Sudan and beyond, which are often as much about building confidence, cultivating community relations, and supporting mutually-agreed arrangements as they are about verifying legal obligations or military movements.
Care must also be taken that prevent initiatives that inadvertently harden the border, which would be disastrous for local communities. Too firm a barrier could intensify land and resource pressure, threaten pastoralist livelihoods, create hardships for Southerners who rely on goods and services from the North, and unnecessarily restrict communities which enjoy the benefits of joint cross-border initiatives and interaction.
Lastly, the interim nature of both the border agreement and the force manning Abyei and the demilitarized zone must be just that, “interim”. These arrangements cannot remain indefinitely—particularly if the border remains undefined—lest they simply incubate the disputes and effectively inhibit final resolution and demarcation of the border.
For background, see Crisis Group’s report Defining the North-South Border (2 September 2010).
The North’s problems will change little with Southern independence. Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) has not addressed the root causes of Sudan’s chronic conflicts, and is facing multiple security, political and economic challenges. The party’s hardliners are determined to solve these issues militarily, and has effectively ended debate on Sudan’s diversity, remaining committed to an Arab-Islamic identity for all Sudanese and is ready to sub-divide key states to accommodate political barons. At the same time, NCP rank and file is increasingly discontent with its leadership and its approach to dealing with the current situation.
Despite austerity measures, the government is facing a serious budget deficit and spiralling inflation. Government revenue is low and it is not able to pay salaries. Food, fuel and other commodity prices are on the rise, and development projects and activities in periphery states are almost stopped. The opposition parties are trying to position themselves for post July 2011, but are weakened by the decision of some of the traditional parties to enter into unilateral negotiations with the NCP. Unless the opposition parties present a more unified front, it is quite likely that the NCP will continue to stymie attempts to reform the government.
For background, see Crisis Group’s report Divisions in Sudan’s Ruling Party and the Threat to the Country’s Stability (4 May 2011).
With independence from the North formalised, focus in the South must now shift to the political agenda at home. A new transitional government will preside over a fixed term from 9 July 2011, during which a broadly consultative review process should yield a permanent constitution. Two factors will shape the coming transition more than any others: the degree to which the ruling SPLM will allow a genuinely multi-party system to take hold, and how much internal democratic reform will be allowed within the SPLM. There are already worrying authoritarian tendencies with the SPLM that threaten to suppress the opposition and undo much of the goodwill created by a political parties conference in 2010. In the coming transition period, a more inclusive process is needed to complete a permanent constitution and regain the confidence of all Southerners.
The international community must recalibrate its relationship with the SPLM, and position itself as a supportive, but impartial, partner to the people of South Sudan and its new government. This includes continued support in development of infrastructure, professionalizing the security services, and diversification of the economy. It also includes holding the SPLM/SPLA accountable for abuses, and encouraging the ruling party to open up political space. The SPLM must recognise the a genuine multi-party system is not a threat to its power, but a long-term investment in stability, in particular as the new state will continue to grapple with internal security issues for some time.
For background, see Crisis Group’s report Politics and Transition in the New South Sudan (4 April 2011).
2. Crisis Group Resources
Recent Crisis Group reports on Sudan
Divisions in Sudan’s Ruling Party and the Threat to the Country’s Stability , Africa Report N°174, 4 May 2011
Politics and Transition in the New South Sudan , Africa Report N°172, 4 Apr 2011
Negotiating Sudan’s North-South Future , Africa Briefing N°76, 23 Nov 2010
Sudan: Defining the North-South Border , Africa Briefing N°75, 2 Sep 2010
Sudan: Regional Perspectives on the Prospect of Southern Independence , Africa Report Nº159, 6 May 2010
Rigged Elections in Darfur and the Consequences of a Probable NCP Victory in Sudan , Africa Briefing Nº72, 30 Mar 2010
Jonglei’s Tribal Conflicts: Countering Insecurity in South Sudan , Africa Report N°154, 23 December 2009
Sudan: Preventing Implosion , Africa Briefing N°68, 17 December 2009
Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC , Africa Report N°152, 17 July 2009
Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur? , Africa Report N°145, 21 October 2008
Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement: Beyond the Crisis , Africa Briefing N°50, 13 March 2008
Darfur’s New Security Reality , Africa Report N°134, 26 November 2007
Sudan: Breaking the Abyei Deadlock , Africa Briefing N°47, 12 October 2007
A Strategy for Comprehensive Peace in Sudan , Africa Report N°130, 26 July 2007
Click here to access all Crisis Group reports on Sudan.
Recent Crisis Group commentary on Sudan
“As Sudan breaks in two, more than oil will fuel economies”, Zach Vertin and Aly Verjee, The National, 8 July 2011
“New Countries, Old Problems”, Louise Arbour, International Herald Tribune, 8 July 2011
“Two Sudans: Managing the World’s Newest Border Demands Careful Planning”, Zach Vertin, Reuters AlertNet, 8 July 2011
“Abyei Is Burning: Immediate SAF Withdrawal Critical”, Zach Vertin, On the African Peacebuilding Agenda, 13 June 2011
“Naissance du Sud-Soudan : le véritable défi commence”, Zach Vertin, Rue 89, 8 February 2011
“Now the Real Work Begins in Sudan”, Zach Vertin, The Huffington Post, 24 January 2011
“Naissance du Sud-Soudan : le véritable défi commence”, Zach Vertin, Rue 89, 8 February 2011
“Look beyond January for Sudan”, Zach Vertin, GlobalPost, 29 October 2010
“Sudan: The right terms for a wrong engagement”, Alain Délétroz, European Voice, 11 February 2010
“Sudan: Preparing for a peaceful southern secession”, comment by Francois Grignon in Reuters The Great Debate, 17 December 2009
“Orchestrating Sudan’s Next Fateful Step”, comment by Fouad Hikmat and Donald Steinberg in The Boston Globe, 10 December 2009
Crisis Group multimedia
Podcast: Countering Insecurity in South Sudan, 19 January 2010.
Multimedia Presentation: Preventing Implosion in Sudan. An interactive presentation on Sudan, including a video interview with Louise Arbour, interactive maps and timelines, and extensive background information to the conflict.
Video: Post-Referendum Scenarios in Sudan and the Way Forward. Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director, Comfort Ero, and AU and Sudan Special Advisor, Fouad Hikmat, discusses the current post-referendum challenges, the regional leadership response, and expectations for the final six months of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. At the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, 10 January 2011.
Other Crisis Group Resources
For extensive information and resources related to Darfur, visit our “Crisis in Darfur” advocacy page
For more information on the ICC and the indictment against President Omar al-Bashir, visit our Peace and Justice page.
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