World Defense Review


Published 21 Dec 06

J. Peter Pham

Strategic Interests

by J. Peter Pham, Ph.D.
World Defense Review columnist

The Next Sudanese Conflict

Almost all of the attention which policymakers in the West have given to Sudan over the course of the last year has been rightly focused on what even the United Nations describes as "the world's worst humanitarian crisis" the ongoing genocide in the country's western Darfur region.

Since the orgy of rape, torture, mutilation, and killing sanctioned by the Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum began three years ago, up to half a million Darfuris most of them black African farmers who practice a more relaxed, traditional Islam than the virulent strain preferred by the country's rulers have perished while another three million have been displaced. And, as my colleague Professor Michael Krauss and I documented in an op-ed last week, the violence in Darfur is not only continuing, it is also spreading.

Nonetheless, as bad as the genocide in Darfur is, however, the specter of another, potentially even more devastating, conflict now looms large over Sudan.

In early 2005, decades of civil war between successive rulers in Khartoum and the largely Christian and animist black Africans in southern Sudan a conflict in which the regime honed the genocidal tactics it now employs to deadly effect in Darfur by killing an estimated two million people, one-fifth of South Sudan's population, since 1983 came to an end with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the government of President Omar al-Bashir and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), led by Dr. John Garang.

The CPA, although officially brokered by the subregional grouping, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), came about as the result of intense U.S. political pressure and sustained diplomatic efforts by the special presidential envoys representing both the Bill Clinton (former Congressman Harry Johnston) and George W. Bush (former Senator John Danforth) administrations.

Under the terms of the CPA, the leader of the SPLM/A currently Salva Kiir, who succeeded Garang after the latter died in a July 2005 helicopter crash is both first vice president of Sudan and president of the Juba-based Government of South Sudan (GOSS), a largely autonomous regional authority which was created by the accord. This is a temporary arrangement since the CPA affirmed that:

"the people of South Sudan have the right to self-determination, inter alia, through a referendum to determine their future status" and that "at the end of the six year Interim Period there shall be an internationally monitored referendum, organised jointly by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, for the people of South Sudan to: confirm the unity of the Sudan by voting to adopt the system of government established under the Peace Agreement; or to vote for secession."

Given that southerners have experienced from Khartoum-based authorities little more than a worsening succession of neglect, abuse, and ethnic cleansing since long before Sudan's independence in 1956, when things only got worse, there is little chance that southerners will "confirm the unity of Sudan" in any free poll. Rather, the referendum will likely result in an overwhelming majority voting to establish what it has fought for several generations to achieve: an independent sovereign state.

The coming conflict arises precisely from the conjuncture of these political facts with economic ones. The genocide in Darfur notwithstanding, the International Monetary Fund estimates that Sudan's GDP will grow by 13 percent this year and likely to continue expanding at similar rates.

This astounding growth fuelled almost exclusively by the current global oil market and the coming online of Sudan's joint petroleum ventures with Chinese, Malaysian, and other Asian firms. The problem is that over 80 percent of Sudan's hydrocarbon reserves lie in South Sudan which means that, assuming the CPA is respected, the Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum is well aware that the clock is ticking away and that it only has a few years in which to obtain maximum benefit from the oil wealth before losing it forever.

As a result, the regime has adopted an aggressive, short-term-focused approach to natural resource exploitation which a special report in the December 9 issue of The Economist graphically captured its modus operandi:

"The dangers can be seen all too clearly in remote villages like Longuchuk, near the oil-rich Sudd marshes of Upper Nile state. Two years ago, Chinese oil workers arrived there. They were escorted by armed men in T-shirts, whom locals later identified as Sudanese soldiers. They stayed for six months, sank four wells and cleared access roads, all without talking to villagers or asking their permission. A pool of slimy water beside one of the capped wells shows where the surplus oil was dumped. A hundred cows, the villagers say, died from drinking the water."

There are now numerous reports of this scenario being rehearsed throughout the south: soldiers or militiamen displace villagers while oilmen hurriedly remove the black gold, leaving behind a poisoned landscape. While the situation has not yet degenerated into open rebellion that similar environmental degradation has precipitated in Nigeria's Niger Delta (as I described in a previous column), tensions in South Sudan have been heightened and there have been several instances of popular resistance to the crude exploitation.

Meanwhile, oil is at the heart of President al-Bashir's backsliding on the CPA even as it continues to pay the bill for his genocide in Darfur.

Under the peace agreement, an independent commission was supposed to draw the definitive line between the nascent South Sudanese state and the rest of Sudan, but Khartoum has rejected its decision since it correctly gave most of the resource-rich region around the town of Abyei to Juba.

In fact, in defiance of the clear provisions of the CPA, the Sudanese army has yet to withdraw from its positions surrounding oilfields which are clearly in the jurisdiction of South Sudan. Likewise, the Khartoum regime is supposed to give 50 percent of its revenues deriving from southern oilfields to the GOSS. However, since the former refuses to open its books, the latter have no way of knowing whether they are getting their rightful share and are, understandably, suspicious that they are being cheated.

This poisonous climate is what has fuelled clashes like the one which took place two weeks ago when SPLA fighters engaged Sudanese regular and irregular forces, leaving hundreds dead on both sides.

While such battles have thus far been few, there is little keeping the situation from reigniting into a full-fledged conflagration. And, given the record of Sudan's National Islamic Front regime, there is little reason not to anticipate that, rather than resigning itself to losing its most valuable territory, it might adopt the same scorch earth approach that Indonesia did when the East Timorese voted overwhelming for independence in the UN-supervised referendum in 1999.

That the long-suffering peoples of South Sudan are enjoying their current window of relative peace, however marginal and precarious it might be, is in many respects a tribute to the broad coalition of U.S. humanitarian, human rights, African-American, and Christian (and Jewish) groups. Now America must remain engaged politically, diplomatically, and militarily to ensure that both the spirit and the letter of the peace accord which it helped broker is upheld and that South Sudanese will indeed be able to exercise their sovereign self-determination at the end of the decade. This includes strengthening the GOSS's capacity to defend itself and its people against what will likely be an escalation in economic, environmental, and military violence from the genocidal Khartoum regime.

J. Peter Pham is Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs and a Research Fellow of the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He is also an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. In addition to the study of terrorism and political violence, his research interests lie at the intersection of international relations, international law, political theory, and ethics, with particular concentrations on the implications for United States foreign policy and African states as well as religion and global politics.

Dr. Pham is the author of over one hundred essays and reviews on a wide variety of subjects in scholarly and opinion journals on both sides of the Atlantic and the author, editor, or translator of over a dozen books. Among his recent publications are Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State (Reed Press, 2004), which has been critically acclaimed by Foreign Affairs, Worldview, Wilson Quarterly, American Foreign Policy Interests, and other scholarly publications, and Child Soldiers, Adult Interests: The Global Dimensions of the Sierra Leonean Tragedy (Nova Science Publishers, 2005).

In addition to serving on the boards of several international and national think tanks and journals, Dr. Pham has testified before the U.S. Congress and conducted briefings or consulted for both Congressional and Executive agencies.

© 2006 J. Peter Pham

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