Background: On 27 September, the President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan signed a cooperation agreement in Addis Ababa. While the agreement allowed for the long-awaited resumption of oil-exports, it failed to resolve the contentious border disputes that threatened to plunge their two countries into war in early 2012.
There is a decades-long and gruesome history of conflict between the North and South, resulting in the deaths of more than two million people and displacing millions more. South Sudan currently hosts 200,000 refugees, and the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate even after South Sudan gained independence in July 2011. Exasperating tensions, as more refugees flee the border, clashes continue between Sudan’s armed forces and the former rebel movement, now the official army of South Sudan known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
The main issue in the border disputes is Abyei, a region that holds a strategic and historical significance for each side. The contention not only revolves around Abyei’s purported oil reserves, but more importantly on the ethnic rivalry in that area. Since 1956, following Sudan’s independence, the African Dinka and the Arab Messeriya have conflicting claims over the land, with the Dinka linked to the South and the Messeriya linked to North. Indeed, during the decades of civil conflict, the Messeriya and Dinka were used as proxies by Khartoum and Juba respectively against one another.
Although the two Sudans have agreed in principle to establish a demilitarized border zone during the negotiations, this has yet to be implemented. As a result, the Sudanese military continues to launch air raids and frequent ground assaults on the Southern militia groups, whom have also carried attacks on the north. Also, both Sudan and South Sudan continue to accuse each other of harboring and supporting the other’s rebel groups.
Debate: It remains unclear whether the newly signed agreements will achieve a meaningful resolution to the conflict or will simply delay future confrontation. The following articles discuss various aspects regarding the relations between the two states.
- James Copnall, BBC journalist covering Sudan and South Sudan, considers whether war between the Sudan is inevitable, concluding, “An all-out war would create great misery, as war do. But it is not yet clear if either side has the resources, or the desire, to conduct a war for a sustained period of time outside of a relatively limited front.”
- Scott Baldauf, Senior International Correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor suggests, “In theory, these two countries should be eager to return to the negotiation table out of sheer self-interest… But sometimes countries don’t do what is in their long-term self-interest. And while the U.S. and the African Union are struggling to prevent a full-scale war, it doesn’t take full-scale war to create a full-scale humanitarian disaster.”
- In “Sudan and South Sudan: Negotiating Amidst Brinkmanship and Armed Rebellions”, Øystein H. Rolandsen, Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Ingrid Marie Breidlid, PhD researcher at the Centre for the Study of Civil War, and Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert, Senior Researcher at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, analyze in OpenDemocracy.net the possibilities and challenges in “negotiating amongst brinkmanship and armed rebellions.
- Libongo Ndabula, the Director of Strategy and Corporate Development for Political Analysis South Africa argues, “Any form of a lasting peace agreement between the two Sudans has to meaningfully tackle the border issues between the two countries, in that, it is not enough to just have signed agreements that are not adhered to and seemingly divorced with the reality of the disputed area.”
Based on recent events, where do you think relations between Sudan and South Sudan are headed?