Sudan and South Sudan are caught in a cycle that involves frustrating and so far largely fruitless talks over oil revenue sharing and border demarcation, alternating (or sometimes overlapping) with periods of severe tension and even cross-border clashes. As of today, talks between the two governments in neighboring Ethiopia are on hold. The situation is eliciting real concern from other neighbors as well.
A Southern Sudanese delegation visited Kenya this week. Kenyan leaders expressed their willingness to help broker a diplomatic solution between the two Sudans. While Kenyan involvement could help the two parties break the deadlock, Kenyan authorities did not say what form their participation might take. Moreover, Sudan may have concerns about Kenya’s neutrality, given the various links between Kenya and South Sudan, including plans to build a pipeline that would cut Sudan’s share of profits from Southern Sudanese oil.
Whatever the visit brings in the future, for the present it underscores the high stakes of the Sudanese crisis not just for the Sudans, but for the region. The Southern Sudanese attempted to reassure Kenyan leaders that Juba and Khartoum will not return to war, but Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga expressed nervousness about the situation:
The PM said that another full scale war between Juba and Khartoum would pose immense security and humanitarian challenges to the region which is already struggling to contain a devastating drought, refugee problems and islamist insurgents in Somalia.
The PM expressed worries that positions appeared to be hardening between the two countries.
Odinga clearly has Somalia – where Kenyan forces have been deployed since October, fighting the rebel movement al Shabab – on the brain. Kenya does not want another war on its doorstep. The refugee issues are huge as well. Kenya already hosts thousands of refugees from Somali, and is home to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. To have Southern Sudanese pouring (back) into Kenya would put a real strain on the country. All of these problems interlock with each other and the issue of drought. In the Greater Horn of Africa, particularly with such heavy regional involvement in the war in Somalia right now, each country’s problems really do become those of its neighbors as well.