Sudan and South Sudan Back at the Negotiating Table, with Stakes High

Since South Sudan officially broke away from Sudan last July 9, the two Sudans have repeatedly sat down to negotiate several issues in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, under African Union (AU) mediation). The contested issues include border demarcation and oil “transit fees” that Khartoum (which controls the pipelines, ports, and other critical infrastructure) wishes to impose on Juba (which now controls most of the oil). When talks have failed or stuttered, the two sides have resorted to deadly brinksmanship, clashing along the new border and, allegedly, backing rebellions inside each other’s territory. At some points, such as when South Sudanese soldiers seized Sudan’s Heglig oil field, the conflict began to seem like outright war.

As talks begin again, the stakes are high: so long as the two sides cannot achieve a resolution, their problems, and the tensions between them, will continue to mount.

While fruitless negotiations have dragged out, the situation in both countries has deteriorated. Since January, when South Sudan shut down its oil production in response to Sudan’s confiscation of some of its oil, the Southerners have faced economic crisis.  In Sudan, meanwhile, the loss of Southern revenues and the failure to earn the expected transit fees has contributed to an economic meltdown there as well. Inflation on the northern side of the border hit 37% in June, while inflation in the South was at 80% in May.

The economic difficulties have brought other problems: a humanitarian crisis in the South, an anti-regime protest movement in the north.

It is often said, and rightly so, that Sudan and South Sudan are interdependent, economically if not in other ways as well. That interdependence, despite South Sudanese dreams of economic independence by means of an alternate pipeline through Kenya or elsewhere, and Sudanese government dreams of a revitalized, culturally homogeneous polity in the north, seems likely to endure. The lack of progress in negotiations has brought higher and higher economic and human costs to both sides. Here’s hoping (in vain?) that this rounds of talks will be the one to bring a breakthrough. The UN Security Council has demanded a resolution by August 2; that is seventeen days away.

9 thoughts on “Sudan and South Sudan Back at the Negotiating Table, with Stakes High

  1. Please north and southern ,you have to learn from your previous mistakes to avoid any other conflict and try to solve your dispute amicably .

  2. A messy split was inevitable and the situation will remain a low-intensity conflict for years – maybe longer. On the plus side, the combination of negotiations, preservation of national interests and foreign pressure is functioning as a buffer to large-scale warfare, which appears unlikely. Hard to predict how long this rough equilibrium will last though.

    • I doubt the hostility will disappear at any point. It’s easy to use the other nation as an argument for why no one should oppose you. That and a lot of grievances built up over decades makes it easy to be enemies.

      • Definitely. But I think if they can’t work together economically, at least enough to keep the oil flowing, they will both continue to face severe economic problems.

      • South Sudan has a slight upper hand in that it actually has the oil. Obviously Sudan is the best place to transport it through, but they can always threaten (as they are) to build pipelines elsewhere. Of course if that actually happens we should expect things to go very badly. Sudan will have a large, well armed military, a bad economy and no chance of making money from oil.

      • I don’t believe South Sudan’s threat to build pipelines is at all viable, and the North is aware of this.

        I suspect South Sudan’s real ‘advantage’ is that its government doesn’t have as many long-standing domestic foes, unlike Khartoum. These enemies along the periphery, in conjunction with economic struggles in the relatively cushy Khartoum, make the Bashir government susceptible to internal strife.

        Kiir, on the other hand, leads a people who have been burdened with hardship for many years, accustomed to blaming the North for this hardship, and this narrative–as well as the prospect for change, as independence is still new and continues to breed enthusiasm for the country’s potential–will make do in a crisis. This, unfortunately, makes the South’s government a whole lot more stable than Khartoum’s.

        It is for this reason that I believe the South will continue to push Khartoum in negotiations. (This reason, and the requested transit fees being exceptionally high!)

      • Well said – although South Sudan has had its share of internal rebel movements.

  3. A major impediment, amongst many, in the negotiations is the fact that South Sudan’s government is of the (highly mistaken) belief that it will have an alternative pipeline up and running directly to Kenya within two and a half years. As such, they are not taking their interdependence with the north and therefore the need for a negotiated settlement for their mutual survival as seriously as it should.

    I wrote about this here, would be interested in your thoughts: ‪http://transitions.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/07/11/south_sudans_pipe_dreams

  4. Pingback: Sudan-South Sudan Negotiations: Security, Oil, and a Looming Deadline | Sahel Blog

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