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.
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.