The Future of South Sudan

AbyeiOn July 9, 2011 South Sudan is expected to become an independent state, Africa’s 54th. Prior to that date, much preparation must be done to establish a vigorous economy, stable government, and peaceful society. The name and capital of the country have yet to be officially declared. Issues of debt, oil, aid, and borders also remain undecided.

Just four months ago, in January 2011, the Southern Sudanese population voted overwhelmingly for secession. In the months since the peaceful referendum, relations between Juba and Khartoum have been tense. South Sudan has experienced its share of political and military turmoil.

The most divisive issue continues to be the semi-autonomous region of Abyei, which produces 25 percent of all of Sudan’s oil production. The disputed region of Abyei lies on the border of what is now Southern Kurdufan (a North Sudanese state) and Western Bahr el Ghazal (a South Sudanese state). How the two sides approach this thorny issue will determine just how smoothly the newest country joins the international community.

The Question of Abyei

In July 2005, the Abyei Boundaries Commission released a report which sought to “define and demarcate the area of the nine Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905.” After the Sudanese government declared the report invalid The Permanent Court of Arbitration Abyei Tribunal stepped in. The tribunal ruled that the commission exceeded its mandate in the implementation (by drawing boundaries without sufficient reasoning) but did not exceed its mandate in interpretation. The tribunal then redrew the boundaries of Abyei and it was left to the citizens of Abyei to determine where they felt their allegiance lay — North or South Sudan.

Abyei was due to hold a referendum in the same week as the South Sudanese self-determination vote. Unfortunately the vote could not take place because the governments of North and South Sudan could not come to an agreement on who should be allowed to participate. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) argued that only the Dinka Ngok, the non-nomadic agriculturalist tribal kin of the Dinka of South Sudan, should be allowed to vote. The National Congress Party (NCP) of North Sudan countered that the Misseriya have a right to participate. The Misseriya are a nomadic group based out of Muglad since the 18th century — a town in what was formerly the Western Kurdufan state. They travel to Abyei annually during the dry season.

On March 17, 2011, North Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kirr met in the presence of Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa. They agreed to resolve the conflict on who could participate in the self-determination vote by the end of March. If Bashir’s response two weeks later was any sign, there won’t be a resolution soon: “We are saying, loud and clear, that there will be no referendum on Abyei without the Misseriya.” Bashir further explained that he sees the exclusion of the Misseriya from voting as an effort to denigrate them as second-class citizens to “settled” peoples.

According to noted Sudan scholar Eric Reeves, in the months leading up to the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2009 decision Khartoum made no mention of the Misseriya. It’s as if they have “run out of other strategems” because there was also “no mention of Misseriya Arabs as residents of Abyei in the Abyei Protocol of the CPA” (Comprehensive Peace Agreement). Which leads to the question: How far will Khartoum go to keep control of Abyei?

There has also been heavy fighting within South Sudan. Clashes continue between the South Sudanese army and a militia movement known as the Southern Sudan Democratic Movement/Army in the oil-rich state of Jonglei. The militia is led by George Athor, a former SPLM lieutenant general, who lost in the April 2010 Jonglei gubernatorial election. In Unity State, a region in the south that the government of South Sudan calls Western Upper Nile, former SPLM army general Peter Gadet has organized another militia known as the South Sudan Liberation Army. The South Sudan Liberation Army fights against what it cites as “regional government corruption.”

Both North and South Sudan need the revenues that would come from the management and division of oil fields in Abyei and Jonglei. But in the case of Abyei, which North Sudan is angling to control, Khartoum would not have to share profits as it does in the current agreement between North and South Sudan.

In October 2010, the Sudan Ministry of Finance and Economy revealed that the October oil income for North and South Sudan was a combined total of $357 Million. Roughly 60 percent of the income goes to North Sudan. About 80 percent of Sudanese oil reserves lie in South Sudan, but the port and refinery facilities are in the north. To produce and manufacture oil, the raw material must first be harvested and then refined with sophisticated machinery into petroleum grade products. Currently only North Sudan has the capabilities and technology for mass scale oil production.

Fighting and attacks by South Sudanese independence movements prior to the referendum kept the South Sudan oil industry from establishing refineries. North Sudan will continue to gain a greater percentage of revenue, until South Sudan builds the previously announced 2,200-mile pipeline from the South to the Kenyan port of Lamu.

Humanitarian Assistance

Sudan is the largest aid recipient in the world. In 2009 alone Sudan received $1.3 billion in official development assistance, 50 percent of which was earmarked for humanitarian assistance. The United States is the largest global donor of official development assistance, with humanitarian funding to Sudan in FY 2010 at roughly $431 Million. USAID spends its money supporting agriculture, market systems, health, food security, nutrition, water, economic recovery, sanitation, and hygiene.

On March 30, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah testified before the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, to emphasize that the budget proposed by a Republican controlled House would devastate U.S. foreign policy and humanitarian efforts. Shah argued that the lack of funding would contribute to a health crisis among the world’s impoverished children by causing a spike of malaria cases and contributing to deaths resulting from a projected dearth of medically skilled birth attendants.

It is not only the children of Sudan that depend on USAID assistance. As of December 2010, the UN Refugee Agency estimates that there are 3.7 million internally displaced persons in Sudan. U.S. funding decisions heavily affects these individuals. The proposed budget for the remainder of FY 2011 halved the requested amount of international disaster assistance and sought to cut the entire foreign assistance budget by 19 percent. This would have put 800,000 Darfuris at risk of starvation, malnutrition, and the loss of preventative care.

Also in jeopardy was USAID funding for both primary and secondary project initiatives. In the lead up to the January 2011 referendum, USAID funded $18 million to prepare for the elections and to help internally displaced persons return to their homes. This sum contributed to the development of landing airstrips and a system of roads for transportation and travel. A beneficial secondary development of USAID construction of transportation facilities was the fact that the World Health Organization was able to provide vaccinations and medical drugs to 20,000 individuals in the Abyei area.

In the end the White House says the U.S. budget deal slashed 12 percent from foreign aid and international assistance program funding. The deal drops USAID funding below FY 2009 levels and includes these cuts: $377 million from U.S. contributions to the UN, $160 million from migration and refugee assistance and $80 million from development assistance programs.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Sudan relies on U.S. government financial aid to sustain many facets of its society. U.S. political and international support is just as important. Barack Obama’s January 8, 2011 New York Times op-ed put Washington’s strong support for self-determination at the heart of U.S.-Sudan relations. Obama argues that only when “all parties in Sudan live up to their obligations” would the voting reflect the “will of the people.” Obama’s support of Sudanese self-determination ties into his December 2010 decision to endorse the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

U.S.–Sudanese cooperation has slowly been improving since the official end of the Second Sudanese Civil War in 2005. Khartoum has been notably helpful in the global war on terror. Due to the successful referendum in February 2011 Obama said that the United States would recognize an independent South Sudan, and look into removing Sudan from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. That’s not to say the United States and Sudan haven’t had issues, particularly over Darfur.

But Obama’s commitment to ending the crisis in Darfur is clear. It is a top foreign policy priority of his administration. On March 31 he appointed Princeton Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa, as the new U.S. special envoy to Sudan.

Lyman’s prior experience working as the first U.S. ambassador to post-apartheid South Africa will be critical to negotiating the new relationship between the United States, North Sudan, and South Sudan. It also doesn’t hurt that the humanitarian community in Sudan is thrilled to welcome Lyman aboard. Lyman’s ability to replicate his role as an active participant in the pre-referendum talks between the SPLM and the Khartoum government, as well as in the Doha Peace Talks, is essential to his ability to navigate the conflict laden region.

That work has already begun. On April 2, Lyman traveled to Ethiopia to participate in the post-referendum talks on oil negotiations and border security. With extensive in-region experience, Lyman has a good chance of negotiating a successful debut for a stable South Sudan that will, as he put it, “ensure a more peaceful and prosperous future for all Sudanese.”

In the process, the United States is lining up another ally in the volatile North African and Middle East regions. The United States has trailed behind in the South Sudanese oil race since 1997, when President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13067 barring U.S. companies from conducting business unrelated to humanitarian aid work in Sudan. The order was originally put in place because of human rights violations in Sudan. The 2006 Darfur Peace and Accountability Act eased some of the restrictions. But there is still a blanket ban on U.S. company participation in petrochemical production in South Sudan.

This ban left the door open to other investors such as China, India, Malaysia, and Canada. China has pursued a strict non-interventionist policy in Sudan. They refused to intervene or council Khartoum against human rights violations. The effects of this non-interventionist policy provided tacit support to Khartoum as it committed atrocities in Darfur, leading human rights activists to call the 2008 Beijing Olympics China the “Genocide Games.” Charles Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador and foreign policy expert, sees China’s actions as similar to the U.S.’s non-interventionist policies of a century ago. “The United States did not then seek to dominate or control the international state system,” he writes. “In time…however, America came to do both.” China has already modified its policies, backing the deployment of UN Peacekeepers and opening up a consulate in Juba in order to gain favor with the new South Sudan government.

In the past South Sudan pushed foreign investors interested in its oil reserves to take a stand against Khartoum. But the future independent state is now working with Khartoum to solve their differences. The U.S. Treasury Department has also announced that United States persons will be able to engage in oil transactions after gaining approval from the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. Instead of penalizing cooperation between the north and the south, the Obama administration should back negotiations to ensure peaceful solutions to the issues of oil and border demarcations. An equitable revenue-sharing agreement between the two countries and with international investors will serve South Sudan and U.S. interests in the long term by developing a stable and sustainable South Sudanese economy.

Terah Edun is a Foreign Policy in Focus contributor.