East Africa is bracing itself for yet another large-scale conflict as leaders from Sudan and the world’s newest country, South Sudan, continue to stoke the flames of war. Whilst the international community appears defeated in its efforts to calm the rising tensions, the two Sudan’s are on the verge of further bloodshed, starvation, as well as a cessation of area’s main cash cow, oil production. Unless the rhetoric of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his counterpart, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, can be cooled and the underlying issues between the countries resolved, the security situation is likely to deteriorate even further, leading to a full blown war.

Ramping Up The Rhetoric

As of 05 May 2012, the circumstances surrounding Sudan and South Sudan have all of the hallmarks of an impending war, particularly with regards to the mudslinging between the leaders of both Africa nations. As is the case in the days and months leading up to most conflicts, Al-Bashir has become increasingly vocal about his aversion towards the south, going so far as to call the current regime of South Sudan, led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, “insects” which need to be “liberated”. The latest outburst shows that Al-Bashir, already a controversial figure the world over for being the first sitting leader indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – in his case on charges related to genocide and other war crimes in Darfur – is further solidifying his reputation as a warmonger. Al-Bashir is of course not alone in his rhetoric. Unlike Al-Bashir, Kiir is by no means the orator, and is perhaps less aggressive in his approach. Nevertheless, Kiir, too, has furthered the cause of conflict by announcing that Sudan has already “declared war” on his country, after weeks of skirmishes along the two nation’s borders. Such a battle of words comes as the two leaders look unlikely to budge despite the UN ultimatum, which calls for the Sudans to end their fighting or face economic sanctions, having quietly came and passed on 04 May 2012. Al-Bashir and Kiir would be better served going to once more to the negotiating table and addressing the root causes of the violence, rather than continue their defiance, which will ultimately leave civilians left to pick up the pieces.

The Road To War…

So what is behind the conflict? Among the myriad of disputes between the two nations, the squabbling neighbour states have each blamed each other over a recent bout of fighting which saw Sudanese forces engage in clashes with South Sudanese troops at key oil-producing sites. Earlier, South Sudanese officials accused Sudan of launching aerial strikes on its major oil fields between 26 – 27 March 2012, which South Sudan forces retaliated by pushing their way into Sudan’s central oil-producing Heglig region. Both Khartoum and Juba claimed that the other “started it first”, whilst both the US and the UN tried to mediate the situation as the largely Asian-owned oil organisation, Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC), said facilities had been hit. Tensions appeared to have diminished when the South Sudanese Government ordered its troops out of Heglig, however, South Sudanese officials claimed on 02 April 2012, that Sudan was still bombing its key oil-producing facilities, which South Sudan Information Minister Marial Benjamin claimed was simply a move to “scare away investors”. The attacks on key oil facilities underscore the anger among the Sudanese, who have been left bitter since South Sudan split from Sudan in July 2011. Following its independence, South Sudan took control of nearly 75% of Sudan’s oil output, leading to a severe loss of state revenue for Sudan, resulting in severe fighting between the two countries, which China, a major importer of South Sudanese oil, tried unsuccessfully to settle. Whilst this proved to be problematic for Sudan in particular, South Sudan was also forced to rely entirely on Sudanese infrastructure in order to export oil. When South Sudan announced plans to build its own pipelines, Sudan was angered, and South Sudan responded by shutting down production until it could build its own pipeline to the East African coast. South Sudan’s suspension of some 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) further provoked tensions between its northern neighbour, which it says it did in retaliation for Sudan’s complete seizure of South Sudan’s oil, a move which diverted away US$185 million worth of its crude from other markets.

Aside from the issue of oil, the two countries remain divided over citizenship and the issue of rebel groups. Currently, the two nations have agreed to a period of citizen transition, which would last for nine months after the official declaration of South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, a time frame which was expected to give both Sudanese and South Sudanese enough time to naturalise themselves. Officials earlier estimated that between 500,000 – 700,000 South Sudanese are residing in Sudan, whilst numerous other Sudanese are living in the north. Adding to the list of disagreements is that both countries have accused each other of supporting rebel factions, which seek to undermine the authority of both states.

The Way Ahead: War Likely as Oil Production Expected to Slide

Unless Al-Bashir and Kiir can set aside their differences and return to the negotiating table after shelving an earlier meeting scheduled for April 2012, a full-scale war looks likely, despite the best intentions of the international community. This may be particularly devastating for the citizens of the two countries, which are already experiencing food shortages. Food and other necessary goods have reportedly skyrocketed in the months following South Sudan’s independence. Furthermore, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation announced earlier in February 2012, that Sudan’s crop harvest for 2011-2012 is expected to fall “significantly below average”, meaning that food prices should rise even further. Adding fuel to the flames of war is that the ongoing dispute is expected to wreak havoc on the region’s oil production, with analysts already indicting that South Sudan’s production is expected to slide to less than 100,000 (bpd) in the second half of 2012. This will likely add to the cycle of conflict, as 98% of South Sudan’s revenues come form oil exports, of which China is the largest buyer. Rahamatalla Mohamed Osman, Sudan’s undersecretary of foreign affairs, has underscored this point, noting that in the event of a war, oil fields are likely to be targeted: “I expect that since there is a war, these oil fields will be affected, definitely, and at least there will not be production,” Osman added.

(Image: AFP)


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