Blood, Oil, and Sudan
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Southern Sudan’s independence is a considerable achievement for Africans—but a proposed oil revenue split could jeopardize peace.
On July 9, as determined by a January referendum, Southern Sudan will become the world’s newest independent country. This is a considerable achievement for Sudan’s southern black Africans—long marginalized, victimized, and brutalized by the ruling Arab regime in Khartoum. And it is a significant step for those who believe in the fundamental human right of self-determination.
Despite this accomplishment, in Sudan today violence is increasing and innocent people continue to die. So far the Obama administration has not done enough to advance peace and a just outcome for the long-suffering southern Sudanese. There is still time to improve their situation.
Since colonial days, first under the Turks and then the British, the Arabs of north-central Sudan along the Nile River were favored at the expense of the Africans elsewhere in this vast country. After independence in 1956, this pattern continued with catastrophic consequences. The south was denied educational opportunities, adequate healthcare, economic growth, political equality, and justice. Sudan’s Arab Muslims of the north-central Nile region were favored, and non-Muslim black Africans were the second-class citizens in the periphery. When the northern Arab regime in Khartoum sought to impose Sharia law in the south in 1955, civil war broke out. Except for an interregnum from 1973 to 1983, the fighting went on and on.
Shouldn’t we recognize and come to terms with the nature of the regime in Khartoum and the extremes to which they are willing to go to retain their position, privilege, and power?
Northern Sudan armed Arab militias and, in patterns later seen in Darfur’s ongoing, slow-motion genocide, Sudan Armed Forces and Arab militia coordinated attacks on innocent civilians. They destroyed villages, killed boys and old men, raped women, burnt villages to the ground, destroyed crops, and stole livestock. More than 2 million people died and 4 million were displaced. A number of the lost boys of Sudan found refuge in countries around the world, including many in the United States.
In 2005, under the leadership of President George W. Bush and his special envoy to Sudan, Senator Jack Danforth, a comprehensive peace agreement was signed between the north and the south to end the fighting and to lay out a roadmap to resolve the many contentious issues. A pathway was set out for a six-year transition to culminate in a referendum through which the southerners would decide whether to remain part of greater Sudan or become a new independent nation. But the Sudanese regime in Khartoum refused to disarm and demobilize their Arab militias as they had committed to do. They supported periodic low intensity warfare in the south, usually through proxy Arab militias, and continued the political marginalization of the south, the economic inequities, and the injustices.
Under the peace agreement, a boundary commission was established and both sides committed to accepting its determination. When the international commission tendered its decision, southern Sudan accepted it even though the south did not gain as much territory as they had hoped. But the north refused to accept the commission’s decision.
We should be taking practical steps to increase the costs for north Sudan’s misbehavior.
After a violent May 2008 flare-up in the oil-rich area of Abyei—where the Misseryia Arab militia, armed by the north, burned the town to the ground and displaced more than 40,000 innocent people—I was involved in negotiating a roadmap to resolve the many resulting issues. Among the items agreed to was a referral of the still contested border issue to the International Arbitration Court in the Hague. Both the north and the south committed to abide by the court’s decision and submitted argumentation and documentation. The decision by the court was somewhat less advantageous to the south than the earlier Abyei Boundary Commission’s map; nonetheless, consistent with their commitment, the south accepted the new decision. The north, still unhappy, broke their commitment and refused to accept the court’s determination.
During negotiations, I spent hour after hour in discussions with senior representatives of the north and the south, and outside the formal negotiations I held parallel discussions at the highest levels in Sudan. It became clear to me that the north, after decades of brutal, costly civil war and with no victory in sight, had decided in 2005 that the wiser course was to let the south go. They were prepared for separation, which in part explains why Khartoum did nothing from 2005 to 2011 to make unity attractive. It also became clear that Khartoum’s concerns about the final boundary demarcation did not have much or perhaps anything to do with land, nor with concern about the Arab tribes they had enlisted as their proxies during the long civil war. It was all about money.
When Omar al-Bashir and his regime came to power through a coup d’état in 1989, total Sudanese exports were about $500 million per year. By 2010, exports had grown to over $9 billion per year, and practically all of the growth came from oil. Significant oil reserves had been discovered in Sudan and with the help of foreigners, in particular the Chinese, Sudan had built the oil wells, pipelines, and the Port of Sudan to take this black gold to market. The problem for the north is that 75 percent of the known oil reserves lie in the south. And without keeping more than their rightful 25 percent share of the oil produced, the north will suffer enormous economic strain, which, in turn, will create great political pressure on al-Bashir and his National Congress Party cohorts who have ruled Sudan for 22 years.
How often do we have to see the same scenario of horror before we have the courage to speak out?
So the north has used the Sudan Armed Forces and Arab militias in the same manner they successfully did during the long civil war. On May 21, Sudan Armed Forces and tanks swarmed Abyei and militia set the town on fire. More than 100,000 people fled their burning homes. Now, in South Kordofan, the north executes a campaign of ethnically targeted destruction. The north’s Antonov planes drop bombs that leave 5-meter craters and release burning-hot pieces of jagged shrapnel. According to BBC reports, Sudan Internal Security forces are going from house to house committing summary executions based on ethnicity, political affiliation, and how black you are.
As violence, insecurity, and instability spreads in Sudan, the United States has taken the lead in trying to get 400 Ethiopian peacekeepers into Abyei. It has taken a cautious, measured approach toward events in Kordofan even as atrocities continue. The United States has continued to talk about incentives for the north if they live up to commitments made and now violated. Recently, deputy national security advisor for counterterrorism John Brennan travelled to Khartoum to discuss taking Khartoum off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
When the international commission tendered its decision, southern Sudan accepted it even though the south did not gain as much territory as they had hoped. But the north broke their commitment.
Yes, peacekeepers in Abyei might be useful. Yes, America should not be rash and reckless about events in Kordofan. But how often do we have to see the same scenario of horror before we have the courage to speak out? In Kordofan’s Nuba Mountains in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands died. Isn’t there some responsibility to try to protect these people? And shouldn’t we recognize and come to terms with the nature of the regime in Khartoum and the extremes to which they are willing to go to retain their position, privilege, and power?
As insecurity spreads in central Sudan and contested border regions between the north and south, Bashir is pushing for a 50 percent share of all oil for the next seven years. American negotiators are sympathetic to this claim and urging the south to capitulate. Meanwhile, Bashir has made clear his strategy. Not long ago he declared, “I give the south three alternatives for the oil. The north is to continue getting its share, or the north gets fees for every barrel that the south sends to Port Sudan. If they don’t accept either of these, we’re going to block the pipeline.”
There are several problems with this proposal. A 50-50 split isn’t fair because three-fourths of the oil is in the south. The north has broken commitment after commitment without consequences, often without the Obama administration even verbally acknowledging the trespass. Why should one believe the north will stick to this agreement?
The south, war ravaged for decades, suffers from endemic poverty, corruption, and a proliferation of weapons. The victimized people hope and expect a peace dividend upon independence. Why should they continue unjust suffering so the north can get an unfair share of the oil revenue?
The government of Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir has been sorely tested over the past six years and shown patience, cunning, and statesmanship in holding the south together and facing continuous provocations from Khartoum so that the south could move to independence. For now, he is the indispensible man. Forcing the south to accept a grossly unfair oil revenue split, allowing low intensity violence to continue in the contested border regions, and leaving the politically charged future of Abyei unresolved will gravely weaken Kiir and could drive him from office. At this time, that would be a terrible risk.
The problem for the north is that 75 percent of the known oil reserves lie in the south.
Rather than be contortionists and facilitators for Khartoum’s unjust demands, the United States should insist on fairness and justice on oil revenues. We also should be taking practical steps to increase the costs for north Sudan’s misbehavior:
—Sell the south robust surface-to-air missile capabilities and train the Southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army on their use. The only military edge the north has against the south is its air force. This advantage can and should be neutralized.
—Provide the south with the means to destroy the oil pipeline from northern Sudan to Port Sudan, as leverage to force the north to take into account the south’s legitimate claims.
—Increase the menu of sanctions, including targeted economic and travel sanctions on senior members of the Khartoum regime and their families, if they continue to prosecute their violence and atrocities.
—Upon independence, the United States should sign a mutual defense agreement with the Southern Sudan government to make clear that if Khartoum continues its proxy warfare there will be real consequences.
—Lead an international consortium to help the newly independent Southern Sudan develop education, good governance, and economic growth.
—The United States should return to the practices under President Bush of speaking out clearly, forcefully, and unequivocally when Khartoum breaks commitments, arms proxy militias, and engages in acts of atrocity. After all, Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.
The people of Sudan have suffered enough. While President Bush and President Obama have used different approaches in Sudan, both have been committed to helping end the suffering, bringing sustainable peace, and providing opportunity. A great deal has been achieved. But as recent events in Abyei and Kordofan make clear, there is much yet to be done.
Richard S. Williamson is a principal at Salisbury Strategies and a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He has served as an ambassador and U.S. representative in several capacities to the United Nations, as an assistant secretary of State, and as assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs in the White House for President Ronald Reagan.
FURTHER READING: Williamson has also written "'Chávez Has Begun to Take the Path of Dictatorship,'" "Freedom’s March: Egypt at the Tipping Point," "Turning a Blind Eye to Egypt," and "Somaliland and the March of Freedom." Emily Putze and Emilie Oftedal recently wrote a related piece titled "Sudan: Vote or Violence?"
Image by Rob Green / Bergman Group.