“If you have something to do with Sudan, do it in the next 19 months, before the country changes."
JUBA, Southern Sudan—A southern Sudanese politician said this to me when I was interviewing him. I am here in Juba to research and learn more about the challenges that Sudanese and international actors face in the remaining 19 months of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement’s “interim period.” (When, as the politician said, the country will change, because southern Sudan will vote in a self-determination referendum, for “unity” with the North or “separation” as an independent state of Southern Sudan). This politician was only one of many people who told me—although I certainly was able to see for myself—that the situation is grim in Juba. The Government of Southern Sudan, or GoSS, has faced severe budgetary constraints in recent months due to the precipitous decline in oil revenues in the context of the global financial crisis.
The budget problems come at a time when the South is experiencing a spate of inter-ethnic clashes. This violence and widespread insecurity have only added to the ongoing tensions felt throughout the region as citizens grow increasing frustrated with what they see as a failure of their government to deliver the “peace dividend”—development, infrastructure, and a viable economy not based on war—promised to them in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA.
GoSS faces formidable challenges. Southern Sudan is extremely underdeveloped (think 21 kilometers of paved roads in a territory twice the size of France) and the Northern government in Khartoum has proved to be less than a cooperative “partner” since the signing of the CPA in 2005. It would not be untrue to say that southern Sudan is moving backwards right now, toward a return to the instability and violence that plagued the region during 22 years of civil war with the northern government.
So when this politician said, “If you have something to do with Sudan,” I think he is imploring the international community to wake up from their slumber, which has lasted throughout Sudan’s crucial period of CPA implementation. Sudan is sometimes viewed as “so complex”; it may seem more manageable to view the Darfur conflict as distinct from the North-South conflict that ended in 2005 but could reignite if the South’s current trajectory continues. But it is crucial for the international community to understand Sudan’s interlocking crises as symptoms of one major problem: a predatory central government that is very skilled at creating and managing multiple assaults on its peripheral populations and then creating other distractions in order to confound the international community; the expulsion of aid agencies and the subsequent havoc that move wreaked is a perfect example. (Sudan expert Roger Winter recently chronicled some of these tactics in a recent article for the Sudan Tribune.) The tactics used by the northern government in Khartoum are not new. And as a piece in the Economist yesterday highlighted, the southern government is also now coming up against some challenges of its own making.
At a crucial moment when the international community must make the choice to reengage and work with both the northern and southern governments to implement key provisions of the CPA to prevent the agreement’s collapse, it would be wise for diplomats in Washington and Brussels, Beijing and Cairo, to review the history of the North-South conflict, because we’re seeing history repeat itself. As the politician told me, time is running out to prevent a return to war in Sudan, and the strategies needed to prevent greater catastrophe will have to be as nuanced as the complexities of Sudan itself.
This is part of a series of posts on southern Sudan by Enough policy assistant Maggie Fick, who is currently conducting research for Enough in the region.