Sudan: Conflict Profile
NB: in the text which follows, The Republic of Sudan is referred to as the ‘North’ and the Republic of South Sudan is the ‘South’. ‘Sudan’ refers to the whole area.
On 9 July 2011 Sudan split in two creating the world’s newest nation – the Republic of South Sudan. South Sudan’s independence was the final stage of a 6 year peace agreement ending decades of civil war. However, peace is not yet guaranteed. As the South gains statehood, crucial issues such as border demarcation, sharing of debt, and oil revenues and the use of the North’s pipeline remain unresolved. Fighting in South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei threatens the stability of the peace, and there is ongoing tensions and violence on both sides of the border.
Problems are not confined to tensions only along the border. Less dramatic, but arguably more damaging is the serious rise in food and water prices, the lack of medical care and infrastructure, significant IDP flows, and poorly functioning economy of the South. These developments daily endangering lives simply through lack, and encourages reckless and desperate behaviour that can lead to violence. Both countries have significant internal conflicts to deal with. Decades of violence during the North-South civil war followed by a fragile peace agreement mean that legacies of violence remain and numerous localised conflicts continue. Darfur has caught the world’s attention. While the South is facing multiple rebel groups in the border states of Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile.
Sudan was ruled under British-Egyptian control between 1899 and1956 until they gained their independence, with Darfur joining the protectorate in 1916. The North and South were kept separate by their Anglo-Egyptian rulers until 1946. During this period the majority of development was focused in the North, with the South and other peripheral regions, including Darfur, were both politically and economically marginalised.
North-South Civil War
When North and South Sudan were merged in 1946 the majority of political and administrative power was allocated to the North, leaving many in the South resentful. In the lead up to independence in 1956 the South initiated a rebellion motivated by fears of further marginalisation. This conflict was ended by a peace agreement made in 1972. Yet this fragile peace was soon ruptured by violations of the peace agreement, division of the regions, and the nationwide imposition of Sharia law leading to the outbreak of open conflict in 1983. This conflict lasted 22 years and is estimated to have killed 2 million people and rendered another 4 million homeless. In 2005 the Naivasha Agreement, or Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), was signed by the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum, bringing an official end to the conflict. However, trouble continues between the two Sudans, with fresh accusations by each side that the other is supporting rebel groups against their respective governments, causing instability along the border.
In accordance with the CPA a referendum was held on 9 January 2011 to determine whether the South should remain part of Sudan or become independent. A similar referendum was to be held in the disputed border region of Abyei to decide whether it joined the North or South, but this has been postponed due to a failure to reach an agreement on the terms of the referendum.
The result of the 9 January referendum was almost unanimous. Over 99% opted for independence in a ballot which was widely accepted as free and fair. The vote, however, did not address many issues which remain unresolved even today. Border demarcation is particularly problematic as 20% of the new border has not been agreed upon. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled conflict areas and post-independence citizenship complications have become a major issue with an estimated 2 million South Sudanese living in the North. Moreover the logistics of splitting oil revenues and the $38bn national debt have yet to be worked out. In the face of increasing violence and tension between the North and the South there has been several attempts by the AU and mediator Thabo Mbeki to bring about a resolution of the key issues. In October 2011 joint North-South committees were set up to work through the outstanding issues. However, tension has grown over the last two months regarding the production and transport of oil. The North has been charging well above average market prices for the use of its pipeline to Port Sudan, and withholding shipments until payments are made by the Southern government – attracting accusations of attempting to ‘sabotage the South’s economy’.
The “Three Areas”
As well as the referendum for South Sudan, the CPA also included provisions for determining the future of Abyei, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile, collectively known as the “Three Areas”. Abyei is an oil-producing region claimed by both the North and South. South Kordofan and Blue Nile were the front line during the civil war, being Muslim majority border states with many who fought alongside the Southern SPLM but lie on the Northern side of the 1956 border.
The CPA called for Abyei to hold a separate referendum coinciding with the vote for independence, on whether to become part of a future independent South or stay with the North. But failure to agree on important aspects of the vote meant the referendum did not go ahead as scheduled.
The main complication for Abyei is the status of the Misseriya tribe – Arab nomads who migrate into Abyei for a few months each year. The Misseriya fear that if Abyei is included in the South they will lose crucial grazing rights. Khartoum insists that they be allowed to vote in any referendum. The South, on the other hand, believes that only the permanent residents of Abyei – predominantly the Ngok Dinka tribe – should be allowed to vote.
Just weeks before South became independent, under the pretext of self defence after SPLA attacked a convoy of SAF troops; the North seized Abyei by force and expelled the SPLM-aligned administration. Negotiations have led to an agreement to demilitarise the region, and the deployment of 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers – the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).
In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, the CPA called for holding “Popular Consultations” over whether the CPA itself was a satisfactory final settlement, or if the peace deal should be renegotiated in these areas. After significant delays these consultations began towards the end of 2010, but it is still not clear how the process should move forward.
Shortly before the South became independent, fighting erupted in South Kordofan as the North ordered all former-SPLA fighters north of the border to give up their weapons. So far ceasefire negotiations have failed to end the violence. Likewise, Blue Nile state has seen eruptions of violence. On the third of September a state of emergency was declared, causing roughly 100 000 people to flee.
Both the North and South face significant internal challenges in addition to the fragile cross-border peace. For the South a number of rebellions have emerged in the border states of Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile.
The South has repeatedly accused the North of supporting the rebels. In March 2011 it produced documents claiming to prove that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was heading a plot to overthrow the SPLM – accusations the North denies.
On independence the South is already one of the poorest countries in the world. It is tasked with the herculean effort of building a state almost from scratch and diversifying its sources of income, over 90% of which comes from oil.
Significant social challenges face the new Southern State regarding imports and the management of the economy, IDPs, and governance challenges. All foodstuffs and consumables not produced in the South needs to be imported. This has led to shortages in food stuffs and basic necessities, as the North cut off imports and closed roads. Other countries from which the South imports (mainly Uganda and Kenya) are yet to recognise the new South Sudan currency, as it is not yet part of the East African Community. This has led to the ‘dollarization’ of the economy, as imports have to be paid for in USD, rendering the South Sudan Pound essentially worthless. The cost of imports has also rocketed, with basic goods costing between two hundred and four hundred percent more than they do in neighbouring Uganda, high and inflation continuing to push up prices.
With Southerners losing the right to remain in Northern Sudan since the post-independence ruling by the Sudanese parliament, a desire to vote and be part of the ‘new Sudan’ and continued violence in the states north of the border roughly 100 000 IDPs have flowed in from North Sudan. This has created tensions over resources in the border states, as already struggling infrastructure and scarce resources, attempts to support growing numbers of people.
Governance of the new country continues to be difficult, with corruption and mismanagement in the Southern government reportedly to be high. Movement towards the creation and enactment of legislation, the delivery of social services, and construction of infrastructure has been slow or non-existent. For example, the multi-donor trust fund which has drawn contributions from a number of international bodies and states has only given out 10% of the possible funds intended to benefit the new state. This is because the necessary legislation to manage the money has not yet been passed in parliament, further restricting the implementation of basic services and infrastructure.
There are significant problems of violence, as factions which have split off from the SPLM/A, or were in opposition to the party prior to it taking power are responsible for violent disruptions in a number of Southern states. Cattle rustling and local conflicts within the state continue to be a source of violence too, fuelled by the proliferation of small arms and lack of strong policing or law enforcement measures. The SPLM itself as a party is facing political fractures along political and leadership lines within – further complicating efforts towards strong and effective governance.
For the North, the major source of conflict is Darfur. Tensions in Darfur began building in the 1980s when severe drought drove many from Northern Darfur towards the south, increasing land competition. This problem was exacerbated by varying ideas about land ownership, and the abolishment in 1989 of local councils who would traditionally deal with such conflicts. In 2003 the Darfuri Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rose up against the government. Arab militia, known as Janjaweed, have used scorched earth tactics in the region which includes the widespread rape, killing and abduction of both rebels and civilians. The government is widely accused of using the Janjaweed to respond to the rebellion; they deny this.
In 2009 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir, citing his government’s links with the Janjaweed militia. The UN estimates that 300,000 may have died as a result of the conflict, although the Sudanese government puts this figure closer to 10,000. Up to 2.7 million have also been driven from their homes and are now living in IDP camps in Darfur and refugee camps in neighbouring Chad and Central African Republic.
A ceasefire was signed between the government and a faction of the SLA in 2006, but this agreement was rejected by both the JEM and Al-Nur (another faction of the SLA). This fractured rebel alliances and changed the dynamics of the conflict. In 2008 a combined UN-AU peacekeeping force was deployed in the region (UNAMID). The JEM and government signed a goodwill agreement in 2009 and a ceasefire in February 2010. In 2010 talks stalled and all ceasefires – including the SLA – began to break down. However, in recent months , rebel groups in Darfur have shown a greater willingness to cooperate, both politically and militarily.
In June 2011, a new Darfur Peace Agreement was proposed by the Joint Mediators at the Doha Peace Forum. This agreement will supersede the Abuja Agreement of 2005. The proposed agreement includes provisions for a Vice-President of the Darfur region, and an administrative structure that includes both three states and a strategic regional authority to oversee Darfur as a whole. The agreement was signed by the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement on 14 July 2011.
Prospects for Peace
Despite huge oil revenues, the Sudanese economy prior to independence was still incredibly weak and the country was ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt states. Political tension was driven by both the failure of the CPA to recognise any rebel groups other than the SPLM, and the governments’ failure to implement many aspects of the CPA, especially in relation to democratic transformation, legal reform and accountability. In essence the CPA has really only achieved a division of power and wealth between the NCP in the North and the SPLM in the South. Numerous localised conflicts continue.
Now, with separation, Sudan’s conflicts span a yet-to-be-demarcated border between two sovereign states. The conflicts are complex, multifaceted and interrelated. Yet conflict is not inevitable. Despite escalating violence neither side want a return to all out war. Progress, albeit sporadic, continues on Darfur where a recent civil society conference in Doha produced a framework agreement which has been accepted by all sides, and at least one rebel group, the Liberation and Justice Movement may be on the verge of signing a peace deal. The SPLM have also started to show signs of opening up the democratic process in the South to opposition groups.
The work of local peacebuilding organisations here is essential. They are able to build grassroots movements for peace and help traditional enemies resist violence. They are able to work in areas international organisations cannot access and are best placed to build peace in their own communities.
Last updated: October 2011