It’s certainly an incredible milestone and hard-won. Probably the best resource for Sudan is the website of the Enough! Project, which tends to not rely so much on “unnamed government sources” like the MSM does. In fact, here’s a short primer on the history of the conflict.
I’ll admit, I’m no expert on the conflict in Sudan. But it is hard not to be cynical when I see that the man who orchestrated and oversaw the genocide in Darfur was present at the ceremony and all signs point to the United States giving Omar Al Bashir a big pass. In other words, because Bashir didn’t slaughter the Southern Sudanese in the independence/secession vote several months ago, Bashir is now being praised as a peace-maker. I think it’s fair to say that if these crimes had been perpetrated in the West, his head would have already been served up on a platter. We seem to not consider genocide in Africa as on the same horrific par as genocide in Europe.
After a 56-year struggle, South Sudan has a country of its own. Thousands upon thousands of people gathered starting early this morning near the memorial for Dr. John Garang, the late rebel leader, where workers have been building and cleaning day and night to ready the dusty open space for the huge celebration. Flag-festooned Range Rovers and Mercedes delivered dozens of heads of states, including Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, to the festivities.
After hours of sitting in the blistering sun, the crowd seemed newly energized – erupting in cheers and chants of “Republic of South Sudan Oyee!” – when President Salva Kiir took to the podium for his first address as the leader of the world’s 193rd country.
“We, the people of South Sudan understand what it means to be a refugee,” said President Kiir. “We hope that our people will never again have to cross our borders again in search of security.”
While the general mood in this new capital has been joyous since the clock struck midnight last night, the traumatic history of this region weighed heavy on the day. Standing near the flagpole where a huge South Sudan flag still laid neatly folded this morning, a middle-aged woman sang hymns with her hands in the air and tears streaming down her face. During the war, people suffered so much that they could not have even imagined that this day was possible, she said.
“If you do not have peace, you have nothing,” said Elia Mellit, a father of three, who arrived at the celebration with his family, all dressed up for the occasion. “Today I am feeling good. For many years, I was not good. Now we have freedom – I am free! So in my heart I have no problems.”
The expectations that accompany this independence day are high, and so too are the obstacles to a lasting peace for the two Sudans. The current crisis in the Nuba Mountains, for instance, and the recent invasion of Abyei tended to be whitewashed during remarks by the long line-up of dignitaries who offered congratulatory wishes and pledges of support. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, for one, chose to mention the unfinished political processes of the Abyei referendum and popular consultations in Blue Nile and Kordofan, rather than pointing a finger at Khartoum’s bombing campaign or ground offensive.
But despite Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s conspicuous presence – which generated a mixture of cheering and booing when his convoy arrived – Salva Kiir did not hesitate to speak about the history of marginalization and state-sponsored violence in Sudan, after “having been on the receiving end of injustice.”
“As we celebrate our independence today, I want to assure the people of Abyei, Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan that we have not forgotten you,” Kiir said as he concluded his speech. “When you cry, we cry. When you bleed, we also bleed. My pledge to you today is that we will find a just peace for all.” He quoted an African proverb that says, ‘However long the night, the dawn will break.’
The Obama administration’s policies with respect to Sudan have been perplexing, although they do deserve credit for helping the Sudanese get to this point. Many believe the administration has been far too accommodating of Bashir. The big question is what’s next, given issues of borders, the status of Abyei, peacekeeping and resource-sharing still need to be resolved. It doesn’t bode well that prior to independence, the Sudanese government continued to target civilians in the border regions of Abyei and South Kordofan, displacing almost 200,000 people. The situation in Darfur remains dire, so while we can celebrate the monumental achievement of South Sudan’s independence day, a lot still needs to be done.
Complicating the issue is that Sudan suffers from the Resource Curse with respect to it’s oil reserves, which many see as a reason why the West has taken such an interest in the region. Of course, that’s a cynical view, but one that can’t be ignored given our history:
Luk Thompson, a southern Sudanese activist, says: “Oil is the only major resource that threatens the stability of the north and the south, once the people of the south secede.”
The fate of Sudan’s almost 500,000 barrels a day industry is closely linked to the political prospects of a country that suffered civil war for much of the half-century between independence in 1956 and a 2005 peace agreement.
The bulk of production and prospects are in the semi-autonomous south, peopled mainly by Christians and animists, while the pipelines and refineries are in the mostly Islamic Arab north.
At the moment, revenues from southern Sudanese crude are shared roughly 50-50 between the two halves of the country, although southerners and Global Witness, a London-based group campaigning against the abuses of “resource curse”, have long complained about alleged discrepancies in the way the national unity government in Khartoum calculates total revenues.
And then this:
Sudan’s governing elite have whipped up ancient ethnic rivalries in their pursuit of oil revenues, half of which is spent on arms. Oil has thus contributed indirectly and directly to the death of roughly 370,000 Darfurians and the displacement of some 3.5 million more, who are now dependent on outside aid for food and water.
American oil companies are not visibly part of the scramble, because in 1997 the Clinton administration added Sudan to the list of states sponsoring terrorism, which included Iran and Libya. Under these trade sanctions, Americans who do business with Sudan face up to ten years imprisonment and fines of $500,000.
U.S. oil companies, sidelined since 1997, are clearly eager for a piece of the action in Sudan. One of the recent oil deals signed with Khartoum is worth noting. On June 10, a “British” oil tycoon named Friedhelm Eronat acquired for $8 million the largest stake in a drilling contract signed two years ago on behalf of Cliveden Sudan, a company owned by Eronat at that time and had registered in the Virgin Islands to avoid paying taxes. Until then, Friedhelm Eronat had been an American citizen. He swapped his American citizenship for British just before signing the contract, thereby avoiding a jail sentence or fine.
But was Eronat – a high-risk wheeler-dealer who owns extensive drilling rights in neighboring Chad, where he played the Chinese against Canadian oil interests – acting on his own behalf in the recent deal, or was he fronting for other interests? Eronat has fronted for Exxon Mobil and other companies in the past. He narrowly escaped indictment on corruption and fraud charges in connection with a deal allegedly involving shell companies, bribery, and the swapping of Iranian oil for oil from Kazakhstan in order to circumvent the American law against trading with Iran.
U.S. oil companies, to judge by Eronat, can scarcely wait to drill in Sudan. “The war against terrorism” is, once again, a red herring to cover the administration’s true interest: oil.
The question is whether sanctions will be lifted and whether U.S. corporations will begin flooding the oil market in competition with China, who has been the primary recipient of Sudan’s oil reserves for the past decade. That said, I can’t find any information that says with certainty that sanctions will end.
Here’s another take:
On the face of it, the independence of South Sudan doesn’t seem to bode well for Chinese interests. It is not hard to imagine that the government of the new nation of South Sudan will be much friendlier towards the West (as well as lying outside of the Arab sphere), and it will hold the lion share of Sudan’s oil resources. However, after a more detailed look at how South Sudan’s oil will be refined and exported, the real beneficiaries of the new situation are not at all clear anymore.
North Sudan still holds all the refineries, the only pipelines and the only seaport(the South is landlocked). During the period of autonomy which the South of Sudan has already enjoyed from 2005 until 2011, the North got 50% of the revenue for the South’s oil, in exchange for the use of its refineries, pipelines and its port.
It is not clear what will happen from now on, but the North wants to continue receiving a 50% cut, while the South is reluctant to agree. Although South Sudan is not under US sanctions, if they continue exporting their oil through the North then the sanctions will still apply and the US will continue to be unable to extract or buy the country’s oil. There is a plan to build a new pipeline running from South Sudan through Uganda to Kenya which would avoid relying on the North, but it is not clear whether this is viable. Meanwhile China’s economic councilor in South Sudan, Zhang Jun, has already told the Financial times that China would be willing to give loans to the country to keep it going financially while the Chinese build the pipeline to Kenya themselves.
The other issue is what becomes of Omar Al Bashir? Will the US fully normalize relations with a man that has outstanding warrants for Crimes Against Humanity? Bashir, unbelievably, actually has powerful lobbyists in Washington and has had access to the Obama administration for the past three years.
As an aside, It’s interesting that in order for the peace deal to be reached between these two parties- Sudan and South Sudan, the United States had to deal with a genocidaire (Bashir). They realized, probably correctly, that the only way to even begin to bring an end to the conflict was to bring Bashir to the table, albeit through his emissaries. We are doing the same with the Taliban. How interesting, then, that we refuse to sit down and negotiate with Hamas to help bring an end to the Mideast conflict. Why do you think that is?