Silva Kir, the leader of south Sudan and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. The President said he would recognize the south if it voted for separation from the central government. Factional fighting in the south may jeopardize their independence., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Sudan divided and bitter
The year brought little cheer to Sudanese, north or south, says Asmaa El-Husseini
2011 was the year in which Sudan split into two. In January, 99 per cent of the southerners voted for secession. Six months later, on 9 July, the independent state of South Sudan was born, but this didn't usher the Sudanese, north and south, into the peace and prosperity they had been waiting for.
Sudan remains to be a hodgepodge of African and Arab contradictions, its ethnic and cultural diversity a curse instead of a source of vitality. Sudan's failure to establish a truly pluralistic system has cost it its unity, and may yet lead to further turmoil and bitterness.
Far from being a magic wand for long-standing problems, secession has brought about fresh conflicts. Instead of making the sort of sensible concessions that would allow them to live in peace, northern and southern politicians have engaged in abusive rhetoric that undermined their prospects of cooperation.
As a result, the borders between north and south have been closed, people were forcibly evicted, and the northerners changed their currency to spite the southerners, who were left with a lot of useless cash in their hands in what was dubbed the "currency war".
Since the secession, fighting flared up in South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, prompting pessimistic analysts to call the troubled areas the "new south".
Insurgencies broke out in South Sudan as well, and southern politicians claim that the northerners are fuelling rebellions in their newly created country.
Much of the ill-will between north and south is fuelled by rival claims for oil. Two-thirds of the oil is produced in the south and exported through the north, but no agreement has been made on how to split the oil revenues.
To hear politicians on both sides of the borders speak so maliciously of their former compatriots, one finds it hard to believe that they were ever partners in the same country. With so much at stake, one would have thought that greater efforts for reconciliation were inevitable. But so far, good sense doesn't seem to interfere with the mutual impulse to denigrate and dissemble.
Feeling threatened and isolated, both countries continue to spend a disproportionate share of their modest resources on defence. Following military incursions by North Sudan, the UN Security Council, invoking Chapter 7, deployed an Ethiopian force of 4,200 in the disputed region of Abyei pending a negotiated settlement.
As prices of essential goods skyrocketed on both sides of the borders, many families are having trouble making ends meet. South Sudan, which is landlocked, is having difficulty exporting its products. Northern Sudanese businessmen with strong trading ties with the south are also left stranded.
Now both countries are looking for outside help instead of resolving their outstanding issues. South Sudan is seeking more active trade with Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, while the north is trying to stimulate Arab investment. But with continued hostilities in both countries, investors are unlikely to rush in.
The US and other major countries have been trying to get the northerners and the southerners to sit together. But months of negotiations in Addis Ababa have failed to produce agreement.
One can easily blame the politicians, but when it comes to matters of war and peace, matters are not always decided by the leaders. It is conceivable that the politicians would hammer out an agreement but that others would scuttle it. When tensions are high and nerves are raw, sectarian and ethnic rivalries can flare up at a moment's notice. Also, it is not uncommon for incapable leaders to trigger a foreign crisis to mask their own ineptitude.
Considerable concessions are needed and politicians on both sides must understand that military action is not the solution.
In both Darfur and the Blue Nile, the scale of the humanitarian crisis is such that international organisations may be forced to call for foreign intervention.
Can Sudan be divided yet again? Far from being the stuff of fantasy, unless a solution is found to the country's problems, another round of secession cannot be ruled out. Peace talks held in Doha have failed so far to produce tangible results.
Meanwhile, armed movements in the "new south" have not even been invited to negotiate. The north Sudanese government is trying to outflank the rebels through improved ties with Libya and Chad, but the rebels are showing no sign of weakness.
A few days ago, the Justice and Equality Movement promised to launch an assault on Khartoum, in the same way it attacked Omdurman in 2006. JEM officials claim that a government army brigade has joined their ranks. If true, the fighting may get worse.
All rebel movements in the newly formed Kauda Alliance have vowed to reject any partial solutions to the conflicts in their regions. Unless Al-Bashir's regime is ousted, they promised to fight on.
Dismissive as usual of his opponents, Al-Bashir said that the Arab spring has arrived in Sudan earlier than in other countries. Sudan has had its revolution back in 1989, he said.
In northern Sudan, security is tight and the media is on short leash, but protests have been staged in various parts of Khartoum to demand better living conditions and an end to corruption and nepotism.
The northerners have also been shocked by Al-Bashir's choice of ministers for his recent government. With so many of the old faces in place, the country seems to be heading not for change but for more of the same.
Meanwhile, Al-Bashir has an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) hanging over his head. Accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, his travelling days are over. A Kenyan court has also issued a warrant for arrest. And now Sudan and Kenya are involved in a diplomatic squabble. The Sudanese defence minister, Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein, is also wanted by the ICC.
In the south, things are not much better. The mood is less desperate, with the secession still seen as a national victory, but the prospects are quite grim. Many doubt the ability of the government to run the country in a transparent and efficient manner. The southerners are also faced with multiple rebellions, although their government has just managed to kill the leader of one of the militant groups, George Athor.
In December, South Sudan President Salva Kiir went to Israel in a move that raised brows in many Arab countries. No doubt, Kiir wanted the northerners to know that he has powerful friends elsewhere, but the move can only lead to more mistrust between north and south.
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