Tuesday, December 21, 2010

U.S. Seeks to Infuence the Sudan Referendum on the Future of the South

U.S. Seeks to Influence the Sudan Referendum on the Future of the South

Oil, foreign relations are major factors in the political campaign

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

A referendum on the future of southern Sudan is scheduled for January 11. This referendum is a key component of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 where the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement of the South ended hostilities after 20 years of civil war.

A former British colony, Sudan was divided during the period of imperialist rule when London established provinces that effectively isolated the northern regions from the South.

Since independence in 1956, the country has undergone two civil wars and an armed conflict in the western Darfur region which began in earnest after the winning of peace between the SPLM and the NCP. Various people both inside and outside of Sudan are anticipating the outcome of the referendum which could result in a declaration of separation by the southern regions from the central government in Khartoum.

Within the U.S. administration, it appears that the general thrust of Washington’s policy is in favor of secession in the South, further destabilization in Darfur and the removal of the National Congress Party from power along with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. For the last two decades successive U.S. administrations have taken a hostile position toward Sudan.

History of Strained Relations With the U.S.

During the military build-up to the Gulf War of 1990-91, with the implementation of sanctions and the Pentagon’s occupation of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, Sudan would not go along with the commencement of a war against Iraq which would continue through sanctions, no-fly zones and air strikes until the toppling of the government in Baghdad. Just five years prior to the Gulf War, the Sudanese people had revolted an overthrown a U.S.-backed regime headed by the former military leader Jafar al-Numeri.

Even in the current period the present U.S. administration is exercising unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of this African state and the region as a whole.

On December 19, the leaders of Egypt and Libya visited Sudan to hold talks with President Al- Bashir on the impact of the referendum in regard to the future of relations between their respective countries. The visit was also in response to a letter sent by U.S. President Barack Obama outlining Washington’s priorities in the region and its focus on the southern referendum and the military situation in Darfur.

Mike Hammer, the White House National Security Council spokesman said the letter sent by Obama expressed that “Sudan is one of the administration’s top priorities.” The U.S. official also said that the letters were a part of “an ongoing diplomatic push to emphasize the importance that Washington places on a peaceful Sudan.” (Sudan Tribune, Dec. 19)

The U.S. under Obama is applying both a strategy of regime change as well as diplomacy since it appointed a special envoy Scott Gration to continue dialogue with Khartoum. When Gration commented recently that the security situation in Darfur had improved 90 percent, the more openly hawkish elements accused the Obama administration of being soft on Al-Bashir.

One author Eric Reeves, who has written a book accusing the Sudan government of genocide in Darfur, a claim disputed by Khartoum, said of Gration that “Must more concessions be offered by other parties to the negotiations? Will the U.S. be asked to concede more to Khartoum than it already has?” (Sudan Tribune, Dec. 9)

Reeves also attacks the African Union designated mediator for the implementation of the CPA and the referendum, former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Reeves criticized U.S. policy for even allowing Mbeki to have a prominent role in the mediation process.

According to Reeves, “The African Union has now superseded the U.S., as well as the East African nations of IGAD, and other key partners in the negotiation of the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)—Norway and the U.K. The primary mediator is now Thabo Mbeki, chair of the African Union High-Level ‘Implementation Panel’, which originally was to have focused on Darfur, where meaningful peace talks have collapsed entirely.” (Sudan Tribune, Dec. 9)

Reeves claimed that “U.S. failure has left the door open for the ambitious Mbeki, even as the U.S. is still expected by Khartoum to provide the biggest carrots.” These views, in all likelihood, reflect the internal debate within the administration and U.S. ruling circles which want to seize the oil fields in Sudan that are already producing over 500, 000 barrels per day.

Most of the oil concessions, 80 percent, are established in partnership with the People’s Republic of China, a close ally of the Sudanese government. China has blocked attempts by the U.S.-dominated United Nations Security Council to impose further sanctions on Sudan.

Unity and Stability Key to Sudan, Africa’s Future

The division of Sudan into three separate states, which U.S. foreign policy is pursuing, would pose grave dangers for the people of North, Central and East Africa. If disagreements related to oil and other mineral resources, border demarcations, defense and economic policy are not mutually resolved, the resumption of civil war in Sudan could take place. Such a situation would provide the rationale for even greater, and perhaps direct, U.S., UK and EU intervention in Sudan and neighboring states.

In efforts to ease apprehension and tensions, Sudan Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha has reiterated that the central government is committed to holding the referendum on January 11. At the same time the Minister of Internal Cooperation, Dr. Gala Al-Degair, said that “Taha (VP) has affirmed the government commitment to protect the Sudanese citizens regardless of the outcome of the referendum as well as guaranteeing their rights of freedom of movement, work, stay and ownership.” (Sudanese Media Center, Nov. 11)

Although there are significant oil resources that exist in the south of the country, where under the previous regime of Jafar al-Numeri, Chevron had been involved in exploration and extraction, President Al-Bashir “has downplayed the consequences of oil on the North in case South Sudan opted for secession through the upcoming referendum, announcing that oil reserves in the north of Sudan far exceeded those in the south.” (Sudanese Media Center, Dec. 20)

At a recent conference in Khartoum, thousands of children signed a map of the country in support of unity and peace and not for separation. The children reportedly chanted “Yes for unity, No for separation,” “Our strength rests on our unity, our dignity is in our unity” and “No North without South and No South Without North.” (Sudan News Agency, Dec. 16)

The conference was organized by the Al-Ghad Foundation and was held at the National Museum of Sudan under the theme “We want to inherit one united Sudan.” The final communique from the children’s conference said that “We want to guarantee shelter, food and drinkable water to our brothers in south Sudan and we want them to study and play in schools.” (Sudan News Agency, Dec. 16)

Nonetheless, there are other outstanding issues that must be resolved during the post-referendum period. The status of the border areas such as Abyei and whether the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile will ultimately join an independent South or remain linked to the North of the country.

Sudan is the largest geographic nation-state on the African continent. The country has vast oil reserves and tremendous hydro-electric power resources. The division of Sudan and the intensification of military conflict can only enhance the capacity of the imperialist states to set the terms for the future of the region.

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