The new nation of South Sudan takes bold steps against its tormentors -- but can it work?
While oil-producing Arab countries have used the oil weapon to threaten and impose their will on other states, such as the West during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Arab Sudan is discovering what it is like to be on the other end of the gun.
A dramatic drop in revenues caused by an oil embargo placed by South Sudan against its northern neighbor has resulted in demonstrators taking to the streets the past two weeks in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, to protest the skyrocketing rise in living costs. Due to substantial revenue loss, the Khartoum government was forced to cut subsidies for basic commodities like fuel and sugar to save “the country’s ailing economy from collapse due to a budget deficit of $2.4 billion US dollars.”
And while hundreds of protesters have been arrested in Khartoum, the demonstrations are reported to be spreading to regional centers. The latest wave of anti-regime protests occurred last Friday after prayer at the mosques. The police used “tear gas, batons and rubber bullets” to brutally break up the demonstrators, some of whom were arrested. One activist group claims nearly 1,000 Sudanese have been detained by the security forces following the street unrest that began June 16 and show no signs of abating.
“The heavy-handed approach adopted by Sudanese security forces is disproportionate and deeply concerning,” commented State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in a June 26 statement, and calls for “the immediate release of those detained for peaceful protest.”
The wave of demonstrations and economic problems facing the government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur, are largely of its own making. South Sudan, the country responsible for the damaging embargo, was carved out of Sudan a year ago, becoming the world’s newest nation, after decades of devastating civil war with Khartoum. Sudan is mostly Arab and Islamic. It tried to Arabize and Islamicize by force the largely animist and Christian black African south and even declared jihad against its fellow southern citizens in 1989 to accomplish this unwanted goal.
About two million people died in the ensuing, horrific conflict, mostly in the south, while millions of black African southerners became refugees. Besides religious hatred, the African southern Sudanese were also victims of northern Arab racism that saw tens of thousands of their number “legally” enslaved.Sudan, along with Pakistan and Iran, are Islamic states and slavery is legal under the sharia law code that rules their societies. One former black southern Sudanese slave, Francis Bok, a Dinka who was captured at age seven in an Arab slave raid and served a brutal Sudanese Arab master for ten years as an animal herder, told his story here in FrontPage Magazine of his years of slavery and escape to freedom to the United States.
The conflict between north and south actually began almost immediately after Sudan became independent in 1956. The first phase of the war lasted until 1972 when a truce was declared. War started up again in 1982 and continued until 2005 when the George Bush-sponsored Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended hostilities and led to the creation of South Sudan. But the CPA did not see the end of conflict in Sudan as Khartoum also had begun a brutal war in Darfur. Sudan is still waging war against its other black African citizens in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, conflicts that have caused further tens of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees and earned it the nickname “the warfare state.”
However, when South Sudan became independent in a blaze of colorful celebration in 2011, it took 75 percent of the country’s oil with it. But the landlocked nation had no choice but to continue to ship its oil through its former tormenter’s territory to Sudan’s port on the Red Sea for sale to customers abroad. What caused South Sudan’s new president, Salva Kiir, to cut off the oil, however, is that his government believed Sudan’s transit fee was, at $36 per barrel, ridiculously high.
“Khartoum was asking $36 per drum, which is very unusual and not practicable,” said Anne Itto, Deputy Secretary of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party (SPLM). “If South Sudan ever accepts to pay such rent, it is like giving our oil away, as well.”
Another factor that contributed to South Sudan’s decision to embargo the north was that the Kiir government, based in its new capital of Juba, believed Khartoum was stealing oil from the pipeline for its own use. Khartoum’s economic war against the new state also involved reneging on a currency agreement when the two countries split. Sudan was supposed to wait six months to introduce a new currency but did so within a month, which left South Sudan with $700 million of the old currency, the Sudanese pound, which it could not convert.
Juba’s oil embargo on Sudan has also hit its own economy hard, depriving it of 98 percent of its income. But it is determined to stick to its guns and not be subjected to any more of Khartoum’s shoddy treatment. It appears South Sudan is planning to build its own oil pipeline to the Kenyan port of Lamu, avoiding the northern route altogether. Lamu is undergoing reconstruction for this purpose. The Japanese corporation Toyota has said it has developed a plan for the Kenyan pipeline, and a Japanese army engineering unit has arrived in South Sudan to build roads and for other humanitarian projects.
Since independence, South Sudan has built strong relationships with its black African neighbors Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. And it should continue to do so, since a speech ICC-wanted war criminal Omar al-Bashir made last April at a rally indicates he has learned nothing after losing half of his country and remains unrelenting in his hostility towards South Sudan. Bashir virtually declared war on South Sudan when he said: “Either we end up in Juba and take everything or you end up in Khartoum and take everything.”
Sudan also recently would not accept the African Union roadmap for peace with South Sudan at ongoing negotiations in Ethiopia. No major issues, such as border security, could be agreed upon. The border between the two countries continues to be a war zone where conflict could break out at any time. Sudan has also continued its bombing raids on South Sudan and has ethnically cleansed the Abyei border region of about 100,000 Dinka tribesmen who have only now cautiously begun to return home.
In the face of such statements, hostility and military aggression, it appears that, like with the Palestinians, one can “peace process” with the Sudanese all one wants, but peace will never arrive, since they don’t want it. So in the end, if the demonstrations in Sudan grow and spread, South Sudan should not end its embargo, even if an agreement can be reached, since its oil weapon could be the deciding factor in making Bashir vulnerable to a regime change, which would only benefit everyone in the region.
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