Sudan conflict drags on
Wednesday, 09 May 2012
Sudanís capable ambassador to South Africa, Ali Yousif Alsharif, chastised South African journalists last week for always peppering him with questions whenever his government was accused of misdeeds such as bombing civilians by air, but never calling him at all over the past month or so when South Sudan invaded the oil region of Heglig, internationally recognised as being part of Sudan.
Alsharif was right that South Sudanís reckless Heglig adventure did not excite as much outrage as many of the aggressions of Khartoum.
Perhaps this stemmed from a deeper sense - even acknowledged in the past by AU Sudan mediator, Thabo Mbeki - that the seemingly-perpetual conflicts in Sudan, of which the South Sudan one has now been externalised, ultimately originate from Sudanís own marginalisation of its minorities.
Yet there is no doubt that invading Heglig was immoral and stupid, costing Juba much of the moral high ground internationally.
Juba has tried to justify the manoeuvre as a response to constant military provocation from the north along the border but it is hard to avoid concluding that it was simply taking territory it had already claimed as its own.
Last week Nafie Ali Nafie, the vice-president of Sudanís ruling National Congress Party (NCP), said Jubaís main aim in taking Heglig was to try to precipitate a collapse of his government.
Nafie, who was visiting South Africa with an NCP delegation to sign an agreement with President Jacob Zuma to strengthen ties between the ANC and NCP, said that when South Sudan seceded last July, taking two-thirds of the countryís oil wealth with it, it had expected that the huge loss of oil revenue would bring down the NCP.
When this didnít happen, Juba had decided that the NCP government was surviving only because of the oil from Heglig, which now provides about half its total oil revenue.
So South Sudan decided to cut off that oil and revenue flow too.
That might sound like sheer paranoia. But recall that Khartoum also accuses Juba of supporting a broad front of its old rebel allies in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile trying to topple the NCP.
Juba strongly denies that, but even sympathetic Western governments have their suspicions.
Yet a more plausible interpretation of the motive for the attack on Heglig would be simply oil. Khartoum has been exacting ruinous tariffs for pumping the southís oil through its pipeline to Port Sudan for export.
This is Jubaís only way of getting its oil to market. Because of the disagreement over tariffs, South Sudan has not been pumping oil since January. And so Juba may well have taken Heglig to drastically reduce Khartoumís oil revenues and so put pressure on it to lower the tariff.
Last week, South Sudan Foreign Minister Nhial Deng Nhial told the BBC that his government was ready to pump no oil for two years, while it tried to negotiate a fair tariff with Khartoum to transport its oil.
In that time it could build an alternative pipeline to the coast through Kenya.
This is obsessive not rational thinking, recklessly neglecting the interests of the South Sudanese people who derive 98 percent of their total revenue from oil.
The UN Security Council stepped into this horrible mess last week by threatening sanctions on both sides - the first time it has so threatened South Sudan - if they did not restart negotiations and resolve the major issues within three months.
The lapsed AU negotiations chaired by Mbeki are evidently due to resume in Addis Ababa this week, but this time with more muscle from the UN and the international community to try to meet the tight deadline.
It is now sadly obvious that instead of ending the long civil war as hoped, the independence of South Sudan last July merely internationalised it.
Both sides are still obsessing about each other.
They need instead to start focusing on their own immense development challenges even as they continue to try to resolve their admittedly still very real differences.