Sudan at the Crossroads

Any country, strategically positioned and with a long and cultured history, stretching as far back as Pharaonic Egypt, will always attract attention. Sudan is no exception. Since the discovery of oil in the region, this attention has become even more focused and intense. Of course, the reasons for the attention have changed significantly over time. Today the world has shrunk as a result of technology. To survive in this environment, the scramble for the limited energy resources has also intensified.

Speaking to many people in Khartoum and El Fashir, it was apparent that in the current political climate, unity and peace is the preferred option rather than another bloody civil war. The people I spoke to included young university students, waiters, taxi drivers, journalists, southerners working in the north (Khartoum), refugees as well as government officials.

The specific objective of The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005, was to establish peace in the region, once the people of the south were allowed to hold a transparent, free and fair referendum to decide their future. Then why the uncertainty about the future expectations of this country?

The future of the continent and Sudan in particular, must be seen in the context of the global village we live in. Sudan is a country with the largest land mass on the continent with nine African countries on its borders. The new rush for Africa and its “colonization” has already been planned and its implementation well underway, as a result of foreign military, security and policing initiatives. As a result of the doctrine of the “war on terror”, the Sahel region of Africa, which includes Sudan, has been designated as part of the “arc of instability” on the globe. Hence these initiatives. The United States and France have signed agreements to share military facilities in the region. This has paved the way for a more permanent US military presence in the form of the African Command. (Africom). Bases have been established in Senegal, Uganda and Djibouti. It is highly probable that a new breed of African “military leaders” will emerge from these security initiatives, similar to the “School of the Americas” founded during the post World War II years. This “school” produced despots like Hugo Banzer in Bolivia, Manuel Noriega in Panama and Leopoldo Galtieri in Argentina. All were responsible for the murders of thousands of civilians in their countries. The US will try to convince African leaders that Africom will bring peace and stability to Africa. It could well become the greatest threat to the sovereignty of many African states and the gatekeeper to Africa’s natural energy resources.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which includes the former major colonial powers and the United States, see Africa as being ready for penetration and domination. Africa has become a repository of energy resources for the West and hence their interest on the Continent. The West has been in exploitation mode and Africa has become their target.

On the question of the International Criminal Court and the warrant of arrest for President Umar el Bashir, it seems as if International Law is there to punish the weak and third world countries who do not kowtow to western hegemony. It seems to preserve the interests of big powers against the small and hapless nations. Sudan, it appears is not playing by the rules set by the big powers.

The conflict in Sudan is not based on ethnic, religious or tribal considerations. This was made abundantly clear during my discussions and discourse with people from various persuasions, Christians and Muslim alike. Incidentally, in the whole of Sudan, Muslims form 70%, Indigenous 25% and Christians 5% of the population. In Southern Sudan Christians make up 15% of the population, Muslims 30% and 55% indigenous groups. Despite these statistics, the Government in Khartoum has resigned itself to the fact that it is highly probable that the country will be dislocated. It will respect the results of the Referendum rather than risk another “Democratic Republic of the Congo” where the insatiable appetite of the West has not been satisfied.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on the other hand, is pushing hard for the separation, thereby playing directly into the hands of the super powers. This assessment is based on the following observations:

–¢ The huge international interest in the upcoming referendum can only be because of the energy resources. Southern Sudan has a huge development deficit and any country, United States included, will have to first of all, develop the country’s infrastructure, which is virtually non-existent. Besides a 36 kilometre stretch of tarred road and a decent landing strip at Juba Airport, there is very little else.
–¢ This development will come at an enormous cost to the new state. A large portion of the 50% of the oil revenue due to the south, will be used to pay for it. The people, who were being promised a better life, will see very little, if anything, of this wealth. Unfulfilled promises are a sure recipe for disaster especially in such a volatile environment. Any sign of civil disobedience will herald the intervention of Western nations on the pretext of maintaining law and order.
–¢ The illiteracy rate in the south is more than 90%. This will pose a massive headache for the new fledgling state.
–¢ The laying down of a new oil pipeline to the coast of Mombassa will cost billions of dollars.
–¢ The economy of Sudan relies heavily on oil revenue. If this income is reduced it will have serious economic consequences for a country already reeling from an enormous development deficit.

Possible solution to this interminable conflict could include:

–¢ It must provide for the national expression of all the peoples of Southern Sudan, not merely a democratic formula based on one-man-one- vote.
–¢ It must provide economic viability for all its people.
–¢ The solution must be based on International Law and human rights.
–¢ The peace must be regional in its nature and must not be confined to the South or the North.
–¢ A just peace must address the security concerns of all parties and countries in the region.

Is there hope for the people of Sudan? The answer is "Yes". Let us look at what mitigates against hope.

–¢ Attempts to impose a system of economic dependence on the west as a result of the development deficit.

–¢ Enrichment of a segment of the population of Southern Sudan while impoverishing others.

–¢ Destroying any potential for independent economic development.
–¢ Undermining peoples sense of fairness by employing paid collaborators.

Hope lies in the young children eagerly going to school.
Hope lies in the development of young students at unversities.
Hope lies in prayers in the mosques and churches.
Hope lies in the elderly who silently and gently encourage the youth.
Hope lies in the street vendors who deligently and honestly search for their livelihood.
Hope lies in a normal life where we are neither heroes nor victims.