Sudan, after the breakup: Can violence be prevented?
The Jan. 9 referendum vote in Sudan is expected to result in the South seceding from the North. This may alleviate conflict in the region but also renew violence, threatening regional and global security. Egypt and the US must support economic growth and compromise to prevent escalation.
The referendum on Southern Sudan, taking place on Jan. 9, will almost certainly result in secession from the North. While an independent South Sudan might be the prudent long-term solution for a country long ravaged by conflict and sectarian violence, the referendum threatens to escalate war and bloodshed in a region already deeply destabilized by drought, poverty, terrorism, and ethnic and religious violence. Renewed violence would not only damage the future welfare of North and South Sudan, but present alarming implications to regional and international actors as well.Skip to next paragraph
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However, these same leaders and international actors can also skillfully prevent conflict escalation. They must provide both North and South Sudan with a supportive climate that encourages development and addresses the issues at the heart of conflict. The referendum may then be seen as a turning point in Sudan’s (and the region’s) future.
Conflict over oil-rich border city
Though a creation of an independent South Sudan may solve one source of the conflict, renewed violence is still a possibility since the referendum does not address many of the root causes of this conflict. Most important, the referendum fails to address the issue in the oil rich border city of Abyei, whose inhabitants face the choice of staying with the North or joining the South.
The city was excluded from the referendum due to the strong disagreements between the conflicting parties. The Southern-oriented Ngok Dinka argue that the inhabitants alone have the right to vote on their future. The Misseriya Arabs of the North believe the land belongs to them and insist that they should be part of any future political settlement. By itself, the explosive issue of Abyei has the potential to destabilize the entire post-referendum environment in Sudan.
We can look at the history of a nearby conflict to understand the importance of Abyei. The city’s situation is reminiscent of that of Bademe, a city that borders Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both countries went to war twice after Eritrea gained independence in 1991, but the future of the city still remains in question today.
Coupled with the rich oil resources in Abyei, the dispute over the voter registration criteria has come to shape the parties’ positions. Both the Dinka and the Misseriya have dug in their heels and refused to compromise. Given that the South controls over 80 percent of the oil resources in current Sudan, the future of Abyei becomes especially important for the North. Should the separation take place as expected, the North faces a drop in its oil exports from 450,000 barrels a day to zero.