This weekend South Sudanese President Salva Kiir met with his counterpart, President Omar al Bashir of Sudan, in Khartoum. Although the problems between the two Sudans are far from over, this visit hopefully marks a step toward a resolution of major issues. This resolution may be flawed, but hopefully it will be one that both sides can live with.
The two largest issues dividing the two sides are how to share revenues from oil and how to demarcate the border. The border issue is especially complex: a number of areas are disputed, most famously the territory of Abyei, whose referendum on whether to join the North or the South has been indefinitely postponed (currently it lies within the North). Although coming up with a formula for oil sharing and resolving Abyei’s status might be enough to conclude the major disputes between the two sides, the question of the border areas is also significant because of the violence going on in several northern states that lie on the new border. Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan States are home to thousands of people who fought for or sympathize with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the governing party in the South. Even though such areas are not part of the new South Sudan, South Sudanese leaders are keen to see violence end there. So long as it continues there will be serious tensions between South Sudan and Sudan.
Sudan Tribune provides details of the framework agreed upon in Khartoum:
Sudan and South Sudan have setup five task-forces to trash out issues of economy and border security among others…
The five committees include bilateral relations, economy, higher education, humanitarian affairs and border security.
Sudan’s minister of finance and national economy, Ali Mahmud, said that the two sides had agreed on five points in the fields of economic cooperation and banking exchange as well as on establishing a joint administration to manage oil facilities and promoting cross-border trade.
The next step will be a meeting in Juba on Oct. 18, which is quite soon.
There are reasons for pessimism – talks could fall through, issues could remain intractable, implementation could falter, and violence in the border regions could worsen, bringing tensions to new highs – but the personal involvement of Bashir and Kiir, combined with the genesis of this new framework, suggests that the two sides are serious about reaching a solution. As I said above, I do not think all the disputes will be ironed out, and some level of violence in the border areas may continue to keep relations problematic, but if resolution on revenues-sharing and Abyei comes, the two countries will be able to move forward.
Regarding Abyei, I think Sudan will likely hold onto it. Their de facto control of the area gives them a huge advantage, though they may have to give Juba some big concessions to keep it.