Is War in Southern Sudan Inevitable?

Five months ago, Southern Sudan overwhelmingly voted to secede from Sudan. But will bloodshed cut short the July 9 Independence Day celebrations?

Getty Images/AFP
Getty Images/AFP

Reports from Southern Sudan’s capital, Juba, are that preparations are already well under way for festivities planned for July 9 to celebrate the independence of Africa’s newest nation. (Five months ago, the South overwhelmingly voted for a referendum to break away and form its own nation.) But those celebrations may be short-lived thanks to recent clashes between Sudanese government forces (the Sudanese Armed Forces, or SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the disputed region of Abyei.

Both sides have agreed to demilitarize the region, but satellite imagery shows heavily armed government forces, backed by tanks, massing along the still-undefined border between Sudan and Southern Sudan. There has been fighting in South Kordofan province and the Nuba Mountains — border regions sympathetic to the South — where tens of thousands have been displaced amid a government offensive.

As if that weren’t enough, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has threatened to block the pipeline that runs from oil fields in the South to storage facilities in the North. Southerners, Bashir said last week, “have one of three options: Either they share the oil, or they pay fees and taxes for every single barrel that passes through the North, or we shall shut down the pipeline.”

The saber rattling from Khartoum on the eve of independence for Southern Sudan is not surprising, according to Dr. Jim Sulton, a former president of the Sudan Studies Association. He told The Root that despite independence, the two nations will remain interdependent, and each side will try to maximize its leverage over the other.

“I never thought the North would let [Southern independence] come to pass, but Bashir decided to let that go,” Sulton said. “But [the Southern Sudanese government] are like the dog who caught the bus; they don’t know what to do with it. The issue is about the pipeline. The Southerners can catch the bus and have the oil, but they can’t pump it out. The North relented to international calls for independence for the South because they kept the oil. The Southerners didn’t nail down the revenue part.”

Does this mean that war between Khartoum and Juba is inevitable?