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

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

“There was never any question that there would be bloodshed,” Sulton said. “Until you win the war, you can’t control the revenue. Khartoum will always win the military part and the revenue. It’s up to Khartoum whether you will be on your own. I’m not cynical; I’m realistic.”

Five months before Sudan declared its independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt on Jan. 1, 1956, civil war began when members of the Sudan Defense Force Equatorial Corps mutinied in the Southern towns of Juba, Torit, Maridi and Yei. They rebelled when Northern politicians in the capital, Khartoum, reneged on an agreement to install a federal system in Sudan, with considerable autonomy for the new nation’s mostly non-Arab and non-Muslim South.

By the time Sudan’s first civil war ended in 1972, with the Addis Ababa Agreement that granted Southern autonomy — more than a half-million people had been killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

That agreement collapsed in 1983, when Southern troops mutinied after Khartoum abrogated the terms of the previous agreement. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2005, after 22 years of war in which an estimated 2 million people died and 4 million more were displaced. Besides a referendum, the pact provided a six-year window of cooperation, including a split of the oil revenues, but it did not resolve the question of borders.

“The CPA accomplished a great deal, but it didn’t solve everything,” Chester Crocker, a former assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Reagan administration, told The Root. “You can ask if it was a good idea for there to be a six-year transition. A lot of issues remain unresolved. The two sides agreed to kick the can down the road for six years.”

Crocker, who declined an offer from the George W. Bush administration to become a special envoy to Sudan, says the recent military skirmishes between the North and South are just another form of negotiation. “In the case of Sudan, the language of negotiation is political and military; it’s becoming a turf war,” he said. “This is becoming the positional bargaining of a very brutal kind — it’s not unusual. It’s hard to watch, and it may remind you of 14th-century Europe in its brutality.”

This week, President Obama urged both sides to adhere to the CPA, placing most of the onus on Khartoum.