Sudan: the Year of Peace or Renewed Civil War?

By Ba Karang


"Beat for Peace" protestors took to the streets in 14 countries the weekend of 9-10 January to call for greater Western pressure to ensure that the peace agreement in Sudan stays on course. Elections are scheduled in Sudan for April 2004 with a referendum in the south on secession set for January 2011.

12 January 2010 - Armed conflict between the main liberation movement, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), in southern Sudan and the Khartoum government officially ended in 2005. According to Global Witness, an estimated 1.5 million people were killed in the more than two decades of armed conflict. According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed on 9th of January 2005, a referendum will be held in 2011 in which Southern Sudan will determine if it still wants a unity government or an Independent State..

What is most likely to happen is that Southern Sudan will vote for an independent state. There are many reasons for this, but the simple fact is that the trust between the two peoples seems to be at its lowest level. The racism of the Arab North is not a minor factor. It's wish to hold on to the South, as it is doing in Darfur, is a nationalist demand that is very important to maintain its power position as far as Arab–African relations are concerned. A great part of Sudan is being transformed to meet the increasing food demands of the Arab world while millions are starving in both Darfur and Southern Sudan. It is no longer only the Chinese and the Japanese who are benefiting from the crisis in Sudan but also the Arab world, which has shown an unwavering support to Omar Bashier during his conflict with the International Criminal Court and the near arm-twisting of certain corrupt African leaders by oil-rich Arab nations to support the war criminal.

The Oil Factor

If Southern Sudan decides to go Independent, it will become a land locked country, thus depending on the cooperation of the North for exporting its only resources. Almost 98% of the income of the Southern Sudan government comes from oil revenue. According to the latest report of Global Witness on the issue, unless much is done to redress the situation, the lack of transparency in the wealth-sharing deal between the South and the North is itself a source of major conflict. In its finding, Global Witness was able to document that Khartoum is under-reporting income generated from the oil industry from the South; a view, the report found out, shared by many in Southern Sudan. According to the Wealth Sharing Agreement signed on 7th January 2004 in Kenya, between the Northern government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a fair distribution of the oil wealth will be a cornerstone of the peace process. In its September 2009 report, Global Witness found out rampant irregularities in the reporting system. For example, in 2007, the volume of oil produced as reported by the Khartoum government was 9 % less than what the Chinese Petroleum Company operating in the fields stated in their annual report for blocks 1, 2, and 4, all located in Southern Sudan and it was 14% less for block 3 and 7, also located in Southern Sudan. This means that the revenue due to Southern Sudan was far below the actual amount reported by the Khartoum government. Despite all these, according to Global Witness, as of March 2009, arrears due to the Southern Sudan government by the North was $180 million excluding those due in other oil mining fields (Abyei ).

The Final Act

It is no longer a hidden fact that Southern Sudan is using much of its revenue to arm itself, something that the Khartoum government has never paused from doing, with modern military equipment from China among other countries. So perhaps a much more bloody war is unfortunately in making. We have said that although the US has been paying lip service regarding concern over the brutalities of the Khartoum government; it was not and is still not interested in hurting the economic interest of China in Sudan, as well as American industrial interest.

The US did react to the atrocities in Darfur for local political consumption and Western Europe spoke out in chorus with America. Even Norway, which has held a principled stand, in supporting the liberation struggle of the South, seems to be hanging behind. with a budget of about $3.6 million dollars, to support the oil industry in the country as part of the Oil for Development Programmed launched in 2007 by the Norwegian government. According to Global Witness, the aim of such a development program was claimed by the Norwegian government to be for the development of good governance, peace, human rights and transparency, but that it seems this does not apply for Sudan.

What we know as of today is that the peace process is not bringing any peace to the people of Southern Sudan, or ending hunger and starvation. Southern Sudan still ranges among the poorest with untold suffering, as is well documented by both the UN and other non-government organizations. It is hard to believe that the people of Southern Sudan under such circumstances will not be willing to defend their right of national self determinations when the time comes and demand it. The people are well aware that they have nothing to lose but the chains of oppression.


From Richard Abernethy

Ba Karang's article raises a number of important issues.

Today, many movements for national self-determination, including Southern Sudan and Darfur, are seeking independence from states which themselves were once colonies or semi-colonies and went through national liberation struggles.

States like Sudan, which maintain a repressive rule over populations with claims to self-determination, can be classified as "quasi-imperial states" (a term invented by Martin Shaw, which I find a useful and apposite category).

The extension of China's investment and influence in Africa is an important and widely noted development. As well as economic interests, there is a certain political affinity between the rulers in Beijing and Khartoum, sharing as they do a determination to keep the state power intact by opposing the breakaway of any part of their territory, or indeed democratisation of the whole.

The involvement of Arab states in sub-Saharan Africa is apparently newer and less well known, but also an important development. How all the different interests, Western, Chinese and Arabian will interact in Africa is unpredictable.

Self-determination is a good principle in general, but most of all where people are seeking to remove themselves from the power of a state that has committed systematic atrocities against them. We should certainly support the right of self-determination for Darfur and Southern Sudan. However, we should be aware that when national liberation movements come power, there is a strong tendency for the leadership to consolidate its own power and interests and reap the rewards of independence, leaving the masses little better off. This is so whether the leadership aligns itself with the West and embraces the global market or seeks to build a more autarchic form of state-capitalism; there remains the same basic class division of rulers and ruled. Eritrea has jailed union activists.

This is not necessarily driven by corruption and selfishness on the part of the leadership (although this is often important). More fundamental is the attitude that perceives the masses as too backward to be entrusted with power. Sadly, history has shown that even leaders who use the language of liberation and humanism can act repressively when facing the practicalities of governing a country, and especially when seeking a fast track to development. How far this tendency towards counter-revolution within the revolution can be resisted depends on many factors, internal and external, objective and subjective. Having democratic mass organisations that can challenge the actions of the government certainly helps, as does a high level of political consciousness. For freedom movements to be truly successful, there needs to be a philosophy of liberation, not just as the discourse of groups of intellectuals, but in mass consciousness and praxis.

Richard Abernethy