Sunday, May 22, 2011

Khartoum and South Sudan - War?

I have to admit I was surprised by the relative peaceful separation between North and South Sudan.  South Sudan officially begins its history as a new country in July and my earlier fears that this would be the “surprise war” of the year seemed unjustified (I am happy to say).  That may be changing.

The BBC reported yesterday that the Northern Sudanese army had seized the valuable Abyei region claimed by South Sudan, allegedly in response to an attack.  Let’s be clear what this is about. Oil.  The Abyei area is where the oil is located for what was once Sudan.  Taking the disputed territory prior to the official date of independence is an attempt to impose a fait accomplis.  The river forming the southern border of Abyei is the northern demarcation line – but Khartoum is likely looking for an excuse to cross over and take the entire oil producing region.  The conflict could escalate rapidly, particularly if the South Kordofan state decides it has had enough of Sharia law and the imposition of Arab culture on what is an African area. 
And this is the crux of the matter next to the oil.  The war between the south and the north has been going on since the late 1970s or earlier.  It is one of an Arab, Islamic system trying to destroy the African culture.  In the south they are black, in the north they are not.  This is an ancient clash beginning with the Muslim conquests of North Africa in the 8th century and although its manifestations have modulated historically, that too may change as the 10,000 or so troops making up part of the South Sudan army come from South Kordofan.  President Bashir needs to moderate his views. 
The only real solution – at least with the current attitudes and government resident in Khartoum – is another split.  Otherwise, the cost in blood in Darfur will look like a minor disturbance compared to what is to come.  The West is clearly involved in both Sudan and South Sudan as is China, whose involvement in the oil regions is their primary concern. President Bashir has been indicted by the ICC and an arrest warrant remains outstanding.  Like Gadhafi, if he sees his grip on another region of Sudan loosen, his reaction and actions will be very unpleasant. 
A remote possibility exists that the Arab population in Sudan will have had enough of Bashir – but unlike the Egyptian army, any “Arab Spring” in Khartoum will be bloody.  And despite the handwringing sure to follow, removal of the current regime and its system of law may be the necessary future of Sudan.

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