29 May 2011

Is Sudan heading back to war?

I'm still optimistic and think probably not, mainly due to the assumption that the SPLA could halt oil production or transportation altogether if they had to.

Jacob Akol, Chief Editor of the Gurtong media project worries about the possibility of Khartoum attempting to Annex the Southern Oil fields.

His next step is to invade the South and follow a line along the north bank of River Kiir (just below Abyei town) up to where it joins River Bahr al Gazal, continue along the north bank of that river all the way to its junction with the White Nile, and annexing Malakal northward, continue all the way to the border of Southern Blue Nile State with the South and Ethiopia. Such a border, which has been floated before, will include practically all the current functioning oil fields in South Sudan’s territory.

No doubt, President Bashir, armed to the teeth with latest weapons from China and Iran, must believe that his armed forces, alongside South Sudanese militiamen it has armed and continue arming to destabilise the South, will defend such a long border and continue to exploit the oil. If it were anyone else, not Omar Bashir, such a plan could never have been contemplated, leave alone executed; but it is Bashir, who by now must have come to believe that his long reign in power is blessed by Allah and will never end.

John Ashworth rules out oil in Abyei as an explanation for the recent Khartoum offensive, but offers a number of potential explanations;

Khartoum's motives for seizing Abyei, in direct contravention of the CPA, remain unclear. Perhaps it is simply that some elements within NCP feel that southern independence is as far as they can go and allowing Abyei to rejoin the South is a step too far (despite the fact that they have already agreed to it in principle in the CPA - "too many agreements dishonoured"). Perhaps it's a signal to the people of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile how far this regime is prepared to go to crush dissent. Perhaps it's a reward to the elements within the Missiriya who have supported the NCP agenda (but who clearly do not represent all Missiriya opinion). Perhaps it's just to sow confusion and delay, an old and well-tried tactic of NCP which is usually to their benefit. Perhaps it's part of a negotiating strategy; that NCP will eventually make a "generous" concession and withdraw from Abyei (despite President Omar Hassan al Bashir's rhetoric in article 1 below), and demand in a return a huge concession from the South and/or the international community. As some media reports have noted, oil may not be the key factor, as the oil fields around Abyei have now been exploited for many years and may be becoming depleted, but also
because the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling has already redefined the boundaries of Abyei in such a way that most of the oil fields remain in the North even if Abyei rejoins the South. What one can say with some certainty is that it has little to do with an attack on SAF forces a few days ago. The troop build-up has been going on for months, and sporadic fighting for years, leading up to this convenient excuse for breaching the CPA yet again.

Finally, Ken Opalo considers Bashir’s domestic political audience.

A part of me still thinks that Bashir’s sabre-rattling is designed for the northern public. After all he will go down in history as the president who lost the south. In order to avoid immediate ouster he must, at least, pretend to put up a fight. My other side, however, thinks that Bashir (and his generals) might actually want war. Oil and water are on the line.

Time will tell.


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