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Commentary

Peace in the Sudans: The U.S. Needs it as Much as the Sudanese

Peace in the Sudans: The U.S. Needs it as Much as the Sudanese

Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers in South Sudan. Hannah McNeish/IRIN

In Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir has ruled for 24 years with an oppressive fist. He has acted on and furthered serious religious, ethnic, and racial tension by attempting to clear out the regions of South Sudan and Darfur. Although he has been indicted by the International Criminals Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes, he continues to rule by killing, starving, and ethnically cleansing people that he does not see as his equals. There are stories of people who hide in the mountainous border regions of Sudan and South Sudan as drones fly above, starving and living in constant fear of President al-Bashir’s government.

Their fate is tied to the decisions of the Sudanese government, and unexpectedly this has a direct impact on the everyday lives of Americans. Even if Americans don’t constantly live in fear of their government, or even need to take the time to consider the benefits of lasting peace between the Sudans, they must consider a change in U.S. policy for the region in terms of their own benefit.

The connection of the lives of the destitute Sudanese to that of the average American is one indispensible natural resource: oil. With the recent secession of South Sudan, the region’s supply of oil is in the south, while the infrastructure necessary to export the oil is in the north. There is also continued conflict over contested regions near the borders, particularly in the Nuba Mountains, which are said to be rich with oil deposits. Omar al-Bashir continues to justify racial hatred by terrorizing the people of the Nuba Mountains with air strikes, bombs, and other attacks. These actions only further complicate and volatilize an already unstable situation, worsening conditions for citizens by misallocating precious resources.

Sudanese oil is a vital interest to the United States. As domestic conflicts are creating serious holds on oil, the overall market supply is decreasing while the price increases around the world. Peace in the Sudans and an end to the domestic turmoil will allow for conditions to free up oil reserves and lower prices worldwide; this should sound appealing to Americans who already see painfully high prices at the pump, especially if South Sudan becomes a U.S.-friendly state willing to set up trade.

In the larger sense, the US could benefit from an expansion of democratic countries in Africa. It is possible that a democratic and U.S.-friendly South Sudan could advance the spread of democratization throughout Africa.

The two Sudans are geographically significant as they play into the northern African and sub-Saharan African spheres, and by their strategic position, they play an important stake in whether peace or escalation in violence will spread throughout Africa. Escalation would allow for the growth of safe havens for violent and extremist groups that threaten U.S. security interests. Peaceful transition and democratization in the Sudans would create a ripple effect much like that of the Arab Spring. A peaceful Sudanese region would result in a more peaceful African region, which would insure greater national security.

Therefore, it is necessary for the United States to take more assertive action in the Sudans. Experts across the board are calling for pressure on Sudan for more peaceful solutions and adherence to promises, but this has proven difficult from a U.S. perspective.

“I don’t think the North [Sudanese] will ever listen to the U.S.; they thumb their noses at us,” says Dr. Wanis-St. John, a professor at American University and expert on peace and conflict negotiations. “What we can do is support the South more, so that they can handle their own issues with the North. And that might change perceptions in the North too, and they might see the South as not just an isolated group of black Africans that they can oppress, but that they’re backed up by everybody.” This change of mindset will only come with pressure from the outside, and this is where the U.S. can truly help.

The United States can use its influence to work with partners in the region, such as Ethiopia and Turkey, as well as highly influential players like China. These countries have a shared interest in oil, and resolving such an intense and longstanding conflict would raise their international status. Dr. Boaz Atzili of American University, an expert on border conflict and resolution agrees, stating, “This type of conduct gives them the status that says ‘we are no longer just an influential power in our own backyard, we can now play with the big boys, and we can now insure that we are responsible actors and have solved international conflicts away from our shores; we can cooperate.’” It is clear that all of these regional players, including the United States, have everything to gain by working to foster peace in the Sudanese region.

Together, outside influences can put pressure on al-Bashir and the government in Khartoum to stop oppressing their people and to resolve their continued conflict with the new South Sudanese government, and can work together to form a viable solution for al-Bashir that allows him to back down with pride intact. According to Dr. Wanis-St. John, this is essential for any sort of progress to happen. “They have to want [peace] at the top levels. So there has to be a change of mind and perception in the leadership…part of it is seeing that they can’t get any further with escalating the conflict, and second is seeing that there is now something they can do to deescalate. People get locked into their fight so they tend not to stop fighting, but they change their mind when they see a way forward and invest in something other than the conflict.” With the help and pressure of the U.S. and others, it is possible for a transformation to take place.

Without pressure on Sudan, al-Bashir will continue his brutal and oppressive ways. This translates into continued losses in oil revenue, as well as further conflict and instability in this geographically vital African region. With a new presidential term and a new Secretary of State, now is the time for policy change. U.S. citizens must let their officials know that they demand pressure and change in Sudan and the al-Bashir regime. The consideration for a change in foreign policy in the Sudans shouldn’t be just for the displaced people hiding in the Nuba Mountains. It should be because the interests of the United States depend on it.

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