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Sudan-South Sudan Relations

Tag Archives | Sudan-South Sudan Relations

China Sending Troops to South Sudan

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Alberto Gonzalez Farran/UN Photo

Al Jazeera asked me on 21 June 2014 to comment on the decision by China to send an infantry battalion of 850 troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. I explained that these additional troops would join some 350 non-combat Chinese troops who have been part of the UN peacekeeping operation for the past several years. The Chinese contingent is part of an authorized UN force of 12,500 troops from many other nations.

This decision by China underscores that it is taking an increasingly robust role in protecting its security interests in Africa. The China National Petroleum Corporation controls 40 percent of the oil production in Sudan and South Sudan and Chinese companies built most of the oil infrastructure. Several hundred Chinese nationals work in South Sudan; some 300 have already been evacuated. When the oil fields in both Sudan and South Sudan are operating at full capacity, they provide about 5 percent of China’s imported oil.

Sudan Poses a Solution to South Sudan’s Instability

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Reuters
Reuters

Reuters

In spite of the recent peace deal, the conflict in South Sudan seems to be far from over. Almost all the regional and international players that are involved in the peace process have their own agendas, and this has left the South Sudanese people highly vulnerable. Amidst all this conflict, Sudan has managed to keep quiet. However, time has come for Sudan to be pro-active and play a larger role in the current conflict in South Sudan. In all likelihood, only Sudan can pave the path towards sustainable peace in South Sudan.

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South Sudan’s fragile Existence

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NonviolentPeaceforce.org/Flickr

Earlier in May, the South Sudanese government resumed its negotiations with the rebels.

NonviolentPeaceforce.org/Flickr

NonviolentPeaceforce.org/Flickr

That very week, The Sudan Tribune reported that numerous civilians, who had sought shelter at a United Nations base in Bor, were killed by an unknown mob. Also, trainee soldiers were shot in Mapel, and several other civilians were killed in Bentiu, allegedly by the rebels. The international media, on the other hand, either refused to cover the crisis in South Sudan, or simply chose to highlight the fact that both sides are now negotiating with each other. Sadly, the negotiations seem to be headed nowhere, and chances of peace in South Sudan do not look good.

The ongoing violence is ripping apart South Sudan’s cohesive nationhood. Human rights violations, especially against civilians, have become the norm. Take the case of Bor and Bentiu: non-combatants were actively targeted, based on ethnic lines. Of course, the commanders of both the army and the rebels insist that their troops acted only in self-defence, but the truth is evident. As such, collateral damage keeps piling up. ReliefWeb International counts over a million people as internally displaced refugees, whereas Oxfam has noted acute food shortage for almost 70% of the South Sudanese populace.

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U.S. Policy toward Sudan and South Sudan

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South Sudan

The House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations held a hearing on 26 February 2014 titled “U.S. Policy toward Sudan and South Sudan.” The hearing, chaired by Chairman Smith, examined the need for a more unified, wider- ranging and proactive policy that can advance long-term U.S. goals in Sudan and South Sudan.

The full text of the opening statements of each witness is available by clicking the name of the witness. The witnesses included Donald Booth, special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, U.S. Department of State; John Prendergast, co-founder, Enough Project; Walid Phares, co-secretary general, Transatlantic Group on Counter Terrorism; and Adotei Akwei, managing director for government relations, Amnesty International US.

South Sudan is “New Chapter” in Chinese Conflict Resoution Policy

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South Sudan's President Salva Kiir

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir

Reuters interviewed Zhong Jianhua, China’s special representative for African Affairs, in Beijing on 10 February 2014. Michael Martina then wrote an intriguing article titled “South Sudan Marks New Foreign Policy Chapter for China: Official” the following day. The article suggests that China may be changing its policy on conflicts in Africa.

Zhong told Reuters that “China should be engaging more in peace and security solutions for any conflict” in South Sudan. He added that this “is a challenge for China. This is something new for us…It is a new chapter for Chinese foreign affairs.” The article suggested there are signs that China is ready to put more pressure on Juba to avoid a return to fighting if a deal is reached among conflicting parties. Zhong said China would proceed cautiously and offered few details how China would expand its role. He emphasized that the situation calls for an African solution by African parties. He also refused to take a position on the involvement of Ugandan forces in South Sudan.

It is too early to tell whether Ambassador Zhong’s comments foretell a real change in China’s policy on efforts to resolve conflict in African countries where China has significant interests at stake. At a minimum, however, China’s actions in South Sudan merit close attention as they may signal a break with the past.

The Risks for the Region of a South Sudan Civil War

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Civilians seeking refuge at a UN compound in Bor, South Sudan. Hailemichael Gebrekrstos/UN

The turmoil that erupted in Juba last month threatens to ignite a full scale ethnic civil war.

Civilians seeking refuge at a UN compound in Bor, South Sudan. Hailemichael Gebrekrstos/UN

If peace talks fail, a potential genocide may even result. Certainly, political risks for foreign investors and neighboring governments would increase under such circumstances. Given South Sudan’s position as a regional oil producing country, a civil war would also close transnational energy corridors throughout Central/East Africa and fuel regional instability.

South Sudan’s economy is the world’s most oil-dependent, with Juba’s oil exports accounting for 98 percent of the country’s revenue (as of January 2012) and approximately 80 percent of its gross domestic product. South Sudan’s GDP per capita of just $1,100 ranks low even by African standards, so control over oil production is naturally a contentious issue. When rebels seized control over the strategic town of Bentiu (the capital of the oil-rich Unity Province) last month, fears that a full scale war would erupt were a source of great concern. As is the case in Libya, South Sudan’s government knows that it will lose power if non-state actors seize de facto control of the petroleum production facilities, as the national economy is held hostage.

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U.S. and Chinese Interests on African Security

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Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China's President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters

There has been intense interest in and outright alarm expressed by western civil society and governments on the rapidly increasing Chinese presence in almost all spheres in African life.

Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China’s President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters

Many articles paint a picture of a saintly west and a demonic China in Africa, charging the Chinese on the hearsay evidence of abuse of African workers and poor Chinese workmanship of roads and infrastructure projects. The Chinese focus on resources and infrastructure and its pragmatic and self-interest motivated policy of non-interference in domestic affairs is paraded as the smoking gun of Chinese responsibility for a range of African ills from unemployment here in Cape Town where I write, to the Darfur genocide. The intense interest by the west in China-Africa relations - arguably a natural development of the globalization process - betrays a deep seated unease on the part of the west as Chinese companies, government and Chinese models of development are shown to be more adaptable, better liked and more suitable in Africa compared to the western counterparts.

Instead of criticising the Chinese for not acting like westerners or pretending the history of western engagement in Africa was more good than bad; it will be more productive to analyse and understand Beijing’s perspective on Africa and through this identify points of common interest and areas for cooperation. An area of cooperation that is drawing increasing interest in Addis Ababa, Beijing and Washington is African security. Given China’s increasing dependence on African resources and its increasing vested interests in many weak states, it is in Beijing’s interest to cooperate with local, regional, continental and international actors to foster better security in weak African states.

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China’s Deft Sudan Diplomacy

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South Sudan's President Salva Kiir in Juba, the country's capital. Isaac Billy/UN

Beginning in the late 1990s, China made major investments in Sudan’s oil sector.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir in Juba, the country’s capital. Isaac Billy/UN

When Sudan was still one country, China developed the oil fields initially discovered by the American company Chevron, built the pipelines for transporting crude from Sudan’s interior to Port Sudan on the Red Sea and built the oil refinery. China obtained control of 40 percent of Sudan’s oil production and shared the remainder with the governments of Sudan, Malaysia and India. When the oil fields were operating at maximum capacity, China obtained between 5 and 6 percent of its total crude imports from Sudan.

During the six year period during which southern Sudanese decided whether to remain part of a unified Sudan or opt for independence, it became apparent they would vote for independence, China understood early in the transition process there would eventually be two Sudans and concluded that it had to improve its strained relations with southerners in order to assure continued access to its oil investments in an independent South Sudan.

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Sudan’s Oil War

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Sudan People’s Liberation Army unit. Photo: Nenad Marinkovic

Since the January 2011 referendum vote for independence and subsequent separation the following July, militia violence has been increasing across the borderlands.

Sudan People’s Liberation Army unit. Photo: Nenad Marinkovic

Hostilities were initiated by Sudan as a means of destabilizing the newly formed South Sudanese government. The situation continued to escalate with both sides funding and arming paramilitaries to conduct cross-border raids. In doing so, leaders in Juba knew they were giving Khartoum what it wanted, but many believed that if they did not respond accordingly to Northern aggression, then South Sudanese residing in Sudan would be targeted by government forces. By March 2012, a tentative agreement was reached by both governments – dubbed the “Four Freedoms” – but conservative hardliners in the North stopped the ratification, believing the South was acting as a fifth column against Northern interests. Struck down at the eleventh hour, the Four Freedoms agreement led to the 8 April 2012 deadline, which passed without citizenship parameters being set in place, leaving both populations in an inauspicious legal situation.

The accelerating outbreak in violence, culminating in South Sudan’s incursion into Heglig, is a direct result of the lack of progress made during negotiations on matters encompassing security, citizenship, and revenue from natural resources. North-South discussions were continually undermined not only by Khartoum’s ignorance – an inability to fully comprehend how the North’s legacy irreparably damaged relations with the South’s citizenry – but also by Islamic hardliners. South Sudan’s incursion into Heglig intensified the situation and justified the fifth-column perception. The manner in which Khartoum’s leadership treated the South Sudanese stemmed from the way in which they were perceived by the Northern population. Referred to as a ‘bid’ or black slave, the South Sudanese were not seen as equals, and thus, during the decades-long conflict, in the minds of the North it was not a civil war but a slave rebellion that needed to be stopped.

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Hidden Hands behind Sudan’s Oil War

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South Sudan's presidential guard await the arrival of foreign dignitaries invited to participate in the country's official independence celebrations in Juba. Photo: Steve Evans

South Sudan’s presidential guard await the arrival of foreign dignitaries invited to participate in the country’s official independence celebrations in Juba. Photo: Steve Evans

Once again Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir waved his walking stick in the air. Once again he spoke of splendid victories over his enemies as thousands of jubilant supporters danced and cheered. But this time around the stakes are too high.  An all out war against newly independent South Sudan might not be in Sudan’s best interest. South Sudan’s saber-rattling is not an entirely independent initiative; its most recent territorial transgressions - which saw the occupation of Sudan’s largest oil field in Heglig on April 10, followed by a hasty retreat ten days later – might have been a calculated move aimed at drawing Sudan into a larger conflict. Stunted by the capture of Heglig, which, according to some estimates, provides nearly half of the country’s oil production, Bashir promised victory over Juba.

Speaking to large crowd in the capital of North Kordofan, El-Obeid, Bashir affectively declared war. “Heglig isn’t the end, it is the beginning,” he said, as quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Bashir also declared a desire to ‘liberate’ the people of South Sudan from a government composed of ‘insects.’ Even when Heglig was declared a liberated region by Sudan’s defence minister, the humiliation of defeat was simply replaced by the fervor of victory. “They started the fighting and we will announce when it will end, and our advance will never stop,” Bashir announced on April 20.

Statements issued by the government of South Sudan are clearly more measured, with an international target audience in mind. Salva Kiir, President of South Sudan, simply said that his forces departed the region following appeals made by the international community. This includes a statement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which described the attack on Heglig as “an infringement on the sovereignty of Sudan and a clearly illegal act.”

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A Proposed U.S. Regional Strategy Towards the Horn of Africa

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U.S. soldier training Ugandan soldiers

Paul Williams’ paper has accurately and thoroughly pulled together the webs of conflict in the Horn of Africa. It is not a pretty picture. I would even suggest that the Horn of Africa has been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. Other regions have had more death and conflict over briefer periods of time. I don’t know of any region that has had the number and variety of conflicts comparable to those in the Horn. The problem for the United States is what it can do to help mitigate conflict in the region.

U.S. soldier training Ugandan soldiers

Historically, the vast majority of U.S. efforts to resolve or mitigate conflict in the Horn have involved intervention in or attention to individual, discrete disputes, in pursuit of U.S. policy goals prevailing at the time. Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S. policy in the Horn. Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia served as the center piece in the region for U.S. economic and military support. Ethiopia was a reliable ally of the United States. When Ethiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States backed the Haile Selassie government. Even after the left-wing Mengistu Haile Mariam junta seized power in 1974, the United States tried briefly to maintain close economic and military relations with Ethiopia. When it became evident that Ethiopia had slipped into the Soviet camp, the United States switched its support to Somalia, then led by dictator Siad Barre.

Although the United States was not providing military assistance to Somalia when it invaded Ethiopia in 1977, it began military support not long thereafter. It was not until the late 1980s as the Cold War was coming to an end that the United States concluded Siad Barre was no longer a satisfactory ally.

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