South Sudan: Consensus at last?

Reading time 7 min.

The completion of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between southern and northern Sudan, signed in 2005, was the subject of a conference that ended Tuesday in Juba, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Sudan. Surprisingly, southern Sudan leaders for the first time reached a national consensus. The Democratic Unionist Party which had initially boycotted the conference made a surprise appearance and agreed with the decisions reached at the conference. The conference comes at a time when violence is becoming the order of the day in the southern region, which is still waiting to be pacified after 20 years of war with the politically influential north, accused of living off the south’s oil wealth.

In 2011, southern Sudan will decide on its independence as envisaged by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). This is expected to end more than 20 years of conflict between the north and south (1983-2005). “With the nearing of the CPA expiration date in 2011, the Sudan is truly at historical crossroads,” said Salva Kiir, the president of southern Sudan, Sunday, as he opened the Juba Conference on the future of the semi-autonomous region. The political climate, in recent weeks, has been wrought in confusion as violent attacks escalate ahead of crucial CPA backed elections in April.

The objective of the Juba Conference, under the auspices of the former rebel group People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), was to establish a consensus to finilise the CPA. Twenty representatives of major political parties of the country including former Prime Minister Sadiq el-Mahdi, leader of Umma, and the Islamist Hassan al-Turabi, took part in the meeting with the exception some small parties as well as the party in power. The National Congress Party (NCP) of President Omar el-Bashir boycotted the conference. On Monday, six parties from the south surprisingly announced their withdrawal from the three-day conference because of, according to them, the north’s continued violation of the agenda of the meeting and stirring up inter-regional conflicts. The SPLM and the NCP have failed to reach a consensus on a bill expected to define the modalities of the 2011 referendum on self-determination.

Consensus reached

A historical consensus was reached by the Juba conference after five days of negotiations. “It is a victory. For the first time in our history we have a national consensus,” Pagan Amum, SPLM secretary general, told AFP. At the conference the leaders agreed that a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one must be adopted as the threshold for South Sudan gaining independence against a 75 per cent threshold advocated by Omar Beshir. They also demanded a “Truth and Reconciliation Committee to investigate all violations and atrocities against the rights of groups and individuals” since the country’s independence, while affirming “zero tolerance to impunity from prosecution”.

“We think now that the National Congress Party is the main enemy of the Sudanese people,” said Ali Mahmud Hassanein deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which had initially boycotted the conference, but emerged on the last day to show their support. “What we are trying to do to is arrive at a national consensus that will concentrate on a national programme… in term of democratisation and in terms of comprehensive and just peace,” Sadek al-Mahdi said. The leaders said they will only take participate in the pending polls if the relevant laws are amended by the end of November. The southern movement recently called the African Union to intervene in order to stop Khartoum from obstructing the implementation of the legislation.

The North intends to destabilise the South?

Doubts over the Sudanese government’s promise to the UN, Monday, — about its determination “to hold legislative and executive elections in April 2010 abiding by CPA and strengthening the efforts of political reform indispensable for founding peace on a strong base,” relayed by Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, presidential Advisor and head of Sudan delegation to the current meetings of the UN General Assembly, — have been widely expressed. Ghazi made known his “profound concern” with “the recent armed tribal conflicts in southern Sudan,” adding that these conflicts “threaten not only the stability of the Sudan and the South but also the stability of the whole region,” while stressing that the “the responsibility for the maintenance of peace in the south of the Sudan belongs to the Government Southern Sudan”.

But are the conflicts just some tribal clashes or destabilising maneuvers orchestrated by Khartoum? Many observers have questioned. For example “in Rumbek area of Lakes State, there has been a sort of escalating set of feuds between different sections of Dinka (tribe) you can describe as tribal,” Douglas Johnson, a British specialist in southern Sudan, recently told AFP. But, “definitely there are remnants of old government militias who seem to get access to new supplies of weapons and are operating with an agenda that is not related necessarily to local disputes,” he continued. An attack of the village of Duk Padiet which left more than one hundred persons dead has been condemned by the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). In a statement released last week, the organisation denounced the attack on Jonglei as well as the surge in violence in various parts of South Sudan since the beginning of the year. Over 2 000 people have been killed in such attacks since January 2009.

Questions surrounding the attacks

Four years after the end of the war that left some two million victims in its wake, uncertainty still hangs over the future of the oil rich south. Much of Sudan’s current 500,000 barrels of oil per day is pumped from the south. Under the 2005 peace agreement, the north and south agreed to share the country’s oil wealth, with the south receiving half of the revenues of oil drilled from its territory. However, a statement released early September by Global Witness, — a UK-based NGO that investigates the role of natural resources in funding conflict and corruption around the world– raised “serious questions about whether” the sharing of oil “revenues” are being done “fairly”.

In fact, the Global Witness (GW) report titled “Fuelling Mistrust: the need for transparency in Sudan’s oil industry,” claimed that revenues from some oilfields published by Sudan’s Ministry of Finance were lower than revenues for the same oilfields published by operator China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC). It should be noted that the figures include those used to calculate the southern share. GW campaigner Rosie Sharpe confirmed to Reuters that the discrepancies were in “the order of 10 percent,” which if calculated from 2005 could amount to over $600 million. In a 2007 study, GW had noted up to 26 per cent discrepancies in some financial statements, all related to revenue that had to be shared with the south. Strangely, the UK firm found no significant discrepancies in what concerned oilfields in the north. According to GW, “mismatches of this magnitude represent potentially massive sums of money.”

“Khartoum is wholly responsible for marketing and exporting the south’s oil: it compiles the figures on how much oil is produced and the price for which it sold. The southern government is not involved, despite the fact that oil revenues make up 98% of their income,” continues GW. So does this reveal a certain level of fear from the north, which stands to lose from an independent south? Southern officials have, meanwhile, accused President Omar Bashir’s NCP of trying to destabilise the south to delay the crucial polls, by arming militias. According to International Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa project director, EJ Hogendoorn, although “there has been very very little evidence” to prove the veracity of “these allegations”, it cannot be said that “it is not true”. The argument that northern Sudan is enriching itself at the expense of the south can therefore not be ruled out.

“There are so many problems in the Sudan committed by National Congress in the north, in the south, in Darfur (western region), in the east and even in the center of the Sudan,” Hassanein said. Although Khartoum claims that only 10 000 people have died in Darfur, the United Nations says the conflict has caused the death of some 300,000 people and displaced 2.7 million. Mr. Omar Beshir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crime charges and crimes against humanity.

Sudan  Read latest news and features from Sudan : business, politics, culture, life & style, entertainment and sports
Support Follow Afrik-News on Google News