Teaming up with Egypt for the Nile – Sudan, a nation divided

Reading time 5 min.
Map of Sudan (excerpt)
Map of Sudan (excerpt)

The third in our series of articles about Sudan’s pending referenda looks at the vile treatment that the people of Southern Sudan have receive from a string of Northern-dominated governments, and how they believe it is enough to justify a rebellion calling for justice and respect.

And as Southern Sudanese head for the polls to decide on whether or not they want to secede from the North, the fear of imminent war has been widely expressed. While some argue that the North-South tug of war is centered around oil and the Nile’s water, ethnicity and religion have inarguably been the canker of the country. As fear of war looms with the two sides amassing weapons, what is the role of regional and international players? Who stands to lose or gain from Sudan’s split or union?

What has been at stake in South Sudan has always been far beyond the justified aspiration of the Southern Sudanese. A number of regional and international forces have meddled in the internal affairs of the Sudan and successfully aggravated the wars that have cost the lives of at least two million Sudanese over the years.

“It is the oil and the Nile water, stupid!”

The Sudanese problem, whether it is the South or Darfur, is rooted in oil, water, religion and identity, as well as the remnants of the cold war.

Indeed, the Jenubi (Southerners) were never really welcome in the North and were often rounded up and expelled back to the South. But, the denial of democracy, identity, and self-governance or administration are not the only issues that have been at the base of the Sudanese problem. The aggravation of the situation can also be in part attributed to foreign interference.

Considering the size, weight and place of the Sudan on the strategic Red Sea, geo-politics cannot be ruled out of the Sudanese quagmire. For the Southern Sudanese, the struggle could be reduced to the bare minimum of not wanting to be considered as “abid” (slave), shammasa (sun burnt black), inferior or “haywanin” (animals).

Nonetheless, the South has a lot of oil, as has reportedly Darfur; an attractive mineral resource as far as the West and China are concerned. Sudan is China’s fifth largest supplier of crude oil. Forty-five percent of the national budget of the Sudan is covered by its oil revenue, and the SPLA bureaucracy and army is paid out of the $2 billion that the South gets from oil sale.


But faced with the transport of oil through Port Sudan in the North for export, an emerging war could disrupt cash flow and confront an independent South Sudan with no money to pay its army. This brings to the fore an issue that goes beyond the traditional cry for dignity, self-respect and self-governance.

Disruption of cash flow could have far reaching consequences, especially as southern autonomy, after the Addis Ababa accord of the early nineties, did prove that the Southerners, left even relatively alone, lacked cohesion and rather remained at loggerheads among themselves.

Fighting over the Nile

The Jonglei Canal project, resurrected by the Nimeri government, was originally planned by Sudan’s colonial master, Britain, which at the time jointly controlled Sudan with Egypt.

Seeking to provide the Egyptian people with increased water for agricultural use, Britain decided to build the Canal in the 1930s to deliver up to 20-million meters cube of water per day. The project, which had had no environmental assessment before its commencement by the Nimeri government in 1978, was halted in 1983 when civil war resumed.

Analysts have indicated that the project would shrink the wetlands by approximately 40%. A second phase of the project was also planned, which would completely dry up the wetlands.

The question of the Nile and the Jonglei Canal project, ahead of the referenda, remains a key factor that should be taken into consideration, especially now that Cairo and its principal ally, Khartoum, are battling with the Basin countries on the question of the usage of the Nile River.

The Jonglei Canal region is home to two million Dinkas, Nuers and Shilluks. The political effect of secession on other parts of the Sudan and the region as a whole is also compounding the problem.

Egypt and Sudan, who position themselves strategically as neighboring and sister Arab countries, benefited from an agreement signed in 1929 with Great Britain on behalf of the latter’s East African colonies, and another in 1959 between Egypt and Sudan, which allowed Egypt alone to use 55.5 billion cubic meters of the Nile’s flow and Sudan 18.5 cubic meters of water each year. The two countries alone enjoy over 90% of the Nile’s water resource.

And because of the Nile, Egypt has more to gain from a united Sudan, with the North maintaining its domination. This same sentiment is shared by Libya and most of the Middle Eastern countries. Sudan is Egypt’s ally in its dispute with the Nile Basin countries; a split from South Sudan would mean rewriting the agreements, a situation which could lead to Egypt loosing its major ally among the Nile Basin countries.

Read also :

Part 1: The Price of Independence

Part 2: Beginnings of the end

Part 3: Teaming up with Egypt for the Nile

Part 4: The question of a gerrymandered “oil rich” Abyei

Part 5: A nation divided: Where does Ethiopia stand?

Part 6: Eritrea and Ethiopia’s proxy war

Part 7: The United States, Britain and China

Part 8: A nation divided: separation and peace possible?

Part 9: Sudan — A nation divided: What is to be expected

Sudan - A nation divided  The stakes are high as Southern Sudanese head for the polls to decide on whether or not they want to break away from the North. While the North-South tug of war is centred around oil and the Nile’s water, ethnicity and religion have proved to be the breaking point in a highly polarized country. As fear of war looms with the two sides amassing weapons, what is the role of regional players, including Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, Libya and Kenya, who stand to lose or gain from Sudan’s split or union? And what about the international community, the African Union, the Arab League? Our series of articles highlight a troubled history of the Sudan and the Horn of Africa region, including their allies, and also tackle questions surrounding who stands to gain or lose from the pending referenda.
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