The problems of pragmatic progress in Sudan

By Eric Mathison

It’s not a good sign when reports indicate that a country like Sudan is getting worse. It’s hard to even think how things could get worse in a locale consistently in the running for the title of “worst place on Earth.” After the atrocities of the ’90s, things seemed to be picking up. A ceasefire was agreed upon between Khartoum, the predominately Muslim capital in the north, and Juba, the largest city in the south, made up of a variety of indigenous ethnic groups.

For a brief spell, the world was focused on the province of Darfur, in western Sudan — a region that connotes genocide and little else. But the United Nations is now saying that with the stabilization of Darfur, more people are being killed in the south. When the supposed ceasefire was agreed upon between the north and the south in 2005, one condition allowed for the south to hold a referendum in 2011 to decide whether they want to become independent of the north or not.

The troubles of northeastern Africa, of course, are not new. Recent history in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea is full of civil wars, inter-tribal violence and humanitarian crises. Only in the most extreme cases — the American involvement in Somalia in the ’90s and international attention from piracy — has the world bothered to do anything about it. Most of the issues have required threats to national interest: the failure of the international community to intervene in Darfur was a lesson in the shortcomings of diplomacy.

Sudan has been a constant source of interest for Egypt to the north, because of the latter’s dependency on the Nile for water. Otherwise, the source of most animosity between groups is due to tribal control of grazing land. One question persists, however: Why isn’t anyone asking about Africa?

The lack of discussion is because no one has any idea how to proceed. Renewed attention from the Obama administration toward Israel and Palestine, for instance, has focused on picking up where the failure of the Oslo peace process left off. The history of habitation (as well as strife) in that area have made it so that no side is without guilt. There is still a pragmatic decision to be made, and the two-state solution is likely it.

The problems of Sudan can be multiplied from those of Israel and Palestine. To be sure, Sudan lacks the modern weaponry to wage an all-out war. But the war of attrition being fought over the last 50 years has left neither side better off, and both with bloody hands indeed. It’s harder to see what a pragmatic solution would entail; it’s almost certain that southern Sudan will choose to separate, likely creating a new range of problems.

Corruption is rampant in the south, where the Government of Southern Sudan has been too keen to spend money on weapons and has done little for the population outside of Juba. Similarly, as long as oil makes up 98 per cent of the south’s revenues, there is little hope of developing a sustainable economy. From the beginning, these matters will make it difficult for south Sudan to succeed.

There is still hope for the future of the region, though, if the first government focuses on the major issues. The least it should have to worry about is war from the north.

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