After decades of conflict dating back to the 1962, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 was hoped to solve one of the longest-running conflicts on the African continent. Sudan and South Sudan would emerge via the electorate as two independent states in 2011, making South Sudan the newest country in the world. Historically, areas encompassing present day South Sudan and Darfur received less development than areas of Sudan dominated by Arabs. Through utilizing the Hametic dialogue, certain groups were systematically excluded from politics and socio-economic opportunity. At the time of independence in 1956 from joint Egyptian-British rule, it was understood that South Sudan would become its own country. In 1962 a southern separatist movement started the First Civil War, which came to a close in 1972. At that time, Southern Sudan was given devolved powers in the hopes of ending conflict for good. Everything changed when oil was discovered in 1978 in Southern Sudan. Southerners felt their land and resources were taken without their consent and soon the Second Civil War broke out in 1982, with one of the first strikes being at a Chevron oil well, killing three workers. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) would fight for resource control and independence from the North. The CPA states that both countries share 50% of resource revenues from the South. When South Sudan seceded Sudan lost 75% of their oil reserves. Today, conflict still envelopes the fragile relationship between the two states over defined borders and the town of Abyei, and oil sharing agreements.
While oil was not the only reason for the Second Civil War, it was certainly a catalyst. Government Profits from oil sales went primarily to areas historically developed and occupied by the Arab majority. Additionally, resource profits were directly used to finance arms procurement, escalating the conflict with Southern Sudan. South Sudan controls 75% of Sudan’s former oil reserves. In January 2012, oil production from South Sudan stopped when the two countries were still in dispute over borders and resources. South Sudan had charged Sudan of illegally taking crude oil worth US$1 billion from their reserves. To add insult to injury, Sudan charges an exorbitant US$32–36 per barrel for pipeline transit —typically this fee is between US$0.50–1.00. Currently both sides have reached an agreement to continue crude output but other ongoing disputes between the two countries could impact this agreement.
Ethnicity and Political Rights
Arab majorities in the North have historically had a higher stature in comparison to darker minorities in the West and South. South Sudan has a Dinka majority, however there are historic and ongoing animosities between Dinka, Nuer, and other ethnic groups in the South. The current South Sudanese President has tried to place representatives from various ethnic groups into his cabinet in the hopes of stalling future intercommunal conflict.
During conflict with the North, many from darker tribes were taken and sold as slaves, still today it is unclear how many are still enslaved due to their race. In 2007 post-CPA, an estimated 8,000 slaves still existed in the North. Many have returned home.
Comprehensive Peace Agreement
In 2005 the CPA officially ended conflict between South Sudan and Sudan. The CPA is still a point of contestation due to resource sharing agreements where both Sudan and South Sudan receive 50% of resource revenues from the South. The CPA did create borders between Sudan and South Sudan but both sides continue to dispute many regions, including the resource-rich city of Abyei discussed below.
Abyei and South Kordofan have been the focal point of renewed conflict and disputes between both Sudan and South Sudan. Abyei is extremely rich in resources and is projected to increase the oil revenues of either side. However, it is also a point of inter-communal conflict between the Dinka Ngok tribe supported by the South, and the Misseriya nomads supported by the North. Abyei is also a point of contestation over water resources due to climate change, typically between nomads and farmers. In the last year, Abyei has seen mass displacement, bombings, and devastation. The government of South Sudan claims that the Sudanese government is responsible for the renewed conflict in Abyei. Meanwhile Sudan claims South Sudan is supporting militants in the area. According to the CPA, Abyei is to have a referendum to decide to join Sudan or South Sudan. A referendum was held in October 2013 but neither country has recognised the poll or its results.
Sudan People’s Liberation Army / Movement (SPLA / M)
The SPLA/M began as a rebel movement in 1983, led by John Garang de Mabior. It consisted of military (SPLA) and political (SPLM) wings. Both the political and military wings fought for autonomy throughout 1983 – 2005. After 98% of South Sudanese voted for independence in 2011, the SPLM became the ruling party of South Sudan, and the SPLA became the military. Current President, Salva Kiir Mayardit was actually a key leader in the SPLA.
The government of Sudan has been led by Omar al-Bashir since 1989. The al-Bashir government negotiated the CPA with the SPLM. Al-Bashir has been under an arrest warrant by the ICC since 2004 for crimes against humanity and allegations of genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir came to power in the ‘bloodless coup’ in 1989 where Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi was ousted from power by a military junta led by al-Bashir.
China has played a pivotal role in resource management and conflict financing in Sudan. In 2007, the Chinese National Petroleum Company managed 40% of Sudan’s oil reserves. Throughout the 2000s, China became a major arms supplier for Sudan. Chinese companies built three small arms factories in Khartoum, selling weapons to the Sudanese regime that at the time was fighting both Darfur and South Sudan. During this same period, Sudan was facing international sanctions due to crimes against humanity. Contrary to Western nations who focus on humanitarian aid, development, and democratic norms – China acts in Africa and countries like Sudan under the notion that these are purely strategic economic areas for them to operate in and gain access to resources (Carmody 2010).
Twenty-two years of war later, it is estimated that 2 million people were killed, with an estimated 4 million displaced. Today conflict focuses on the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan in South Kordofan and Abyei. During the height of conflict thousands were enslaved, with thousands more becoming child soldiers. Gender based violence is still widespread in South Sudan and impacts displaced persons, refugees, and local communities. Throughout the conflict child soldiers were deployed by the SPLM. At the end of 2010 the SPLA got rid of all child soldiers from their ranks. Today aid groups are still reintegrating child soldiers. South Sudan may present the most daunting exercise in humanitarian aid, development, and transitional justice.
In September Sudan and South Sudan agreed to create a demilitarized border area between their two countries in the hopes of extinguishing future raptures of violence. However, where South Sudan meets Sudan is yet to be agreed upon by the two parties.
Conflict can easily be renewed in border areas like Abyei if either side misteps in regard to resource extraction and sharing agreements. Additionally, if water conflict continues in Abyei, either side could use it to their advantage to renew conflict and stake a claim for additional oil reserves.
Until contestation over borders ends, only negative peace will be achieved. Sudan, South Sudan, and Abyei could call for an electoral decision to decide who Abyei belongs to. This would coincide with past precedent under the CPA. Resources are another point of friction. Recent disputes have centered on resource transit, theft of resources, and border disputes for Abyei.
For further information on Sudan – South Sudan, please see the recent Policy Brief published by the same author.
Carmody, P. 2010. Globalization in Africa: Recolonization or Renaissance? Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, Colorado.
Martha Molfetas is a Freelance Researcher based in London. She’s done work with Transparency International: UK, The Security and Defence Agenda, and has worked on DFID and World Bank development aid effectiveness research.