The Sudanese region has been in the news quite a bit lately. The viral video Kony 2012 highlighted the atrocities committed by a man – Joseph Kony – who has been funded for years by Northern Sudan’s leader, Omar al-Bashir. Bashir was drawn into the news this week as well, when Hollywood celebrity George Clooney and several Democratic congressmen stormed the Sudanese embassy in Washington, D.C. to draw attention to Bashir’s atrocities. So why has Sudan, which borders Egypt to the north, become such a point of focus lately?
The answer could involve both oil and religion, according to former U.S. envoy to Sudan, Andrew Natsios. South Sudan, which recently declared independence, did so while electing a devout Christian leader.
On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest country. After a referendum in which 98 percent of voters favored independence, some 30 heads of state celebrated the nation’s independence. Together with the crown prince of Norway, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and the political leadership of the North, the officials affirmed collective acceptance of South Sudan’s sovereignty. And the international community breathed a sigh of relief, as the vote, which was mandated by the 2005 peace agreement between the North and South, was meant to bring the 55-year conflict to an end.
The south is also where the vast majority of Sudan’s oil resides:
What the South will pay to ship oil north to Port Sudan is the divisive matter at present. Eighty percent of Sudan’s oil reserves are in the South. The newly created South Sudan initially offered one dollar per barrel — the standard international rate — and a one-time cash transfer of $2.6 billion to help with the North’s budget deficit. Khartoum refused the offer, demanding $36 per barrel. When the South refused to pay earlier in January, Bashir’s government decided unilaterally to divert enough oil (read: steal it) to make up the difference. Last Friday and Saturday, the South turned off the spigot, shutting down 900 oil wells. Last week, Juba signed an agreement with Kenya instead to build a pipeline heading south to the port at Mombasa. South Sudan says the new route to market could be ready in 11 months; oil experts doubt a project of such proportions could be finished so quickly.
The other dynamic involves Darfur, which borders Northern Sudan to the West and shares a partial border with Libya:
On November 12, Agar, Hilu, and the three major rebel leaders in Darfur formally announced a new alliance to depose Bashir’s Islamist autocracy (the Sudanese affiliate of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood) and install a secular democratic pluralist state. Khartoum has accused the South Sudanese government of supplying the rebel alliance with weapons. The Obama administration repeated the charge. That led to an acrimonious meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir late last year. The South has since stopped weapons transfers.
Northern Sudan also appears to be gearing up for more war:
Western governments, including Washington, have been slow to react to the Bashir regime’s humanitarian blockade and bombing of civilian targets (there have been public statements, but little else). The shutdown of the oil fields last week and Bashir’s preparations for war, however, prompted Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson, and U.S. Special Envoy Princeton Lyman to rush to Juba to talk down the situation. Both the White House and the State Department have sought to be more even-handed in dealing with North and South Sudan over the past year, likely part of its broader strategy of accommodating itself to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power across the Arab world. Bashir’s party, along with that of Hassan al-Turabi, is the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan.
The purpose of Clooney’s protest at the Sudanese embassy was to call attention to Bashir. A problem with this is that even if Bashir is arrested and / or otherwise removed, al-Turabi is much worse and could fill the vacuum upon Bashir’s exit. Something else to watch is the Obama administration’s reaction to any war that breaks out between the north and the south in Sudan. Whether Bashir or Turabi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests would be defeat of the south and Obama administration policy has seemingly always benefited the Muslim Brotherhood, especially since the dawn of the Arab Spring.
This is what Natsios had to say about the potential for war and U.S. reaction:
The immediate challenge is to make clear to Khartoum that any attack on the South will be an act of war between sovereign states to which the United States will respond with its own air assets: The South has a large standing army and does not need or want ground troops, but it has no air force, which is Khartoum’s greatest advantage.
Sudan will likely remain a hot spot in the immediate future.