Two months of fighting along the border between North and South Sudan appears to be coming to a close, with both governments agreeing to a peace deal that will see a bolstered U.N. force occupy some disputed territory. In January, South Sudanese voters supported secession in an election first set up by a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which nominally ended the second Sudanese civil war. With Southern independence becoming official on July 9, tensions have flared in the disputed region of Abyei and the Northern province of South Kordofan.
Abyei has been embroiled in voter eligibility disputes since January. Both the Misseriya and Ngok Dinka ethnic groups live in Abyei. Both trace their lineages to the region and graze their livestock in some of the same areas. Small-scale clashes over land and water resources grew into more hardened disputes through both civil wars.
The Misseriya allied with the government of the North, and the Ngok Dinka with the Southern Peoples Liberation Movement, an armed organization that controls most of the South. Tensions boiled over in mid-May when SPLM troops ambushed a column of Northern forces. For roughly a month after that, Northern forces occupied a significant part of the province, displacing tens of thousands.
The people who reside in the Nuba mountains—known as the Nuba—were virtually written out of the 2005 peace accord. While the Nuba were allied with the SPLM during the second civil war, no special provisions were made for them; they were considered part of the Northern province of South Kordofan for voting purposes. The Nuba, who had expected potential self-rule and an end to political marginalization as a result of their alliance with the South, continue to fight for those goals.
The Nuba militia have significant military capabilities. Fighting broke out between Northern troops and the Nuba’s armed groups on June 5 when the North made moves to disarm them. The fighting quickly escalated as both sides deployed thousands of soldiers, leading to the displacement of almost half a million people. Sporadic clashes between the two sides continue to take place in South Kordofan.
Both the North and South have agreed to
withdraw forces from Abyei , and have accepted a plan that will boost
a UN. peacekeeping mission by adding approximately 4,000 Ethiopian
troops. In South Kordofan, the African Union is attempting to broker
a cease-fire between the two sides at the time of this writing.
The role of U.S. imperialism
U.S. imperialism has strongly supported an expanded U.N. mission in Abyei. Over the course of the past two decades, the U.S. government has supported Southern secession as a way to weaken the Northern government in Khartoum, with whom they have frequently clashed, particularly over Sudanese support for Palestinian and other armed groups in the Arab and Islamic world.
Since coming to office, the Obama administration has shown more willingness than the past two administrations to engage with the North. The heightened tensions in Northern Sudan, with the onset of Southern independence, may also serve to drive Khartoum into a closer engagement with the U.S. government.
The loss of the southern part of the country will cost the National Congress Party government significant oil revenues. The majority of oil fields are in South Sudan, but the need to ship oil to North Sudan to sell it means the two sides must work together. Thus, it is likely that the 50-50 profit-sharing agreement now in force will be adjusted more to the favor of South Sudan.
The NCP faces both internal disagreements and a strong opposition, buoyed by the more precarious economic situation. Reductions in state subsidies on fuel and other commodities have caused protests across the North. For the NCP, the economic squeeze makes the lifting of sanctions, particularly from the United States, a high priority. The U.S. government, which is not a party to the International Criminal Court, can also help shield those NCP officials who are under ICC indictment for war crimes.
The opposition to the NCP includes those like former Sudanese leader Hasan al-Turabi, who in the 1990s hosted a number of Palestinian and other Arab armed factions in Sudan, as well as the Sudanese Communist Party. Twice before, Sudanese governments have been overthrown by popular revolt and the possibility of a revolt or a coup is ever present. Therefore the prospect of preventing further radicalization of the Khartoum government is only one potential benefit the United States hopes to gain from closer engagement
Additionally, avoiding war raises the prospect of economic rewards from both oil and Southern infrastructure development. Finally the Obama administration can exploit some level of diplomatic credit for managing tensions in the Sudan.
The U.S. strategy is currently in accord with the rest of the U.N. Security Council and significant elements of the African Union, all of whom, for varying reasons, desire a working relationship with and an end to warfare between the North and South.
The current situation in Sudan has to be understood on several levels. The overarching conflict is an elite competition between the NCP in the North and the SPLM in the South. They each have interests in taking the maximum amount of oil-rich territory, and territory in general, to control the balance of power. This exacerbates a variety of national tensions, as land-use and ethnic rivalries become proxies in the North-South struggle.
U.S. imperialism is looking to manipulate the tensions in an effort to limit Sudanese support for various national liberation and Islamic groups across the region, protect the prospect of economic opportunity for both itself and its regional allies, and gain “humanitarian” laurels for a role in defusing tensions in Sudan.
For revolutionaries in the United States, the principal focus of our struggle must be to raise the demands: Lift the Sanctions! Hands Off Sudan! Imperialist intervention of any kind can only hurt truly revolutionary forces and oppressed nationalities.