Tuesday, July 5, 2011
Bashir Defiant Despite Sudan's Bleak Outlook
By Simon Martelli
The fallout from Sudan's partition is likely to be felt in many ways in the north, where an economic crisis, a rebellion in South Kordofan and a president accused of genocide are among the problems the government already faces. Sudan is set to lose as much as 37 percent of its income after the oil-producing south proclaims formal independence on Saturday, a huge concern for Khartoum that will compound existing woes including a $38 billion debt burden, soaring inflation and US sanctions.
The economic situation in the north is very, very dire. There is still no clarity on how Juba and Khartoum are going to divide the oil revenue, and they don't have a ready alternative for income," said Fuad Hikmat, Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group. "It is beyond the capacity of many Sudanese to cope with these rising food and commodity prices. A lot of businesses are struggling," he added.
On top of this, opposition to the centre from Sudan's neglected peripheral regions is likely to grow in the wake of southern secession, observers say, which could widen growing divisions within the ruling National Congress Party, between moderates and hardliners. Some are even predicting that what remains of the country could start to break up. In the context of such pressures, President Omar Al-Bashir, as the leader of a country set to lose one third of its territory involuntarily, has made some bold if deeply controversial moves to shore up his support and silence his critics.
Bashir's official three-day visit to China last week, where he received red-carpet treatment and met President Hu Jintao, demonstrated that Sudan has powerful allies and strengthened ties with its most important trading partner. Hundreds of supporters gathered outside Bashir's home on Friday to cheer his return. But the trip, by the only sitting president to be charged with genocide by the International Criminal Court, was roundly condemned by the United Nations, Washington and human rights groups. It also served as a reminder that Bashir cannot easily carry out his international duties - he arrived 24 hours late after Turkmenistan reportedly denied his plane flight clearance, forcing it to turn back.
Meanwhile, the northern army's occupation of the Abyei border region and its war against southern-aligned rebel militiamen in South Kordofan, the north's only oil-producing state, have drawn sharp criticism from world leaders and threaten to increase Sudan's international isolation. There had been high hopes, both at home and abroad, that by accepting the results of January's referendum and allowing southern secession to go ahead unimpeded, Khartoum could finally start to come in from the cold. Diplomats here say it is still not too late for the government to reap the benefits of international rehabilitation - such as help with its debt - if it demonstrates its commitment to peace.
But this prospect is diminishing, despite a deal last month to demilitarise Abyei, with the Darfur conflict still unresolved and the violence ongoing in South Kordofan. From a local perspective, however, the recent military campaigns are a show of force by a vulnerable government facing unrest among non-Arab tribes in Darfur, along its southern border and potentially in the east, where a decade-long rebellion by ethnic minority groups ended only in 2006. "What they are probably trying to do is send a very clear message to the rest of the north, that they are in control and there is not the possibility of any other sort of follow-on secession efforts," said Jon Temin, who heads the Sudan program at the US Institute of Peace.
But government critics believe such a strategy could backfire. "The outcome of all of this... we will find there is no Sudan. It will be a number of small countries," Sheikh Abdallah, a Sufi leader based in Gezira state, told AFP. "People have no money, they are hungry, they are sick... In different parts of the country they are ready to fight to be separated," he warned.
Another key question after the map is redrawn is what kind of relationship Khartoum will develop with its new southern neighbour, with which it is inextricably linked, but also deeply suspicious of after five decades of harrowing conflict. "Each of these independent nations will be better off if the other is stable, secure, and economically prosperous. More than that, both states will depend on the other to achieve this," the US envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, said in a briefing to Congress last month. –AFP
This analysis was published in The Kuwait Times on 05/07/2011