Sudan: The Harder They Fall

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Gerhard Prunier

Both adversaries are in a quandary: oil represented 68% of Khartoum’s exports and 98% of Juba’s. But the pain is unevenly shared. The most likely scenario is that all the margins at present allied in the Sudanese Revolutionary Front gang up on Khartoum and overthrow the regime. Nobody but the Arab oil bourgeoisie will mourn the Inqaz regime very much. But what will come later? A pretty confused mess, for sure. Sudan has no “strongman in waiting”. Khalil Ibrahim saw himself in that position but he is dead.

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Since January 20th the unthinkable has happened: the oil-producing Sudan has stopped producing oil. Why? Because its oil fields are mostly located in the South and they can export their production only through a pipeline which runs through the North. During the whole period of the so-called CPA (Consolidated Peace Agreement) Khartoum and Juba shared the proceeds of the sale of the Southern oilfields. But with independence in 2011, Juba acquired a right to 100% of its own production of around 325,000 bpd (the North produces separately about 117,000 bpd). Overnight Khartoum lost $100m/month, something it was not at all prepared for, having neglected for years the traditional economy export productions such as cotton, gum Arabic, sesame and meat.


Northern Sudan’s agricultural economy is a ghost of its former self after years of overindulging in easy oil money. So instead of planning for a hard slog future , Khartoum tried to brazen it out by asking the South for a pipeline transit fee of $32/ barrel while the normal world price hovers around $1°° per barrel , whether in Russia or in the Cameroon . When Juba refused to pay this extortionate price, Khartoum started to grab tons of oil and selling them for its own benefit. The South tried to argue but it had no way of stopping this open robbery short of war. It resorted to offering a lump sum to cushion the economic shock: $5bn. Khartoum countered by asking for $15bn. The South said no and threatened to sue traders or companies that would buy the stolen oil. Given the intricacies of international law, it would have been possible but complicated. And meanwhile Khartoum would have kept cashing in. So Juba took the only way left, short of all out war: stop production.

So today both adversaries are in a quandary: oil represented 68% of Khartoum’s exports and 98% of Juba’s. But the pain is unevenly shared. Over the last twelve years Northern Sudan has seen the growth of a greedy oil bourgeoisie which is now accustomed to live according to the highest standards of western countries (even though 80% of the country still lives in the pre-oil economic world). Cutting brutally its sources of income is not going to be easy. In the South the situation is very different: since the 2005, very little development has taken place. The place was backwards before and it has largely remained so. A small equivalent of Khartoum’s oil bourgeoisie has developed in Juba. But it is extremely small and new. It can survive, having stolen enough money to tidy itself over. For the vast mass of the southern population which has received little or no benefit from independence the end of the oil money means very little. Which brings us to the risk of war?

Over the last nine months war has started both in South Kordofan and Blue Nile Provinces between the Khartoum regime and the local populations who fought alongside the SPLM during the 1983-2002 war but were not included in the 2005 peace deal. “The South” was defined according to the old colonial boundary and neither South Kordofan nor Blue Nile were part of it: they were “North” and they would stay “North” whether they were happy with Arab domination or not. Part of the clumsy misjudgement of the international community was to keep considering that this was a religious war: the Christians now had their own country; so where was the problem? Well, the problem was that the diagnosis was completely wrong: this had been a social, cultural and economic war, with the whole of the Black African peripheries slogging it out with the Arabs, not only the Christian parts. All the areas now fighting Khartoum are at least 80% Muslim and some (like Blue Nile) are even 100%.

The international community still doesn’t get it when we hear Dane Smith , the touchingly naïve  Darfur Deputy of US Special Envoy Princeton Lyman saying : “the rebellion cold polarise the situation because the Arabs and the Muslims at the Centre could feel threatened since the rebel alliance is mostly made up on non-Arabs . They could feel that Islam is under attack” (March 12th). So Islam could be under attack by Muslims because these Muslims happen to be not Arabs but Black Africans? Mr Smith seems to be in great need of attending a university course called “Horn of Africa Geopolitics 10”, with a special seminar on race and religion. Actually Mr Smith’s argumentation would be welcomed by President Omar el-Beshir’s uncle, al-Tayeb Mustafa, who leads a radical group called “Forum for a Just Peace”. He is saying roughly the same thing as Mr Smith. Except, in his case, it is not out of ignorance but for a political aim.

A new brand of Islamist radicals has now risen in Khartoum, challenging President Beshir in his former specialty field, political religion. They consider the agreement recently signed in Addis Ababa (March 13th) to be “soft” because, without creating a unified North-South citizenship, it gives great freedom of movement, residence and economic activity to citizens of each country vis-à-vis the other. Mr Mustafa and his friends, without saying so, would like to grab back the oil wells and let the money roll back in. In the name of God, of course. That would be their “Just Peace”. Can they do it? It seems unlikely. First of all because President Beshir, who might not be a great democrat, is not stupid either. He needs that March 13th Agreement. Why? Because this is what the Missiriya nomads want.

The Missiriya want access to the green pastures of the South during the North’s dry season. And these fellows are armed, trained and dangerous. This at a time when over 900 Sudanese Armed Forces officers have just presented President Beshir with a memo saying that the Army has its hands full on three fronts and that it is out of the question to open a fourth one . Actually, the fear is that it would be the rebels (with southern help?) who could repeat the late Khalil Ibrahim’s 2008 dash for Khartoum and perhaps succeed this time. So the Missiriya militia sounds like a good element of support for the government. And it has to be kept happy. Its happiness is in cows and pastures. So the March 13th Agreement is good for President Beshir, even if some of his closest supporters do no think so. But could the shoe be on the other foot, could the South, which is left with a negligible monetary income by its own decision, want to attack? Well, not for the time being.

As we showed above, the South can live with little or no money. But the question is for how long? Because there is one budgetary item that cannot be dispensed with: soldiers’ pay. When one talks with the Addis Ababa Southern Sudanese negotiators, they tell you they are covered for the next eight months. But after that? Nobody knows. This is psychological and economic brinkmanship. Will it end well? It all depends by what one calls “well”. If by “well” one means the status quo (and this is the case of the Americans who are in an election year, where President Obama needs an exploding Sudan like he needs a broken leg), then no, it won’t end well. Something is bound to crack somewhere, sometime. And that something is most likely to be the Northern regime which is deeply sick and progressively running out of cash. Juba is not so strong either; but it has no systemic factors running against it, just its usual confusion and inefficiency, with which it has survived so far because its level of expectations and service delivery is so low. Will it have to repel an oil invasion once Khartoum gets desperate? Perhaps. But this is unlikely.

The most likely scenario is that all the margins at present allied in the Sudanese Revolutionary Front gang up on Khartoum and overthrow the regime. So is that “good”? Well, yes and no. Nobody but the Arab oil bourgeoisie will mourn the Inqaz regime very much. But what will come later? A pretty confused mess, for sure. Sudan has no “strongman in waiting”. Khalil Ibrahim saw himself in that position but he is dead. The Southerners just want their oil to flow again and be sold (perhaps not to the Chinese , who have played a dirty game and are now standing naked after Juba found out they had colluded with Khartoum in rigging the oil export figures since 2005) . No, Juba will support its friends like Yasser Arman, Abd-el-Azziz al-Hilew or Malik Agar and wish them luck. But no further. The North will have to sort itself out. And that might not be such a piece of cake either.
 

Last Updated on Sunday, 25 March 2012 18:02
 

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