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Juba and Khartoum: No Velvet Divorce

Author: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies
July 7, 2011
Royal African Society


Only days before south Sudan celebrates its independence from Khartoum, fighting that has targeted military and civilians alike is overshadowing the euphoria. Tensions are high. Khartoum's military has occupied Abyei, a disputed province in the centre of the country. To the north in oil-producing South Kordofan, Khartoum and its proxy militias are targeting the indigenous Nuba people, who occasionally fought on the side of the south during Sudan's protracted civil war, in what many describe as ethnic cleansing. During this year alone, two hundred and sixty thousand people have been displaced and almost two thousand have died during the hostilities. In response to the recent conflict, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a U.S.-drafted resolution authorizing the deployment of over four thousand Ethiopian peacekeepers to Abyei for six months. On July 4, Juba and Khartoum announced that they would continue talks on unresolved disputes after independence, although quick agreement is unlikely.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ostensibly established a framework for the regions to resolve differences and build a genuine federation. It also provided for a 2011 referendum on southern independence should the south desire it. At that time, southern independence did not look inevitable. First, African governments have a deep aversion to changing the boundaries inherited from the colonial era out of fear of unleashing endless secessionist movements across the continent. Second, there was the possibility that the differences between the two regions could be negotiated, given several practical reasons to stay together: some ethnic mixing, the concentration of natural resources in the south, and the downstream infrastructure largely in the north.

However, in January 2011, six years after northern and southern Sudan signed the CPA to end that country's twenty plus year civil war, south Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence from Khartoum. The excitement over the prospect of independence in The South's new capital, Juba, was equalled only among the large south Sudanese expatriate community. The international community, too, was profoundly satisfied with how the referendum was conducted and its outcome.

Although the referendum was a success, reconciliation of numerous issues has not taken place, with most (but not all) of the responsibility resting with Khartoum.  Three unresolved problems are particularly salient.  The delineation of the boundary between northern and southern regions remains incomplete; citizenship issues for southerners living in the north and vice versa are not resolved; and a formal agreement on a formula for sharing oil revenues does not exist. Abyei did not participate in the 2011 referendum, and its status remains in limbo.

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