After the Referendum: The Future of Sudan and South Sudan
Prepared by Monica Sendor, Johns Hopkins/SAIS
This event, hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced Studies’ (SAIS) African Studies Program, included presentations on Sudan’s recent referendum from Andrew Natsios (distinguished professor of international development at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and former U.S. special envoy to Sudan) and Omar Ismail (adviser to the Enough Project).
Professor Natsios began by addressing four prevailing misconceptions:
1) The focus should be primarily on Southern Sudan, so that it does not end up a failed state.
By focusing on preventing the worst-case scenario, policymakers discount the remarkable achievements Southerners have already made, and ignore the low risk of tribal conflict currently within South Sudan. The North, which is also emerging as a new state, deserves just as much, if not more, attention. Arabs are moving into a new majority position in Northern politics.
2) South Sudan will be a failed state from Day 1.
This is not true, because a serious external threat, such as fear of the North, could pull the country together.
3) The North is growing stronger and the NCP is growing stronger.
This is also not true, as the NCP is under attack from its base constituency. President Bashir is a realist who has recognized the new reality: the North will never reoccupy the South again. If there is an attempt, the result will be a “bloodbath.”
4) The effectiveness of sanctions on the North (and the South).
The US is not as influential as it might imagine because even the toughest sanctions on the North and South are trumped by the fear of massacre from their own citizenry. That is to say – there are only “grey hats” left: the people who we identify as victims could easily become attackers/perpetrators overnight. The US could play a larger role facilitating and mediating, but it should not dictate. Neighboring countries have more leverage, and therefore could play a more influential role, but they have differing agendas from that of the U.S.
Natsios concluded with recommendations for U.S. policy going forward:
- Exchange Ambassadors with the North now, as a symbolic gesture.
- Put a package together to strengthen the South, including construction of a new Embassy in Juba with a senior career Foreign Service Officer in charge, CIA presence, but most importantly, US military assistance to help transform the SPLA.
- Negotiate a free-trade agreement to encourage private sector growth. When oil revenue does decline, the huge public sector payrolls dependent on oil in the North and South will need to be either cut or funded in a new way.
- Sign a security agreement with the South so that they don’t spend money on guns – instead encourage the South to spend on education and infrastructure.
- Congress should rescind sanctions that apply to oil revenues for two reasons: the South uses Port Sudan, which is in the North, so while sanctions may target the North, they also affect the South. Lifting sanctions could also help the South by introducing technology to help it refine the oil and by-pass the North.
Omer Ismail agreed that two Sudans will emerge, but he recommended that people put the past behind: the North and South have practically been two countries for some time. Bashir is a tactician focused on survival, and he engages in different discussions with different groups and sends mixed messages to internal and external actors.
Economic challenges for the North:
- Oil: It constituted 70-75% of the North’s GDP, but 80% will no longer be under Khartoum’s control.
- Lack of investment in other sectors, especially agriculture and livestock.
- Limited ability to attract FDI (Foreign Direct Investment), and to-date only oil-related. investments from the Arab nations and China.
- Dams will be needed in Sudan to channel the Nile to Egypt as the High Dam is to undergo cleaning and renovation that will last several years.
Political challenges for the North:
- Oil money divided the opposition and built up 21 years of resentment, but don’t expect an “Intifada” a la Tunisia.
- War continues in Darfur and rebel groups remain a thorn in the North’s side.
- Abyei is surrounded by troops – by some estimates 50% of the Northern army, about 55,000 soldiers – and all it needs is a spark for new fighting to erupt.
Challenges for the South:
- The border, of which 80% has been agreed, is one of the longest borders in Africa (2200 km) with a lot of “flashpoints” with neighboring countries.
- Establishing a currency, determining citizenship and strengthening an economy that has been 95% dependent on oil.
- Weak institutions with admitted corruption. Because corruption holds the tribes together, it will not be cleaned up easily and will require sophisticated management.
- Whether ethnic group dominance will continue or a new dominant enemy will emerge.
Points made during the question and answer period:
- The South is fairly integrated in the region. Formal recognition would accelerate international integration (i.e. WTO accession).
- Many neighboring countries supported the South in its war with the North, but are now rethinking as they realize their own breakaway regions could follow Sudan’s precedent.
- The North sees a civil war in the South as possibly causing disintegration of the new state. However, the South has been proactive in managing conflict with rebel groups. An example was Juba’s assertion of authority after a fight between the SPLA and the LRA rebel group. A democratic system of balances has evolved, with the primary counterbalance to the state being the powerful Christian church leadership.
- If the relative balance of power between the North and the South is preserved, and neither side works to destabilize that power balance, then there will be peace. However, that balance of power requires that both sides receive training and technical assistance [from the U.S.]. There is a real risk of the South going after the weakened North.
- The next conflict in the region will be over water. Political stability is essential for water agreements, which Egypt and the North need to survive.
- The South has been making the right decisions, very thoughtfully, which makes many observers “guardedly optimistic” about its future.