By Alden Young
Looking at events since January 2012, it has at times been hard to tell if we are witnessing a simple pricing dispute or a total divorce between the newest neighbors in northeast Africa.
There is some truth to Alex De Waal’s recent statement at the Royal Africa Society that “it all looked so good just over a year ago.” A year ago there was a euphoria of independence, but few hard decisions had been made about the future relationship of the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan. Omar al-Bashir, and a cadre of his close associates within the National Congress Party, surely believed that they would be rewarded with a peace dividend for their decision to allow the South to progress smoothly towards independence; while, the leaders and people of South Sudan, nestled securely within the warm glow of international applause celebrating the victory of their liberation struggle, undoubtedly believed that the exercise of sovereignty was the first step on a long journey towards a better standard of living and national self-respect.
When partition occurred on the 9th of July 2011, it appeared as though the pro-partition factions in both countries, which became dominant with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2005, had won an overwhelming victory in each of their respective political spheres. Sure negotiations about the future relationship between these two countries had been an abysmal failure, but it was still hoped for, perhaps naively, that mutual self-interest and the general good will of the international community, earned as a result of the increased confidence that a permanent solution to a conflict, which in its most recent manifestation had raged from 1983 until 2005, would finally be found.
Yet peace dividends for both sides proved either ephemeral or short lived. The mutual economic gains that the original framers of the CPA hoped would push both sides to make painful compromises on difficult issues, such as the contested areas of the border, were instead undermined by the persistence of uncertainty.
Ongoing tensions between North and South Sudan have undermined the initial successes both states enjoyed as the fulfillment of the CPA’s terms came into view. For South Sudan, these success initially came in the form of attracting increased levels of foreign direct investment. While for northern Sudan, success was most clearly defined through the favorable resolution of a number of its geostrategic dilemmas. This process began a few years ago with a rapprochement between Khartoum and N’Djamena, and it accelerated last year following Khartoum’s support for the rebels who overthrew Qaddafi’s regime. Khartoum’s support was rewarded later by the expulsion of Khalil Ibrahim from Libya, and his subsequent assassination, which then weakened the Justice and Equality Movement.
The strengthening of the Republic of Sudan’s relationship with its western neighbors, as well as, the close relationship between Khartoum and the Eritrean Government, meant that after partition, officials in Khartoum initially expected to enter into a period of stability within their Eastern and Western peripheries. And if negotiations with South Sudan over the disputed border areas were successful, there was a possibility that Khartoum could have stable borders for the first time in decades. In the visions of leaders in Khartoum, stability would be translated into prosperity by accompanying a flood of investment into the neglected agricultural sector.
Yet, it was not to be. Following partition, instead of a peace dividend, both Sudan and South Sudan are suffering through the aftershocks of a severe post partition economic penalty. The new state of South Sudan inherited 75% of the petroleum reserves, but the North retained the majority of the petroleum exporting and refining capacity. While the continued economic interdependence of both countries on one another was always going to be tricky, there were reasons to hope that the obvious complementaries in the economic interests of both states would lead to continued cooperation.
However, while before partition the failure of “the new Sudan” project, which emphasized reforming state institutions and political culture in order to make a unified and pluralist country feasible, appeared to be in the interest of both the ruling NCP and SPLM, in practice the death of a unified state has presented difficult and still unresolved dilemmas for both parties. One the one hand, the ruling SPLM has been at pains to define its relationship with African peoples still stranded in northern Sudan, in particular the armed populations of the Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile State, many of whom fought bravely for a new Sudan during the last civil war. While, Khartoum has found it incredibly difficult to securely resolve its economic dependence on South Sudan.
Eckart Woertz of Princeton has argued that the NCP decided shortly before the signing of the CPA that it would prefer a smaller Sudan, one located perhaps from El-Obeid to Gedaraf and excluding the southern provinces, than to lose political power. However, it is also becoming evident that Khartoum underestimated the changing dynamics of the political marketplace. Partially as a result of past experience, and partially out of arrogance, ruling elements of the NCP continued to believe that they could reach private or semi-private accommodations with individual Southern Sudanese politicians, as governments in Khartoum have traditionally done with individual leaders from the periphery since before independence in 1956. The assumption was that greed would continue to allow for mutually profitable transactions to take place, even after partition was agreed upon between members of the NCP and the SPLM.
However, leaders in Khartoum underestimated the extent to which the nature of the political sphere occupied by the two countries of Sudan and South Sudan had changed. In particular the cost for the NCP of forming individual bargains with southern leaders has risen dramatically. Rising costs can be traced to two points of origin. The first is related to the strengthening of an independent national political sphere in South Sudan, which effectively competes with the long dominant Khartoum political marketplace. The growth of a sovereign political sphere has made it harder and harder for politicians in the south to reach the sorts of often lucrative private accords with northern political factions that were negotiated with an older generation of politicians, such as Joseph Lagu and a younger Riak Machar. For example, the expression of southern popular will made it impossible by 2010 for Silva Kiir to conceive of running for the presidency of a united Sudan or of continuing to serve as a vice-president to Omar al-Bashir, despite the offer of personal rewards and the belated opening up of the civil service to southerners. It also made it increasingly difficult for Southern politicians to back down in the face of provocations, such as the recent dispute of Heglig, which may have initially been started by forces outside of the direct SPLA chain of command, or on economic issues such as the decision to quickly introduce a separate currency, and to take a hard line on negotiations over petroleum revenues. Adding to the resilience of the Southern bargaining position has been a feeling that as victors in their liberation struggle, that they now enjoy widespread support throughout the international community, support which strengthens both their diplomatic and military position.
In addition, East Africa, as a political and economic community bolstered by IGAD: The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and EAC: East African Community, offer a dynamic alternative to Khartoum around which the Republic of South Sudan is reorienting itself. Uganda’s recent offers of military assistance, and the potential viability of the Lamu pipeline and economic corridor, pointing to the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya, only highlight the feasibility of Juba’s long sought reorientation.
All of this has left Khartoum vulnerable, unable to pursue its traditional bargaining strategies, and unsure of the military balance between the SAF and the SPLA. To make matters worse the Arab Spring could not have occurred at a worse time for Khartoum, weakening traditional allies such as Egypt, and occupying possible supporters such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar with battles in frontiers that are considered more vital to their interests.
Recently, Gerard Prunier suggested that the best course of action for both parties might be an open and full scale war, and the logic behind his suggestion is clear, if callous. Essentially, his position is that the balance of power between the two sides is unclear, and even further more, it is beginning to appear that while South Sudan may be viable without Khartoum, a Khartoum that does not have friendly relations with its increasingly restless peripheries may not be viable at all. His solution is regime change, though such a solution would have been the most viable in 2010, if the SPLM could have been induced into an alliance with the opposition parties of the Democratic Alliance to govern a united Sudan. Today, as the examples of Ethiopia and Eritrea demonstrate, even the rise to power of a party as closely aligned to Juba as the SPLM-N in a separate state may not resolve the conflict.
The intolerability of the current situation for Khartoum was revealed by Omar al-Bashir himself, when he said “Either we end up occupying Juba or you end up occupying Khartoum, but the boundaries of the old Sudan can no longer fit us together, only one of us has to remain standing.”
However, before the terms of peace can reliably be established two questions must be resolved. The first is the relative strength of Khartoum and Juba, and in many ways the ongoing hostilities are a way for each side to feel out the other’s strengths and weaknesses. The second is the establishment of the viability of South Sudan’s incorporation into an East African economic zone and the construction of the Lamu pipeline. There are doubts about how it will be funded, but if it is viable, then the leverage by which Khartoum can bargain with the South will dramatically shrink, even more than it already has.
 Alex De Waal interview with Magnus Taylor. “Currently, Its War for North and South Sudan,” African Arguments. April 24, 2012. http://africanarguments.org/2012/04/24/alex-de-waal-currently-it%E2%80%99s-war-for-north-and-south-sudan/
 International Crisis Group, “China’s New Courtship in South Sudan,” Africa Report Number 186. (April 4, 2012) http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/horn-of-africa/south-sudan/186-chinas-new-courtship-in-south-sudan.aspx
 The failure to open the civil service to southerns has a long history as a grievance dating back to 1954, and the revolt in Rumbek that many people date as the beginning of the battle for southern independence. See Scopas Poggo. The First Sudanese Civil War: Africans, Arabs and Israelis in the Southern Sudan, 1955-1972. (Palgrave Macmillan 2008).
 “Bashir Vows to “Free” South Sudan’s People from SPLM,” Sudan Tribune. (April 18, 2012.)