South Sudan and independence
Pressure is mounting on the north to let Africa’s largest country be divided
Nov 11th 2010 | Nairobi
THE American administration is pressing Omar al-Bashir’s Sudanese government in Khartoum to let the southern bit of his country become peacefully independent after a referendum due there on January 9th, when an overwhelming majority of southerners is expected to plump for secession. The iron-fisted Mr Bashir has promised to abide by the outcome of the vote. Yet he could still play plenty of tricks, both in the run-up to the vote and after it, with the aim of keeping as much of the oil-rich land between north and south and to ensure that the new country is a flop.
To help Mr Bashir keep his word, John Kerry, chairman of the American Senate’s foreign relations committee, recently flew to Khartoum with an offer from President Barack Obama: ensure a decent referendum in South Sudan and abide by its result and you will no longer be labelled a state sponsor of terror.
An early sign of Mr Bashir’s intentions will be the terms of citizenship he offers to the 1m-plus southerners living in the north. Another test is how he behaves in Darfur, a cauldron of violence. Yet the biggest issue to watch is Abyei, an oily strip of land straddling the north-south border and abutting Darfur. Abyei will have a separate referendum on which country to join, also on January 9th. The north has angered the south by suggesting that this vote should be delayed. The southerners say an agreement over Abyei is urgent. If there is no deal soon, war—say gloomsters—could resume.
Peace has held since 2005 but both sides have been rearming. The south has bought Soviet-era weaponry from Ukrainian stockpiles. Some southern generals have grown rich and lazy on pilfered funds but their soldiers are still formidable bush fighters, easier to disperse than to defeat. The north has bumped up its Chinese weaponry and may have stoked tribal violence between Dinka, Murle and Nuer groups in the south to justify delaying the vote.
But China may no longer be an unqualified backer of Mr Bashir. It propped the president up through the worst of the killing in Darfur because it needed Sudanese oil. It now gets much less of its oil imports, only about 6%, from Sudan. Moreover, new oil finds around Lake Albert in Uganda and Congo have helped alter China’s thinking about the region. It will probably bid to build a pipeline, 1,400km (870 miles) long, to link South Sudan and the Lake Albert fields to a planned port north of Lamu, on the Kenyan coast, as well as parallel roads and railways. This could take years to complete. But South Sudan can be cautiously hopeful that a commercially minded China will not oppose its independence. On this score at least, America and China may be on the same side.
Middle East & Africa