Monday, January 18, 2010

All Eyes on Sudan

Sudan is Africa's biggest country and possibly the most strategically important to external economic powers. Not just because of its enormous oil reserves but Sudan is geographically nestled in one of the continents hot zones sharing borders with some of the most volatile countries in the continent. There are warning signs according to experts that Sudan could spiral into a civil war as the Southern region of the country votes for independence next year. Sudan's parliament voted to allow a popular referendum which could open the way for southern succession from the North.
The Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) is the leader of the Southern faction and originally started as an armed resistance movement called the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The history of their armed struggle is proudly recorded on the SPLM's website which you can see here. A civil war that ended over a million lives between North and South officially ended in peace talks and powersharing with the central government in 2005 but many of the underlying concerns in the conflict remain. In recent weeks the SPLM and the ruling National Congress (NPC) of the North have attempted to mend fences but the independence vote is likely to stir up old tensions.

If these tensions actually spillover into a violent civil war, the world's preeminent military powers will be drawn in. A Small Arms Survey found that the SPLM group is already receiving thousands of weapons from a U.S. proxy Ukraine, via Kenya in anticipation of a potential stand-off with the Northern government. The NPC is receiving its own cache of weapons from Russia and China. This small arms build-up is a new cold war battle between the West and the East over the future of Sudan. Given the instability that another violent conflict could cause, both sides will be jockeying for position in a contest to control Africa's third largest oil reserves.

Is this potential civil war between North and South real or just another exhagerated call for external intervention? In my opinion the most reliable Western source of information on Sudan comes from Alex de Waal, a Harvard researcher who ran the website Making Sense of Darfur. Recently, the name of the site was changed to Making Sense of Sudan, because de Waal agrees with others that the situation in Sudan has come to a defining crossroads.

"Without doubt, the coming twelve months will be the most momentous in Sudan’s
history. The year is likely to be tumultuous as well. This site will not attempt to keep track of the many developments as they unfold, but rather to continue to provide a forum for informed discussion on key issues for Sudan, including of course Darfur."

Alex de Waal believes that 2010 will be "the year of democracy" in Sudan. But there is no question this year will be the most interesting time to follow politics in Sudan.

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