Saturday, February 18, 2012


Updated: Feb. 10, 2012
The New York Times

Sudan has been at war with itself for almost its entire post-colonial history, starting in 1956. After decades of fighting for independence from the north, southern Sudan seceded on July 9, 2011 and became the Republic of South Sudan, six months after nearly 99 percent of the region’s voters approved the split in an internationally backed referendum.

The south’s departure did not put an end to conflicts. Both nations face separatist movements within their own borders, and clashes along the new border have flared up regularly.

While the two nations continued to discuss how to split lucrative oil revenues and the fate of the contested region of Abyei, a spreading rebellion inside Sudan prompted the Sudanese government to accuse the south of providing military support to the rebels.

In November 2011, Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, denounced the Sudanese government for threatening what he called a “military invasion” of South Sudan. Mr. Kiir has accused the Sudanese government of bombing the South Sudanese area of Guffa, killing at least seven people and potentially moving insurgencies on both sides of the border closer to an international conflict.

When South Sudan declared independence, it took billions of dollars’ worth of oil with it, gutting Sudan’s economy and creating one of the deepest crises that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has faced in his more than 20 years in power.

Mr. Bashir is now battling high inflation, a shrinking economy, student protests and several simultaneous rebellions — in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State — as well as genocide charges related to the massacres several years ago in Darfur.

By early 2012, the two nations were locked in an exceedingly dangerous game of brinkmanship over billions of gallons of oil, seizing tankers, shutting down wells and imperiling the tenuous, American-backed peace.

The jagged, disputed border separating Sudan from its newly independent neighbor had become probably the most combustible fault line in Africa, with big armies that fought each other for generations massing on either side.

During the past decade, Sudan’s oil wealth fueled new factories, roads, countless shish kebab joints and plans for a futuristic minicity, a billion-dollar airport and the entire reconfiguring of this capital to include a breezy promenade along the Nile.

Both sides desperately need the oil to run their governments, feed their people and stamp out insurrections. And theoretically, both sides need each other. The conundrum of the two Sudans is that 75 percent of the oil lies in the south, but the pipeline to export it runs through the north. Because of this, oil was once thought to be the glue that would hold the two nations together and prevent a conflict. Now, it seems, oil is becoming the fuse.