Looking to Sudan’s Referendum Sunday

The Financial Times covers a new report from Global Witness that concludes that a new oil revenue sharing agreement is needed to prevent Sudan from returning to war:

The Khartoum government has yet to make good on an agreement on sharing oil wealth with southern Sudan, potentially jeopardising the fragile peace as the south’s population votes on whether to split the country in two, according to a report by Global Witness, the UK-based resource lobbyists.

The sharing of oil income, which accounts for half of state revenues in the north of Sudan and 98 per cent in the south, is among the thorniest issues as predominately Christian southerners prepare to vote on independence on Sunday. The south is widely expected to secede and emerge as Africa’s newest country.

. . . .

“Far less data is being published by the Sudanese government now than it was in 2008 and the first half of 2009, which even then was insufficient to be able to verify the oil revenue sharing,” said the report.

Yesterday, the US hailed the latest overtures from the Bashir government to indicate that it was prepared to allow the rerendum, and succession, to proceed peacefully:

The United States has led pressure on the Khartoum government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir not to impede the secession vote. Carson said Washington was “extraordinarily pleased” by Bashir’s statements on a trip to the south Sudan capital of Juba on Tuesday that Khartoum was ready to let the south go.

“We hope that the north … will live up to those very promising statements,” Carson said.

Bashir’s visit is the latest sign that the referendum, which many analysts earlier said threatened to spark a return to war between the north and the south, may unfold peacefully.

Key issues including borders, citizenship and the fate of the oil-rich region of Abyei remain to be decided, making the six-month transition period following the secession vote a potentially dangerous period.

U.S. officials are already working on a development plan for an independent south Sudan, which accounts for 70 percent of Sudan’s overall oil production.

The United States is ready to recognize the new government quickly and appoint an ambassador to help lead efforts to improve basic infrastructure, healthcare, and education as well as trade and investment, officials said.

“We anticipate ramping this up very quickly after the referendum,” said Larry Garber, the deputy administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on background, denied suggestions the United States was motivated primarily by a interest in south Sudan’s oil, which remains a key sticking point in dealings between Khartoum and Juba and which has been largely off limits to western oil companies thanks to U.S. sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997.

US officials also expressed confidence that political agreement would be reached on oil revenue and other economic issues and that the status of Abeyei is “longer a potential flashpoint for war,” such that they do not expect further “major violence”.

Here is this week’s roundup “As vote nears, Sudan’s south anticipates independence and problems” from Jeffrey Fleishman in the Los Angeles Times. And here is Rebecca Hamilton’s “Sudan Dispatch” in The New Republic.

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