Khartoum may have once backed Riek, but Riek also once betrayed Khartoum. Interests are not fixed over time. Today’s paradox is that while Khartoum has enjoyed and encouraged some instability in South Sudan, even after independence, too much instability in South Sudan hurts Khartoum’s interests. An existential threat to the government in Juba (much like an existential threat to the government in Khartoum) brings for the other side destabilising uncertainty, the possible retraction of existing commitments on oil, trade and cooperation, and security complications in the borderlands.
Most attention has focused on the resignation of Ali Osman Taha and his replacement as first vice-president by Bakri Hassan Saleh. While Bakri’s ascension may in time prove to be the decisive move in the Bashir succession drama, I’d argue that its immediate significance has been overplayed. Recall: Bakri has been at Bashir’s side since the regime’s beginning. As minister of presidential affairs from 1998 to 2000 and again from 2005 onwards, he has steered policy in the presidency and served to mediate party and army concerns. He is one of the main gatekeepers to those seeking access to presidential decision making. His elevation in the constitutional hierarchy does not alter his already formidable power and influence. The army is central to state policy concerns; that is unchanged. We will now see much more of Bakri, the man. But Bakri’s mentality has long been on display.