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.
Some impressions, incomplete, on developments in South Sudan:
1. To talk or not to talk?
Both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are playing that game beloved of diplomacy: talking about how they might talk if they ever agreed to talk. While Salva Kiir has said he is ready for ‘unconditional’ negotiations, this does appear to be qualified: his proviso is that Riek also not have any preconditions. Salva’s condition is not to have any conditions.
Another oil crisis averted! As Sudan retracts the threat to close its pipelines to oil from South Sudan (BBC, Reuters), it seems appropriate to repeat some words of a 2011 editorial I co-authored with Zach Vertin. Not much has changed:
Moving beyond oil is a prerequisite for the future stability of both countries, and necessary to broaden prosperity outside of the narrow elite at the centre. The majority of people in both North and South depend on agriculture, and the industry has considerable potential for growth. But neglect of the sector in the North has left productivity languishing. Production of cotton in 2010, for example, was less than a third of the 2005 harvest, itself a fraction of the production records achieved in the early 1970s. Continue reading