With a civil war raging late last year, the do-gooder NGO crowd was aggressively pushing independence for South Sudan as a solution to the violence raging across Sudan. So far, it doesn’t seem to be working out very well. After nearly a year of minor skirmishes and tribal conflict, the sides appear closer to war than they have since independence. Voice of America reports that both sides are moving increasing numbers of troops to the border, while Sudanese planes have begun bombing raids on South Sudanese territory.The latest confrontation was instigated by South Sudan’s occupation of Heglig, a Sudanese town near the border that has been contested since the beginning of the conflict. The town’s importance is not simply military—as a regional oil hub, the Heglig oil field accounts for nearly half of the country’s total oil production. The stakes, therefore, are high—Sudan is not likely to peacefully accept the loss of half of its oil revenue, nor is the desperately poor South Sudan likely to forgo an opportunity to claim a massive cash cow right across the border. The African Union has demanded that South Sudan withdraw from the town and Sudan refrain from cross-border attacks upon their Southern rivals, but these demands have little more chance of success than the calls for peace in Sudan’s previous civil conflicts.When South Sudan declared independence last June, it was greeted with a warm coming-out party as Western do-gooders patted themselves on the back over a job well done. That euphoria is gone now. As Sudan and South Sudan prepare for what many fear will be another long and bloody war, we can add another entry to the long list of humanitarian dreams deferred and lights that failed.Not that the split was a bad idea. The South had every right to free itself from a cruel and grasping northern government that has been unable to prevent — and in some cases has actively fomented — decades of appalling violence. But just because there is a problem doesn’t mean there is a solution; the two sections of Sudan could not live peacefully together in one country — and it is by no means clear that they will not be able to coexist any more peacefully in two.In the conflict between the Sudans, oil, tribal identity and religious conflict compose a poisonous brew. It’s worth noting that this is the same mix of factors that are behind instability that cuts across Africa from west to east. Africa is likely to have an interesting 21st century, and the more external powers (the US, Europe, India, China, Saudi Arabia) are drawn in, the bloodier and messier the future could become.
Divided Sudan Prepares for War