CAFOD’s Rob Rees writes:
So what does the second year of life of the new nation of South Sudan hold in store? In April, the African Union, which has been helping to try to resolve the outstanding issues from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and which had become extremely frustrated by the lack of progress, issued a roadmap with a three month deadline for resolving the outstanding differences. This was subsequently endorsed by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 2046 on 4th May. So an important milestone will fall in August when the deadline runs out: will the two countries be able to reconcile their differences and will oil begin to flow again?
If the deadline is not met, further, unspecified, measures are threatened but it is not clear what these would be. South Sudan’s government is likely to run out of money at around that time, if not before, which could trigger further internal dissent across the country. For all the skirmishing that has gone on between the two nations’ armies in recent months, it is unlikely that either of them wants (or could afford) to return to a full scale conflict, lending greater poignancy to the AU led process.
Amidst all of the political grandstanding that has gone on over the past couple of decades or more, one voice that has remained consistent is that of the Sudanese churches. Throughout the years of conflict the Church leaders were calling for a settlement to be found through negotiation. They have spoken out against human rights abuses, where these have been perceived and they have defended the rights of minorities and the marginalised. They have frequently felt the need to remind authorities that Sudan is a multi-ethnic, multi religious country and all citizens should be treated equally.
The Sudanese Churches – Protestant denominations and the Catholic Church – quite admirably, have worked in unison for many years to seek a just settlement to the deeply ingrained problems. They continue to work together to help build a just and peaceful society in South Sudan and, as in the past, are calling for the governments of north and south to settle their differences amicably and fairly, through negotiation. They recognise that Sudan and South Sudan will always be neighbours and both countries will profit from good relations between them.
The events of the past year have been extremely disappointing to the many friends around the globe of Sudan and South Sudan, including myself.We had all been hoping that the creation of two new states would enable their troubled history of conflict, displacement and famine to be left behind but that has not happened. Hope for a better future for the people of both countries must prevail, but whether this is achievable in the short term is doubtful.
There will be no way that the two states can be isolated from each other – they will continue to share the longest international border in Africa and there is much more to be gained by each of them through having good relations rather than festering hostility. There is a long and mutually beneficial history of trade between north and south and the pipeline running north through Sudan will remain the most viable option for the flow of South Sudan’s principal export commodity.
We might know by August if the corner can be turned: if not, the prospects for the millions of people currently dependent on relief assistance or who are wondering where the next meal for their family is coming from is almost too bleak to contemplate.