Tuesday, January 11, 2011

U.S. Seeks to Influence Sudan Referendum

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Jan 9, 2011 8:12 PM

A referendum on the future of southern Sudan is scheduled for Jan. 11. This referendum is a key component of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, in which the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement of the South ended hostilities after 20 years of civil war.

A former British colony, Sudan was divided during the period of imperialist rule when London established provinces that effectively isolated the northern regions from the South.

Since independence in 1956, the country has undergone two civil wars and an armed conflict in the western Darfur region between the SPLM and the NCP. Many, both inside and outside of Sudan, are anticipating the referendum’s outcome, which could result in a declaration of separation by the southern regions from the central government in Khartoum.

Within the U.S., it appears that the general thrust of Washington’s policy is in favor of secession in the South, further destabilization in Darfur and the removal of the NCP and President Omar Hassan al-Bashir from power. For the last two decades, successive U.S. administrations have taken a hostile position toward Sudan.

History of strained relations with the U.S.

During the military build-up to the Gulf War in 1990, Sudan would not go along with the commencement of a war against Iraq that would continue sanctions, no-fly zones and air strikes until the toppling of the government in Baghdad. Just five years earlier, the Sudanese people had revolted and overthrown a U.S.-backed regime headed by former military leader Jafar al-Numeri.

The present U.S. administration is exercising unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of this African state and the region as a whole.

On Dec. 19, the leaders of Egypt and Libya visited Sudan to hold talks with President Al-Bashir on the impact of the referendum on the future of relations between their respective countries. The visit was also in response to a letter sent by U.S. President Barack Obama outlining Washington’s priorities in the region and its focus on the southern referendum and the military situation in Darfur.

White House National Security Council Spokesperson Mike Hammer said the letter expressed that “Sudan is one of the administration’s top priorities,” and that the letter was a part of “an ongoing diplomatic push to emphasize the importance that Washington places on a peaceful Sudan.” (Sudan Tribune, Dec. 19)

Applying a strategy of both regime change and diplomacy, the U.S. appointed a special envoy, Scott Gration, to continue dialogue with Khartoum. When Gration commented recently that the security situation in Darfur had improved 90 percent, the more openly hawkish elements accused the Obama administration of being soft on Al-Bashir.

Author Eric Reeves, who has written a book accusing the Sudan government of genocide in Darfur — an accusation disputed by Khartoum — asked, “Will the U.S. be asked to concede more to Khartoum than it already has?” (Sudan Tribune, Dec. 9)

Reeves attacked former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the African Union-designated mediator for the CPA and the referendum, criticizing U.S. policy for allowing Mbeki to have a prominent role in the process.

According to Reeves, “The African Union has now superseded the U.S., as well as the East African nations of IGAD, and other key partners in the negotiation of the North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) — Norway and the U.K. ... U.S. diplomatic failure has left the door open for the ambitious Mbeki, even as the U.S. is still expected by Khartoum to provide the biggest carrots.” (Sudan Tribune, Dec. 9)

These views, in all likelihood, reflect an internal debate within the administration and U.S. ruling circles, who want to seize the oil fields in Sudan that are already producing more than 500,000 barrels of oil per day.

Eighty percent of the oil concessions are established in partnership with the People’s Republic of China, a close ally of the Sudanese government. China has blocked attempts by the U.S.-dominated U.N. Security Council to impose further sanctions on Sudan.

Unity, stability key to Sudan, Africa’s future

The division of Sudan into three separate states — which U.S. foreign policy is pursuing — poses grave dangers for the people of North, Central and East Africa. If disagreements related to oil and other mineral resources, border demarcations, defense and economic policy are not mutually resolved, the resumption of civil war in Sudan could take place. Such a situation would provide the rationale for even greater, and perhaps direct, U.S., British and EU intervention in Sudan and neighboring states.

In efforts to ease apprehension and tensions, Sudan Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha has reiterated that the central government is committed to holding the referendum. According to the Sudanese Media Center, Minister of Internal Cooperation Dr. Gala Al-Degair said, “Taha has affirmed the government commitment to protect the Sudanese citizens regardless of the outcome of the referendum as well guaranteeing their rights of freedom of movement, work, stay and ownership.” (Nov. 11)

Although there are significant oil resources that exist in the south of the country, SMC states that President Al-Bashir “has downplayed the consequences of oil on the North in case South Sudan opted for secession through the upcoming referendum, announcing that oil reserves in the north of Sudan far exceeded those in the south.” (Dec. 20) Under the previous Jafar al-Numeri regime, Chevron had been involved in exploration and extraction in the South.

At a recent conference in Khartoum, thousands of children signed a map of the country in support of unity and peace and not for separation. The children reportedly chanted, “Yes for unity, No for separation,” “Our strength rests on our unity, our dignity is in our unity,” and “No North without South and No South Without North.” (Sudan News Agency, Dec. 16)

The conference was organized by the Al-Ghad Foundation and was held at the National Museum of Sudan under the theme, “We want to inherit one united Sudan.” The final communiqué from the children’s conference declared, “We want to guarantee shelter, food and drinkable water to our brothers in south Sudan and we want them to study and play in schools.” (Sudan News Agency, Dec. 16)

Nonetheless, other outstanding issues must be resolved during the post-referendum period, such as the status of border areas such as Abyei and whether the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile will ultimately join an independent South or remain linked to the North of the country.

Sudan is the largest geographic nation-state on the African continent. The country has vast oil reserves and tremendous hydroelectric power resources. The division of Sudan and the intensification of military conflict can only enhance the capacity of the imperialist states to set the terms for the future of the region.

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