Why Sudan wants to join the East Africa Community (EAC) before South Sudan

Posted: September 7, 2011 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan


The uprising in the Arab world, the secession of the south and conflict in South Kordofan and Darfur can only mean one thing; Sudan needs an anchor to avoid sinking under the wave of reforms.

For many years President General Omar al Bashir has kept Sudan on the strength of being located in a volatile neighbourhood.
To the north is Egypt which in the early 1990s was nearly taken over by Muslim militants now under the banner of the influential Muslim Brotherhood.

The West was worried that with their strongest ally in the Arab world -Hosni Mubarak, threatened, they rather ‘tolerate’ a hardliner Sudan but which is opposed to fundamentalist ideology.
Bashir knew this and kept strict control over Islamic fundamentalist leader Dr Hassan al Tourabi.

On one hand Bashir had continued the Jaffer Nimery policy of maintaining Sudan as a Muslim state but at the same time not allowing fundamentalist activity to thrive.
This perhaps more than anything gave him leverage over Tourabi since the west looked to Bashir as a lesser evil as it had more urgent business in Iraq and Afghanistan to sort out.

No wonder even when Sudan harboured Osama bin Laden, the US never used force to get rid of the terrorist but simply pressured him until Bin Laden left the country.
It was after Bin Lden took refugee in Afghanistan that the US attacked Bashir and even then only once.

To the west of Sudan lay other troubled neighbours like Chad and Libya. Chad had enough troubles while Gadhaffi was struggling to become the leader of the Arab world.
He had already been bombed in 1985 and was facing sanctions resulting from the Lockerbie bombing. Any alliance with him would draw the wrath of the west led by the United States.

Bashir played his cards well. He was already facing a war in the south and had Tourabi to mind in the capital.
Then there was the unresolved problem of Somalia where clan chiefs and warlords ensured that the country is ungovernable.

Bashir simply kept watch to ensure that Muslim fundamentalists do not link up with his own nationals to make Tourabi even stronger.
Bashir was relieved that the Ethiopia, Eritrean question in South east of Sudan was quickly resolved and although tensions remained, the resulting hostilities were no threat to Sudan since there were no Muslim fundamentalists to worry about and the SPLA was not close to Addis Ababa or Asmara.

It was the recent developments in 2005 that shifted policy and the strategy had to change.
Bin Laden had been chased out of Afghanistan, George Bush had in 2002 declared Sudan among the four nations rotating around an ‘Axis of Evil, ‘ signifying that they were promoting terrorism.

The other partners in the dock being North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
In 2003 the US attacked and overthrew Saddam Hussein. A lot of intimidation and propaganda continued against Iran and North Korea under the nuclear threat chapter but were only halted by Pyong Yangs’ insistence that it would retaliate with nuclear weapons against any threat to its sovereignty.

Meanwhile other developments were taking place. Saddam Hussein was found in a hole, ‘tried’ and executed on December 30, 2006. A year earlier in 2005, the warring parties ; The Sudan Peoples Liberation army (SPLA/M) and Khartoum signed a peace agreement after two-year ceasefire, ending 22 years of conflict.

This was to be followed by a referendum in January 2011 in which the people of South Sudan would vote to remain in Sudan or secede. The results are well known. A new state was created in the South and once Africa’s largest country lost its pride to the DR Congo.

But this wouldn’t be a problem if two more developments had not taken place.
The Arab uprising completely took Bashir by surprise. Worried that he himself could be a target, Khartoum watched helplessly as regime after regime north of Sudan fell or was on the verge of collapsing. And this happened as worries grew that Sudan will have to lose a huge chunk of its major source of income- oil- to the South.

Bashir stated unequivocally that he would not allow the fields in the disputed border region of Abyei to drift south.
To add insult to injury another hostile neighbour in Uganda kept discovering more oil. not a bad thing. but for a government in Khartoum which planned to use its refinery to bully the south into accepting favourable terms to Khartoum, this paused a great danger.

Oil quantities in Uganda were good enough to warrant a refinery for atleast 30 years. But with South Sudan lacking facilities, and with scars from the north still visible, Uganda posed a great opportunity to refine the South’s oil instead of working with a neighbour you cannot trust.

Refining oil in the north was akin to taking a meal prepared by a freshly divorced wife.
As if this was not bad enough as Juba was getting into celebratory mood for her hard earned independence on July 9, 2011, the US announced it had killed Bin Laden.

This was followed by another death on August 28 of the post bin Laden Al-Qaeda number two – Atiyah Abd Al-Rahman.
The events simply showed that Bashir was increasingly getting isolated and needed an anchor to survive.

First of all he belongs to the hardline school of ‘old guards’ who are facing fire from their nationals. Secondly he could not rely on fellow Arabs since many of them have openly supported the war against Gadaffi. Some even participated. Thirdly, the events meant that the US was succeeding in getting rid of its opponents even if friendly governments like in Egypt had to go or in Yemen were on the brink. Others like Syria and Libya were on the verge.

With sentiments in the ‘new found democracies’ going against long serving dictators, only time would tell when Bashir’s turn would arrive.
On top of this is the reality that the South would soon be admitted to the East African Community and with this would come a huge market for oil, the refinery in the north would practically close down; the Chinese would abandon Khartoum in favour of Uganda and the South (Cnooc is among companies interested in drilling Uganda’s oil).

Bashir would not wait to go the Gadaffi or Mubarak way. He realized he needed a partner to survive the tide and East Africa seems the only way to go.
The odds are high here. First, Bashir would get influence and know exactly what the South would be planning and forestall any attempts to undermine the North either economically or militarily.

The other reason is the fact that East Africa was becoming a big economic bloc second to Sadcc. The Congo is already knocking, Egypt had applied before the revolution. Any country nearby needed neighbours to survive the tough economic conditions.

Still there is the South Kordofan and Darfur question to be resolved. After independence by the South, South Kordofan stepped up efforts to claim self determination. This only confirmed Bashir’s fear that independence for South Sudan could lead other breakaways.

It is only a matter of time that both Darfur and South Kordofan break off. This would practically end Bashir’s National Islamic salvation Front’s hold onto power. He needed time to delay this as much as possible.

Those who watched the South’s Independence celebrations on July 9 on TV can remember the smiling face of Tourabi. The smile simply indicated that Tourabi was happy that Bashir had lost a political battle and was weakened. If another battle in Darfur and south Kordofan is lost, the General would be finished.

But it is easier to push away a general like Gadaffi than a political- General like Bashir – hence the decision to turn to East Africa to retain power.
From here Khartoum intelligence would easily monitor all neighbours and ensure Darfur or South Kordofan do not get any support that Khartoum deems dangerous.

Hence in the wake of Arab revolt, a triumphant United States military operation in Afghanistan and new neighbours in the south, Bashir has realized that an alliance with southern neighbours could provide a better solution to his worries and prolong his grip on power.



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