JUBA, South Sudan — Nearly a month after its breakup with South Sudan, the government of Sudan has seen none of the benefits that it thought would flow from its agreement to end decades of civil war. Instead, the breakup has thrown President Omar al Bashir’s regime into disarray.
Far from reaping peace and development for overseeing the partition of his country, Bashir now controls a smaller, weaker version of Sudan besieged by a uniting rebel front and a collapsing economy.
The U.S. government hasn’t lifted sanctions imposed on Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, one of the promises that allowed both the Bush and Obama administrations to broker and then shepherd the peace agreement that led to South Sudan’s independence.
Making matters worse, Sudan’s finance minister estimates that the country faces a 36 percent future drop in revenues because of the loss of South Sudan’s oilfields.
With the walls seemingly crumbling around them, the Sudanese military is taking an increasingly prominent role in decision-making, shunting aside civilian politicians that it blames for the country’s slide.
Bashir, who took power in a military coup in 1989, is still in power, and there has been no official change in his regime makeup. But his diverse governing coalition — composed of Islamists, the military, politicians and businessmen — is severely strained.
Increasingly, whether by force or volition, Bashir seems to be marching to the military’s tune.
Western and African diplomats — one of whom described recent developments as a “military coup” — fear such a power bid will only lead to more chaos and instability in the troubled north African nation.
One African official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said that military leaders now sit in on his meetings with Bashir and even brief the participants beforehand on what the president will say — as if dictating Bashir’s talking points.
A Western diplomat, who wasn’t authorized to be quoted on the subject, said that military leaders now are supervising discussions that used to be held only with civilian political officials. The military also is accompanying ruling party officials in ongoing negotiations with South Sudan over disputed borders and other issues.
“I don’t see that there is an internal coup per se at the moment, but there is absolutely no doubt that the army is disenfranchised and they are not happy,” said Fouad Hikmat, a Sudan analyst for the International Crisis Group, a research agency.
“The situation is very tense. Very tense,” Hikmat said.
The internal troubles intensified about a month before South Sudan formally seceded on July 9. Bashir miscalculated in attempting to forcibly disarm a rebel group in Sudan’s South Kordofan state that was aligned with South Sudan’s guerrilla movement-turned-ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM.
Bashir underestimated the rebels’ strength and the campaign in the Nuba Mountains quickly disintegrated into a bloodbath. As the SPLM-aligned rebels resisted and eventually gained ground, Sudanese forces and pro-government Arab militias expanded their campaign and began attacking and bombing Nuba civilians, who are ethnically African.
Reeling from the unexpected losses, and facing Western denunciations for atrocities against the Nuba, Bashir’s National Congress Party signed a deal in late June to recognize the northern chapter of the SPLM — which is now structurally separate from its sister party that governs South Sudan — as a legitimate political party.
The deal angered the military and Islamist hardliners in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, who criticized it as capitulation. Bashir soon denounced the agreement himself, a turn of events that many observers found especially confounding since the accord was negotiated by the regime’s resident hardliner, Nafie Ali Nafie, Bashir’s party deputy.
Ever since, it has been unclear who is really in charge.
Andrew Natsios, a Georgetown University professor, says a soft military coup wouldn’t surprise him — since the same thing almost happened when he served as special envoy to Sudan under President George W. Bush in the late 2000s.
In early 2007, Natsios said, Bashir’s party was facing growing international pressure over the humanitarian crisis in the western Darfur region. A group of senior generals urged Bashir to stage an internal coup of sorts, purging the party’s leadership and putting the generals in charge of the government.
“While Bashir rejected the advice then, he may have taken it now,” Natsios said.
A military takeover in Sudan would likely take a different route than the revolutions this year in nearby Egypt and Tunisia, which were prompted by popular uprisings rather than ruling party disintegration.
Analysts say that the Sudanese military and civilian leadership has two options: agree to political reforms and share political power, or hunker down in siege mode and try to contain the armed threats.
So far, the latter approach seems ascendant.
As the regime falters, the nation’s many far-flung rebel groups are moving to consolidate.
The strongest rebel group in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement, has begun fighting alongside the SPLM rebels in the Nuba Mountains in what opposition forces hope could be the beginning of a wider rebel alliance. That could bind anti-government forces stretching from Sudan’s western border with Chad, through the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, all the way to the eastern border with Eritrea.
Talks are already under way over a “grand coalition” that would encompass the armed rebels and Khartoum’s weak political opposition. One source involved in the talks, who didn’t want to be named because of the confidential nature of the discussions, said that the various groups are already dividing up leadership positions in a potential new alliance.
It’s unclear how durable such an alliance would prove, given the vast geographical distance and the diverse set of ideologies and egos involved. But it’s clear that anti-Bashir forces all are smelling blood.
Malik Agar, chair of the SPLM’s northern wing and governor of Blue Nile state, said that it was “quite natural” for the various movements to coordinate their efforts. But he said that Bashir could still avert more war.
“We are still at the (negotiating) table,” Agar said. “When they come back to the table, they will find us there.”
(Boswell is a McClatchy special correspondent. His reporting from Sudan is supported in part by Humanity United, a California-based foundation that focuses on human rights issues.)
Child of war, South Sudan is born; now the struggle begins
South Sudanese celebrate in the streets of Juba, the new capital, after the Republic of South | Alan Boswell / MCT
By Alan Boswell | McClatchy Newspapers
JUBA, South Sudan — Thousand of people flooded into the streets of this unlikely riverside boomtown early Saturday to celebrate the birth of the world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan — a land of searing poverty, windfall petrodollars and violent strife.
A crescendo of celebratory car horns rose in anticipation until they broke at midnight when joyous mayhem flooded into the streets to mark what may be one of the most grueling climbs to statehood that any nation has endured: a 50-year civil war that cost more than 2 million lives, tore families apart and sent hundreds of thousands into a diaspora around the world.
“I’m so proud,” said Lado Patia, a sweating 20-year-old male who grew up in Australia and never stepped foot in his homeland until 3 months ago. “It’s unexplainable, a beautiful thing.”
Violence is still endemic. More than 100,000 refugees have fled fighting in the Abyei region that both Sudan and South Sudan contest, and the past month has seen a harsh campaign by the Arab-led Sudanese government against African South Sudan sympathizers in the isolated Nuba mountains.
Internal clashes in South Sudan have killed more than 1,800 South Sudanese this year.
But, remarkably, after the weekend’s ceremonies and festivities are over, South Sudan’s greatest challenge may be the one that still lies ahead: building a nation almost from scratch.
Since the 2005 peace deal between Sudan and the former rebels who now lead South Sudan set independence in motion, roughly $12 billion in oil revenue and $10 billion in foreign aid has poured into this war-torn land. But flying overhead its sprawling savannas and swamps, almost no permanent structures or roads can be seen, leaving one to wonder where all the money has gone.
South Sudan, most of which is low-lying floodplain, still has no finished paved highway. Much of the population remains isolated and unreachable during the six-month rainy season. Adult illiteracy rates may be as high as 90 percent, and child and maternal mortality rates rank it as the worst in the world. Safe drinking water is a rare commodity.
And the government, composed largely of inexperienced former rebels, is likely years away from offering any substantial services on the ground.
All of which means, for the foreseeable years ahead, South Sudan is going to be propped up on foreign life support, dependent on a massive multilateral nation-building project to prevent humanitarian catastrophe or a regionally destabilizing political implosion.
“It’s going to have to be a big international effort,” said U.S. special envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman. “This is not going to happen overnight. This is going to be a long, tough struggle.”
The U.S. is going to focus heavily on building up an agricultural sector in South Sudan, said Lyman. Others, he said, will lead the way on health services, infrastructure or education initiatives. Everyone plans on pitching in with “capacity building,” a popular term here among aid workers to denote training officials on how to do their jobs.
The multibillion-dollar test run conducted so far is an indication of how great and many the challenges are.
The South Sudan government contests the notion that the country is starting from zero, and indeed many of the worst-case scenarios have not come true.
The government under Salva Kiir — who assumed power after the death of the movement’s founder, John Garang — defied skeptics by guiding the nation through a successful referendum for independence.
“Looking at how far they have come, it is not a small accomplishment,” said Sara Pantuliano, head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at Britain’s Overseas Development Institute.
Yet, that same government’s record is exactly what concerns some.
“The task of building a new nation requires political skill, competent and accountable government, inclusive decision making, strategic planning, adequate resources, and a compelling national vision that its citizens can buy into,” wrote Richard Downie, deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan nonprofit based in Washington. “South Sudan lacks nearly all of these prerequisites,”
The influx of aid money so far has carried an equally dubious record. A half-billion-dollar multi-donor pool fund has received especially heavy criticism for its difficulties simply disbursing the money for projects at all.
“The donors have tried, but they just haven’t succeeded,” said Pantuliano. “One can only hope that the lessons will finally be applied.”
Some of their most egregious mistakes have been focusing development in Juba at the expense of everywhere else, under-funding road construction and security support, and instituting cumbersome procedures that stalled actual help, according to Pantuliano.
Others say the aid itself is a problem.
A government propped up by aid risks being “only accountable to foreign donors, not its own people,” William Easterly, an economics professor at New York University and author of “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good,” wrote in an email.
The donor community itself, the skeptics point out, is less accountable to those they are trying to assist — poor South Sudanese — than to their own governments and people back home, who have little knowledge of what is going on in places far away that they little understand.
Another hazard is that aid can promote dependency and allow a nation to forego costly investments in its own people. In South Sudan, there’s concern the government will spend more money on its military, which with other security services already soaks up nearly half of the official budget.
Still, as the newest nation’s citizens flooded into the streets chanting victory slogans in celebration, there were many who expressed hope for the future.
“The South Sudanese have surprised a lot of people getting this far,” said Isaac Boyd, the head of programming in South Sudan for U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they pull another rabbit out of the hat.”
(Boswell is a McClatchy special correspondent. His reporting is supported in part by Humanity United, a California-based foundation that focuses on human rights issues.)