Reports of the Northern Sudanese authorities hanging on to Abyei are trickling in. The South has reportedly appealed for international help- whatever form this may take.This unfortunate situation has been an accident waiting to happen that got shuffled to the front row because of the chaos in Arab North Africa. Libya and Egypt, the two main allies of the Khartoum regime have been in crisis for months. Both were heavily influential with other African countries as well as within the international community before the Arab spring re-prioritized matters. Gen Omar El Bashir has consequently come under extreme pressure from Islamists in the North who have capitalised on populism with Sudan features including blaming Bashir for losing the South.
I was discussing when Bashir may bring Abyei into the mix with a Southern Sudanese journalist just two weeks ago. It was only a matter of time that Abyei, which in normal times could have been resolved through diplomacy and negotiation, has now became the distraction that Bashir seeks That said US policy-long considered a primary variable in this area, has over the last 5 years has been problematic. Personally, my position has been that when it could have focussed on building domestic systems in the South-including security sector reform, Washingtons diplomacy harped on preventing the North from scuttling the CPA. Smooth talking Khartoum ensured that this concern operated like a filibuster of the South’s badly needed re-organisation.
Half a decade of delayed reforms. Even as we talk of Abyei today and the return of hostilities, 4 out of the South’s 10 states are facing severe security challenges and would have continued to do so even without renewed Northern aggression. Khartoum managed this filibuster ( and i give them credit) by dangling oil money at Southern officials, encouraging corruption in Juba and distracting the elite workforce for rebuilding the South. The results were that most SPLA elite were testing new cars, wives and mansions in neighboring capitals while Sudan policy became about placating the North even when like Taban Loliyong told me years ago- by agreeing to the CPA the North had accepted the reality of an independent South. Now this filibuster of reform in the South will make a response to Abyei very complicated. Simply harassing the North at this point will not improve things. One has to address the wider fabric of this latest conflagration not its figureheads.