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by Noel King

Sudan's Civil War Is Over, But Oil War Starts

(IPS) KHARTOUM -- Fifteen African heads of state were in attendance, and thousands of spectators -- witnesses to the signing in January 2005 of a peace deal more than two years in the making to end the war between Sudan's government and southern rebels.

"This peace agreement signals the beginning of one Sudan regardless of race, religion or tribe," said John Garang, then head of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army -- now deceased.

Similar words came from Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmed el-Bashir. "Today is a glorious day for Sudan and Africa -- a day to alleviate the distress and suffering of our people," he told the crowd at Nyayo stadium in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi during that ceremony.

"It is a great day, when insecurity will be replaced by security and displacement by homecoming."

More than a year later, separate conflicts in the Western region of Darfur and in eastern Sudan clamor for the world's attention. The signs are less than promising that progress has been made bridging the religious and racial divides between north and south that the peace agreement was intended to address.

Consider the tenor of events held to mark the first anniversary of the peace deal, an agreement that resulted in a government of national unity, and which gave the south its own administration -- with the eventual possibility of secession.

Residents of the southern capital of Juba danced, sang and held a celebratory rally where signs saying "South for Southerners Only" and "Northerners go Home" were visible. Perhaps understandably, not one northern representative attended the Juba celebration.

In the north, it was difficult to find any festivities at all.

Abendego Akok, a southerner who heads the Juba University Center for Peace and Justice Studies in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, said he was disappointed to receive only one invitation to a party, held by the United Nations rather than Sudan's government of national unity.

"When I entered the compound I discovered that most of the participants were southern Sudanese. I didn't see any federal ministers. In the whole city, nothing showed the spirit of celebration," he recounted.

"That is a very serious action," added Akok, normally a genial optimist. "The southern government celebrated the peace agreement alone. It is one of the areas where you can see the differences growing."

Financial hardship and enternched suspicions seem to be at the root of these differences.

Following the grand buildup to the signing of the peace agreement, southerners clearly expected an improvement in their own lives. Years of fighting have left the south without roads and other infrastructure, while services of all kinds are in short supply -- or non-existent.

Reports indicate that while $4.5 billion in aid was pledged for reconstruction in the south, little money has actually been paid out.

"Tribal leaders say that life in the south is even worse. The tribes have started to fight among themselves to see who can get the best benefit from the CPA (comprehensive peace agreement)," says Edmund Yakani, who heads a community-based organization that works with displaced southern Sudanese. He has just finished a survey of southern opinions of the peace deal.

Then there is the matter of deep-seated distrust between north and south. Underpinned by religious differences (the north is largely Muslim, the south Christian and animist), and racial tensions between northern Arabs and black southerners, this distrust presents enormous obstacles to implementing the peace agreement in spirit -- as well as in fact.

"We have very big suspicions of northerners: we don't trust them. How can you live with someone you don't trust?" asks southern community leader Philip Ungang, this despite having spent half his life in the north -- and being friendly with northerners.

There is also a widespread belief that the peace agreement's provision for Sudanese oil revenues to be shared between north and south is not being adhered to -- with southern Sudan failing to receive its full portion of the funds. This is despite the creation of a body to monitor oil revenues, previously controlled only by government in the north.

One local newspaper recently depicted the shadowy oil sector as a tangled mass of oil pipes bearing question marks that snaked directly into a large purse, carried by a northern, Arab Sudanese.

Perceptions of unfairness -- real or imagined -- cut both ways, however.

"The CPA was not fair to the northerners," argues El Tayib Zain Al Abdeen, a professor of political science at Khartoum University, and secretary general of the Sudan Inter Religious Council.

The fact that the agreement gives southerners a say in national government, even though they have their own, autonomous administration, is a source of particular bitterness.

"Many people feel it's a complete yield to the southerners and to international pressure. Why should the southerners have a share in the judiciary that is ruling the north? They have their own judiciary," says Al Abdeen.

He also has a different view of the cultural divide between north and south.

"If you ask people from southern Sudan, they will not complain about northern Sudanese -- they will complain about government policies. The distrust is against government policies and government decisions, not against common people," he insists.

Certainly, some policies offer much to object about.

"Fundamental freedoms of expression continue to be abused by the national intelligence services or military intelligence," Sami Samar, a United Nations official in Sudan, told reporters in Khartoum recently.

Concerning alleged racism toward black southerners, Justin Ding -- a member of the southern Shilluk royal family -- believe this will wane as Arab and black youngsters attend schools, universities and social events together.

Others are considerably less optimistic, convinced that black skin is a guarantee only of grueling, low-paid work such as manual labor.

A joke told by Al Abdeen, one of the few northerners who is comfortable discussing race, suggests that racial tensions stem from more than a simple divide between Arabs and blacks, however.

A southerner married an Egyptian woman, he says, and they had several beautiful daughters. When the girls came of age, the southerner's nephews asked to marry them -- only to be told by the southerner: "I am trying to improve the bloodline and the breeding, not worsen it!"

Al Abdeen says both northerners and southerners see humor in this joke. If so, it would mark a rare moment of unity in a nation where economics and culture seem at odds with peace.

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Albion Monitor   March 23, 2006   (

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