September 6, 2012: South Sudan’s government has decided that it will build a new capital. Everyone knows that the current capital, Juba, is a sprawling mess, but the decision to build a new city from scratch is very controversial. South Sudan is a poor country. It needs to boost agricultural productivity. It needs medical facilities. It needs investments in new oil field technology and it could use a pipeline that does not run through Sudan. It needs improved airstrips that aircraft can use in the rainy season (unimproved dirt strips turn to mud). It needs all-weather surfaced roads (see earlier comment about the rainy season). Government bureaucrats may need new offices but that’s down the list –unless, of course, you’re a government bureaucrat who can influence such a big budget decision. The government says the project will be a public-private partnership and estimates that it will take 20 years and cost ten billion dollars to build a new capital. However, no one really knows for sure what the cost will be. Given Juba’s relative isolation, it could cost far more. Government estimates have a tendency to underestimate final costs. Building the new capital might please the bureaucrats but aid organizations and international donors are another matter. South Sudan depends on aid NGOs and donations from international organizations to meet basic needs. The medical and food aid crowd work in the hinterland with tribes exposed to disease and, if not facing starvation, on the bare subsistence edge of malnutrition. They also know via first hand experience with dirt roads and tracks exactly how hard it is to move people, medicine, and food around the country, even during the dry season. The bureaucrats might need a new office building or two, and Juba’s airport needs to be expanded, but a new capital city ought to be a project scheduled for 2050, or later. Then there is the current economic crisis, spurred by the frozen war with Sudan (which sometimes quickly unfreezes) and South Sudan’s decision to shutdown oil production during the long-running dispute with Sudan over oil transport costs. South Sudan has not been pumping oil, so it is short on hard currency. In fact, it’s in debt, since oil royalties' account for 97 percent of government revenues. (Austin Bay)
September 5, 2012: Representatives from Sudan and South Sudan have begun another round of negotiations to resolve several issues. The first order of business is their disputed border, and Abyei is at the top of the list. Other major issues, like oil revenue, will also be discussed. The talks are being held in Ethiopia. That is a bit fortuitous, since Ethiopia has a brigade of peacekeepers deployed in Abyei.
September 4, 2012: The fighting in Sudan has exposed a dirty little secret - there are a lot of Chinese weapons circulating in sub-Saharan Africa. This was increasingly common in Sudan’s Darfur War. A lot of Chinese weapons came into Sudan during the height of that conflict and despite weapons sanctions on the Darfur region, showed up in the rest of Sudan as well.
September 3, 2012: The Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), the umbrella organization that includes the Darfur rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), denied a Sudanese allegation that the SRF was smuggling weapons into Khartoum. Sudan’s National intelligence and Security Services (NISS) agency claimed that it had intercepted a truck carrying weapons to the national capital. The truck was captured in White Nile state. The SRF called the claim a lie.
September 2, 2012: South Sudan once again stated that it is not interested in dividing the disputed Abyei region. Sudan has suggested that Abyei be divided between Sudan and South Sudan, with part of Abyei remaining in Sudan’s South Kordofan state and the southern portion joining South Sudan’s Bahr al-Ghazal state. Abyei has oil. According to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Abyei was to have its own special referendum to determine if it would become part of Sudan or South Sudan. The referendum was originally scheduled for January 2011, but it has never been held and as long as Sudan and South Sudan remain on the edge of war, it will not be held. Many of the pro-South Sudan Dinka Ngok tribespeople have had to flee their homes in the region in order to escape attacks by various pro-government militias and the Sudanese Army. The Sudanese Army attack in May 2011, created another 100,000 refugees. The north doesn’t want the Dinka to return because they would presumably vote for joining the south. The north, however, wants pro-northern tribes (like the Misseriya) to be able to vote. South Sudan says it wants a final settlement reached and that must be based on a fair referendum. At the moment a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force UNISFA (UN Interim Security Force for Abyei), composed of a brigade of Ethiopian troops, is deployed in Abyei.
September 1, 2012: The Sudanese Army claimed it defeated a SPLM-N rebel attack in South Kordofan state. SPLM-N fighters attacked an army unit near the town of Rashad (northeastern part of the state). The SPLM-N later issued a statement that said its forces had attacked the Sudanese Army’s Migreh camp near Rashad at 3 a.m. on the morning of August 29, and killed four Sudanese soldiers. The SPLM-N claimed the attack was retaliation for government raids on rebel villages (burning and looting forays according to the rebel statement).
UNISFA reported that Ethiopian soldiers intervened in a serious fight that erupted between a group of Dinka Ngok tribesmen and Misseriya tribesmen. The report described the incident as a riot which broke out at a market in Abyei. The peacekeepers broke up the confrontation and closed the market. All too often tribal brawls in Sudan and South Sudan escalate into more serious armed confrontations. A tribal brawl in Abyei could quickly start another round in the Sudan-South Sudan War. This past summer, the Ethiopian soldiers in Abyei have intervened in several confrontations between the two tribes, including a particularly rough incident which occurred in July on the first anniversary of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. The Dinka Ngok were celebrating the anniversary and some Misseriya tribesmen didn’t care for their exuberance.
August 31, 2012: Sudan decided it will not serve on the UN’s Human Rights Council. Human rights organizations (quite publicly) and diplomats from several democracies (less publicly) had severely criticized the UN for giving Sudan a seat on the council. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, is under indictment for war crimes and genocide by the ICC (International Criminal Court). Sudan faces numerous allegations of human rights violations (many of them backed by very hard evidence) by its security forces and tribal militias working for the government. The government of Sudan likely decided it would suffer even more media criticism if it did not withdraw its nomination for the council. In 2006, the Human Rights Council replaced the UN Human Rights Commission.
August 29, 2012: The Sudan Liberation Movement-Abdel Wahid (SLM-AW) rebel group in Darfur has asked the UN to appoint a genuinely neutral individual to head the UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Mission in Darfur) peacekeeping operation. The former civilian head of the mission (official title is Joint Special Representative) resigned from the position at the end of July. Darfur rebel groups complained that the former UNAMID leader favored the Sudanese government.
August 28, 2012: South Sudan claimed that rebel commander David Yau Yau is trying to recruit Murle tribesmen who object to the government’s tribal disarmament program. Yau Yau in 2010, reached a peace agreement with the government but earlier this year went back into the bush. He is a member of the Murle tribe. The government sees Yau Yau as a real threat. On August 27, the South Sudan reported that Murle’s militia had ambushed a military convoy in the Pibor area the previous week and killed 24 South Sudanese soldiers. 200 soldiers were in the convoy. The convoy had been dispatched to locate Yau Yau’s militia.
August 26, 2012: When South Sudan signed the new oil agreement with Sudan officials estimated that that it could take 12 months to return its oil fields to full production. Full production is around 350,000 barrels a day. The 12-month time frame was based on reports of damage to production facilities as well as the need to improve production infrastructure.
August 23, 2012: Sudan accused South Sudan of trying to appoint a new interim government for the disputed Abyei region. South Sudan rejected the accusation. Sudan and South Sudan had agreed to appoint a temporary administration for Abyei. Each nation would have seven representatives on the administrative council. South Sudan has accused the north of refusing to consider its nominees. The two Sudans are supposed to begin another round of negotiations to settle the Abyei question in early September.