Sudan and South Sudan: Escalating War

Akufuna Ngonda

The worsening conflict in the Sudan (North) and South Sudan revolves around issues related to the demarcation of the border between the two countries, unresolved prior to the July 9, 2011, secession of South Sudan, and broader issues of national autonomy as well as internal political struggles in the North.

The sum total of the current tensions is leading to a significant danger of war, both inside each region and between the North and South.

Overarching everything is the North-South conflict revolving around the border. Seventy percent of Sudan’s oil is in the South, but none of it can reach the global economy without going through the North’s pipelines.

South Sudan has refused to pay what the North charges for use of its pipelines, claiming that the fees are excessive and politically undermine its state. Currently, some $1 billion remains outstanding and unpaid. The North retaliated by seizing tankers carrying South Sudanese oil. South Sudan has responded by closing down its oil wells altogether so neither country can benefit. This is quite drastic, as the South’s government derives 98 percent of its income from oil revenue.

Closure of the oil wells has led to sporadic fighting along the border, including a brief Southern invasion of the disputed border town of Heglig, and bombings by the Sudanese air force, as both sides jockey for control of oil-rich areas.

The conflict has further aggravated internal political tensions in the North, where the government has accused opposition forces, including the Sudanese Communist Party, of not defending the unity of the country. While most opposition forces have supported greater federalism for various regions, the government accuses some of supporting armed separatist groups in the South and West.

Northern allies of the Southern government have opened up armed hostilities in several regions, joining with groups in Darfur calling themselves the Sudanese Revolutionary Front, whose stated goal is the armed overthrow of the northern government. Additionally, ethnic groups along the border seeking more autonomy, such as the Nuba people, are coming into conflict with both governments.

Impact of colonialism

The economy and social structure of these two countries were formed by decades of colonial dominance. The current borders were the creation of British imperialism, and in many cases remain subject to dispute. The precise borders of Heglig, for example, are still the subject of research and negotiations going back to 1956, when the country achieved independence.

This has led to a long history of struggles between the central powers in Khartoum, the capital of northern Sudan, and various regional movements for further autonomy or independence. It is impossible to declare these movements either generally progressive or reactionary. For the past two decades, Western imperialists have often sought to use movements in the South and North to weaken the Khartoum regime, which they oppose. The Obama administration has hinted several times of a re-engagement with Khartoum, but also has ties with Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

The re-opening of hostilities between North and South raises the possibility of emboldening other secessionist forces to engage in proxy conflicts on both sides of the border, putting further stress on the northern government in particular. Thus, the cloud hanging over Sudan is the prospect for a full-scale civil war.

The present conflicts and extreme difficulties the peoples of the Sudan, North and South, suffer today are the consequence of colonial plunder and imperialist intervention. In the late 19th century, Belgium, France and the United Kingdom had an intense rivalry over control of the Sudan. By the early 20th century, the Britain won control of the Sudan, administering the country jointly with Egypt, itself a colony of the British.

But even after the Sudanese fought for and won their independence in 1956, imperialist intervention continued, as it did in the rest of post-independence Africa. In a country weakened by underdevelopment, internal conflicts and civil wars, the United States consistently supported right-wing forces and elements within the Sudan’s establishment. The United States even succeeded in pulling former Sudanese President Gaafar Mohamed el-Nimeiri, a former nationalist leader, into its camp, using him as a counterweight to Libya’s Gaddafi and Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam.

For a brief period in 1971, the Communist Party of Sudan seized power. But Sudanese military leaders quickly overthrew communist rule. Communist leadership in the Sudan would have provided the country with the possibility of resolving national and regional conflicts by prioritizing development in the most deprived areas and creating the material basis for the elimination of class-based competition for resources between the peoples of different nationalities and regions. Bourgeois leadership, even with nationalist and pro-independence tendencies, on the other hand, exacerbates that competition, leading to an endless cycle of conflict and wars.

U.S. policy of regime change

Since 1989, when the current leader, Omar al-Bashir, came to power, U.S. policy towards the Sudan has essentially been regime change. Various sanctions have been placed on the Sudan in an attempt to weaken Khartoum’s government. In March 2009, the imperialist-dominated International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir, accusing him of crimes against humanity.

An excellent illustration of the imperialist approach toward Africa is the record of the ICC itself. Out of 28 people currently under indictment in the ICC, every single one of them is African, without exception.

The ICC has not even attempted to indict the major war criminals of our era. George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld and other imperialist criminals, whose illegal wars have been the direct cause of millions of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, are untouched. Crimes against humanity, apparently, only happen in Africa, and primarily by leaders not in Washington’s camp.

Imperialist leaders were supportive of the secession of the South Sudan, but not because of any concern for the people of the South. Breaking up oppressed countries, particularly ones that do not toe the imperialist line, makes it easier for Western powers to exercise their domination. To that end, even civil wars can be advantageous to the imperialists, so long as they do not interfere with the extraction of raw materials and resources for their corporations.

More than 50 years of neo-colonial plunder and maneuvering has taught an important lesson: that advancing, deepening and defending the interconnected objectives of national liberation, vibrant democracy and social and economic advances requires ongoing struggle, popular mobilization, organization and, ultimately, the building of socialism.


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