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The Impact of Omar Bashir’s Overthrow on Peace in South Sudan

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26.05.2019

One of Omar Bashir’s last major international exploits before he was ousted from the Sudanese Presidency on 11 April was to oversee the latest iteration of South Sudan’s peace deal. The deal, first resolved in 2015, was meant to end the civil war that began in 2013, only to fail and was followed by a long negotiation. With Bashir’s removal, many are pondering the potential impact on the viability of the agreement that relied to some extent on his personal influence and funding support from Sudan and its allies.

This is, of course, not the first peace negotiation or civil conflict in what is now South Sudan. The country itself was born of Sudan’s second civil war. Importantly, there is far more continuity between early conflicts and agreements in the current situation than differences. A 2005 peace agreement between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) and Bashir’s government ultimately resulted in South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. After independence, South Sudan has struggled to escape the structures and dynamics of conflict that became entrenched during the long first civil wars starting after Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956.

Bashir stepped in where many in the region and most of the Western members of the international community had given up and, in September 2018, shepherded the Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Bashir had deep links with the various groups involved in South Sudan’s conflict as a key feature of the 1983-2005 war was the successive Khartoum regimes’ employment of divisive ‘divide and rule’ tactics in what is now South Sudan. Purchasing the loyalty of various armed groups in local communities and key leaders was the vehicle through which much of the war in southern Sudan was fought. This was particularly the case after Bashir came to power since before rising to the Presidency through a coup in 1989, he had been a key broker and military leader in the campaigns in the oil-producing regions that now make up Sudan and South Sudan’s border.

With the support of allies such as China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, Bashir used resources and his influence on various armed and opposition groups to broker a deal. Although the resulting agreement is acknowledged to be replete with flaws, it is a deal none-the-less, and there has been relative stability since its signing.

That’s not to say, however, that there has been much progress on its implementation. As a major deadline for the formation of a Transitional National Government looms in South Sudan, many fear the peace is faltering. With the upheaval in Sudan and Bashir’s ouster on April 11th, many appropriately fear that without the key brokers for this agreement, an already tenuous situation in South Sudan is now bound to collapse sooner than later.

The situation in Juba, South Sudan has been tenuous for weeks as apparently there has been little progress on key elements of R-ARCSS. At the time of writing, Riek Machar, the leader of the opposition group, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), was refusing to return to Juba and take part in forming the Transitional Government, while President Salva Kiir asserted his determination to form the government with or without Machar. It seems the stage is set to replay aspects of the previously failed peace of 2015. Given Sudan and Omar Bashir’s role as the major broker that sealed R-ARCSS, the removal of Bashir, the military’s take over and the continued civilian protests have raised major doubts that Sudan can provide the shepherding peace implementation that South Sudan clearly requires.

In assessing the complicated nature of the prospects of the current situation in Sudan on the peace in South Sudan, the following looks at the role Bashir and Sudan have played in South Sudan’s politics. Situating the thinking about the impact of the transformation in Sudan on South Sudan in historical context is important as it allows a view of the nature of the relationships between the key players and the key dynamics. It also affords a view of what has changed. Through this, we can see that, despite the removal of Bashir, it is clear the senior military in Sudan and the senior leadership (of both government and opposition) have deep ties. The mutual dependency on shared oil resources between Sudan and South Sudan continues. This all points to incentives for Sudan to continue to support the South Sudan peace and facilitate the process of its implementation. However, Sudan and South Sudanese politics have a tendency to defy conventional wisdom.

Sudan and South Sudan Linked by Oil, Personality, and History

Conventional wisdom would hold that, due to continued mutual economic reliance on each other, Sudan would be compelled to continue every effort to support peace in South Sudan. Juba and Khartoum are linked through an oil economy that straddled the two states as the oil is largely located in South Sudan, and the only infrastructure to export lies in Sudan. Both countries depend on the oil as the largest component of their GDPs, with more........

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