Douglas H Johnson: Khartoum has good reason to seek an amicable divorce

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The Independent Online

South Sudan's independence next year is now almost universally expected.

Even the most hard-line members of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party seem resigned to its inevitability. Between 9 January, when voting begins, and 9 July, when Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement expires, there will be some hard negotiations between the governments in Khartoum and Juba if six years of uneasy truce are to be transformed into permanent peace. South Sudan faces many serious challenges both externally and internally, but rather than predict the demise of a new nation before it is born, I want to suggest how some of these challenges might be met.

No geological fault will open up along the 2,010 kilometres of the North-South border at independence, and this is likely to produce the momentum for the amicable divorce that needs to be negotiated between now and July.

South Sudan's resources underpin its viability as a nation state. It has in abundance what the north lacks but needs: oil, water and arable land. Khartoum might control Sudan's oil industry, but it no longer controls its oil fields, which are mainly in the south. Both governments need the revenue these fields produce, and new terms of transparency and accountability in revenue sharing will be one of the main items for negotiation.

The water that flows through South Sudan is of more long-term importance to both Khartoum and Cairo. Both Egypt and North Sudan have every motive to be conciliatory to the South over water, especially as Juba enjoys good relations with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, three of the upstream nations challenging Egypt's and Sudan's share of the Nile waters.

Twenty-two years of civil war have left a potential for widespread conflict along the border, but there are signs that the people either side recognise a new political reality. Communities of Northern Sudanese pastoralists who once provided recruits for government militias see the need for reconciliation with the southern neighbours they once raided if they are to negotiate peaceful access to land and water.

A return to war is always possible, either by calculation or by miscalculation. But perhaps the imminence of the referendum will concentrate minds wonderfully in both Khartoum and Juba.

Dr Douglas H Johnson is the author of 'The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars'