Sudan prepares for split

Co-operation between the North and the South will be key to economic development. But disputes over oil resources and debt will hamper progress

Forty years of civil war in the past half century have meant Sudan has rarely enjoyed the political stability that is vital for economic development. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005, ushered in a period of relative calm. But political challenges still dominate and are likely to continue to do so in the medium term.

Rising tensions

The CPA paved the way for a referendum on the future of the southern part of the country in January 2011, which returned an overwhelming vote in favour of independence. The organisation of the referendum, which, against all odds, took place on schedule, was impressive. So too was the relative peace and stability in which the vote took place.

Peace and stability will be crucial to the economies of the North and the South in 2011 and beyond, however, there is no guarantee that they can be attained. The CPA has now entered a six-month interim period in which preparations are being made for the formal split of Sudan on 9 July. But since the January referendum, tensions have again flared along the border between the North and South, and analysts expect conflict to continue in the months before and after the separation.

These are not the only political concerns. The wave of protests in demand of political change and improved economic conditions that has swept the Middle East and North Africa region has been replicated by demonstrations in the North against the government of President Al-Bashir. Al-Bashir faces political opposition brought about by his failure to attain a united Sudan. There is also ongoing international scrutiny of his treatment of the populations of Darfur and the east of the country, and this is likely to be a key determinant in whether sanctions are lifted against the North’s economy after 9 July.

In the South, fighting has intensified between government forces and rebel groups, despite a peace deal agreed just days before the referendum began on 9 January.

In March, opposition parties withdrew from the committee responsible for reviewing the South’s interim constitution, claiming that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the party of government, was dictating terms.

Talks are under way between representatives of the North and South to agree how the two economies will function and to what extent they will co-operate following separation. The negotiations include such thorny issues as how oil resources will be shared and whether the South will be liable to pay off some of Sudan’s national debt. But as the date nears, there has been little progress towards a formal deal.

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Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.