Will the oil deal between Sudan and South Sudan open the way for a comprehensive settlement on post separation issues or will it collapse on the tough security deal Sudan is asking for? That is the question awaiting a reply when the two negotiating teams meet again next month in Addis Ababa.
Already the international community led by the United States has congratulated itself in the first place and the two countries on sealing the oil agreement, but that may be too early given the fact that Juba was clearly at pain trying to sell the deal to its people to the extent that it accused openly the United States, the United Kingdom and others of siding with Khartoum. Khartoum on the other hand still insists that the oil agreement depends on concluding the long awaited security arrangements.
That brings to the fore the basic issue: the dispute between the two is political in essence, not commercial. The protracted disagreement between the two countries dates back even to the early days of oil exploration back in the early 1980s when Chevron started to find oil in commercial quantities. Disagreements because of mistrust were coloring every issue: when the question was to build a refinery to meet domestic needs, the North opted for Kosti, while the South insisted on having the proposed refinery in Bentiu. According to veteran Southern politician Bona Malwal, who was regional industry minister then a meeting was chaired by President Jaafar Nimeiri to discuss the issue. A Chevron representative was present and started to list down arguments favoring Kosti. Bona cut him short saying that the issue is not a technical one, but a political. People need to taste the dividends of peace in terms of job opportunities and have a development project.
It was the political agreement reached by both the government and SPLM to get into serious negotiations back in 2002 that opened the way for the CPA with its wealth sharing agreement based mainly on oil.
Again mistrust was the dominant factor that had colored the six years interim period. It was expressed in the incessant complaints that GOSS was not getting its fair share of oil revenue. That in itself was used as a factor to push for the cause of separation.
After separation, oil was used to serve the political cause. The shutdown of oil production that many of the SPLM friends in the west failed to comprehend till now, is yet another example of the supremacy of the political cause. The shutdown was portrayed as an economic independence and a landmark in the relationship between the two countries.
The two sides have shown great ability to operate on brinkmanship and wait up to the very last minute to make concession or show their real intentions. That is why it still a bit early to celebrate the oil deal as a breakthrough. Come September will tell whether the saga of procrastination will continue or the international community will finally force its will on the two.