Negotiations on the Brink
Whether by chance or design, Sudan’s decision to take in kind oil transit fees pushed South Sudan to new grounds. It puts in effect what it has been threatening for quite some time: to shut oil production and see it underground better than have it stolen in day light by Sudan as it was said.
Aside from the political and technical dispute, the decision to shut down oil production, which will affect both countries at various degrees, still will bring to light two issues that will have impact on the future of South Sudan and its relations with its northern neighbour.
The decision culminates a long history of negotiating with the North on the brink. Throughout the long peace talks and the tumultuous CPA interim period, the SPLM took talks to the brink with the aim of scoring points. Two examples could be cited here: one was the military takeover of Torit back in 2002, less than three months after the Machakos framework was concluded opening the way for the CPA. The move led to suspension of peace talks, till Torit was taken back again by Khartoum. And in effect it backfired since it led to signing of cessation of hostilities, which was not a priority for the SPLM then.
The second was the unprecedented move when the representatives of the SPLM pulled out from all government levels for two months in late 2007 in a protest for what they saw as stalling on the NCP side to implement the CPA. The move ended up with mixed results, but opened the way for the SPLM to rejoin the government again.
The new move of threatening to shut down production as it is yet to be implemented puts GROSS on the spot more than its adversary in Sudan. SPLM is no longer a rebel movement that can ask its followers to sacrifice, but has to come up with solutions to problems. After all oil revenues that constitute all GROSS income, are going basically to meet salary payments and it remains to be seen how South Sudan citizens can understand and tolerate such decision if it is to be implemented.
All the current talks about establishing an alternative pipeline in ten months raises more questions than providing answers. On the top of them why that has not been done earlier given the fact that the picture was clear and GROSS has been in power for the past six years and could have studied and carried out this and other options.
The other test is how the international community and in particular its friends in the West will react and help support SPLM position as they usually do. What is needed more is concrete financial aid or loans to allow GROSS to implement and sustain its decision to shut down production.
How these two angles play will have their impact domestically, in relation to Sudan and in relation to the outside world.
The fact that Addis Ababa talks had been extended is a sign that something is brewing and everyone is waiting for the final product.
By Alsir Sidahmed, 23/01/2012