Time for Reason to Prevail
The new round of talks between Sudan and South Sudan that should have started Tuesday will be a test for the two countries’ leadership to resort to reason as well as both the regional and international community and their ability to impose solutions.
So far the two have tested proxy wars, skirmishes and even a direct one. More important and on the top of that the tough impact on their economies and their people given the shut-down of oil production earlier this year by Juba. Though economy and finance officials were at pain in both countries trying to paint the true picture of what is going on, but people experience it first hand in terms of depreciation of the national currencies, skyrocketing prices and so on.
It was significant in this respect what the Governor of Central Bank of South Sudan Kornelio Koriom Mayik told the Financial Times on the 15th of this month that the much highly publicized $8 billion loan from China following the visit of President Salva Kiir to Beijing earlier this month is in fact only $170 million, in addition to a $100 million credit line from the National Bank of Qatar and “talks” for another $500 million from another Gulf bank, yet to be sealed and the bank named. More significant is that China refused to help in financing the proposed pipeline through East Africa adding that the South Sudan delegation was told, “we built one (in Sudan); you use it.”
Moreover, he revealed that Juba still has foreign reserves amounting to $1.5 billion that will enable it survive for another seven months without oil “unless there are shocks”.
The importance of these remarks stems from the fact that they came from the official who has all the information and seem designed to address the domestic front more than to the outside world though it used a foreign media outlet. It makes a departure from the state of denial that has been dominating the scene.
It remains to be seen whether these factors could be translated into the negotiating table. That is where both the AU and the UNSC get into the picture. It is crystal clear that there is a chronic case of mistrust between the two. That is no problem given the fact that countries base their relationships on mutual interest, not on love and hate. But the dominant factor here is that the mistrust goes as far as working towards regime change regardless of the cost. And that is why oil has been used as a weapon for that end.
But oil in this case is to do with a dispute on transit tariffs Khartoum is asking for and Juba is refusing to pay, which is in effect a purely a commercial issue. That is none of the business of the AU or UNSC unless both countries agree to their mediation. In that case all depends on what kind of tradeoffs could be offered. Any successful deal depends on both sides seeing that they have a stake in it. And that is the real challenge before the mediators.
By Alsir Sidahmed, 28/05/2012