What can the international community do to halt the growing Sudanese conflict?

Lord McConnell


Next month, South Sudan will celebrate its first birthday.  While this should be cause for elation, we must pause to recognize that the world’s youngest nation may perhaps also be the most vulnerable.

The peaceful secession of South Sudan last July was a remarkable outcome after decades of conflict and dispute. The agreement to a referendum, execution of that vote and implementation of the result could yet become an example of real democratic progress. But the conflict between North and South has not come to an end.  Since the referendum, the two states have been locked in disputes concerning borders, territory and oil revenues.

At the centre of these issues is ownership of the Abyei region, which was one of the most contentious points in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) negotiations. Abyei is an oil-rich region that falls along the border between the North and the South.  Although it was a stronghold for rebel forces during the civil war, Sudan refused to define Abyei as part of the South during peace talks.

In order to secure an agreement, Abyei was awarded “special administrative status,” and the issue was left unresolved.  Since then, a referendum has been postponed indefinitely, opening the door to competing claims and military actions.

Sudanese forces took control of the area in 2011, displacing and endangering tens of thousands of people.  Numerous military clashes have occurred along the border since, including South Sudan’s invasion of Heglig in April, which escalated tensions to the brink of war.

It was only after the United Nations threatened to impose sanctions that Sudan and South Sudan entered into negotiations in Addis Ababa, their first direct high-level talks since the referendum.

The negotiations, which are being mediated by the African Union, will aim to draw up a safe demilitarized zone along the border.  This should be seen as a prerequisite for progress in other areas – as Abyei is the first of many obstacles to sustainable peace in the region. These disputes are causing hardship on a terrible scale.

In April, the UK’s own Department for International Development reported that a humanitarian crisis loomed in South Sudan, as refugee influxes and heavy rains have created severe food shortages around the disputed border region. Last week, the Associate Parliamentary Group on Sudan heard from Government Minister Stephen O’Brien MP following his recent visit. It was not a positive report. Tensions remain, people are suffering and the international agencies seem slow to act.

Among alarming recent developments, human rights groups have been warning that the forced relocation of South Sudanese by Sudan is resulting in overflowing refugee camps.  Meanwhile, reports suggest that fighting between Khartoum and rebel forces in the Nuba Mountains has created a separate humanitarian crisis, as hundreds of thousands of civilians are trapped in conflict zones, with no access to food.

All our international experience tells us that the combination of ongoing territorial dispute and a growing humanitarian crisis leads straight back to violent conflict. I am fully aware that global diplomacy and international political debates are currently focused on Syria and the Eurozone, but it would be tragic if this great step forward in Sudan and South Sudan in 2011 was to be followed by failure in 2012.

International pressure is often the key to brokering negotiations between parties with deep-seated animosities, and the lead is rightly with the AU. But the United Kingdom can and should use its position of leadership on development to support these efforts and push hard for solutions, including a referendum in Abyei, and a commitment by both sides to respect the outcome.

In the context of the looming humanitarian crises, it is even more imperative that the UK and others sustain their financial commitment to international development, which is essential for both state-building and emergency response.

The long-term effects of civil war are not easily forgotten or remedied.  From 1983 to 2005, an estimated two million people died in Sudan’s internal conflict.  From these ashes, a new state has arisen – one that requires sustained commitment and support.  As leaders in the global community, it is our responsibility to ensure that the progress made towards peace is not undone.  The human cost is simply too great.



3 comments for “What can the international community do to halt the growing Sudanese conflict?

  1. Gareth Howell
    21/06/2012 at 11:23 am

    I have been no further south on the African continent than Agadir so perhaps I should not
    venture opinions on the centre of the continent, but the presence today of many highly educated British Muslims should militate in favour of valuable British mediation, and an understanding of both “sides” of the arguments.

    There are another million in refugee camps on the Kenya border with Eritrea.

    I had an interesting conversation with my brother on the subject of planned new cities
    in the region, but planning a new city “civilization” is not necessary in a region where there is a settled rural population.

    That rural population IS, in its own way, civilized. To be civilized does not require
    the planning or creation of cities, even if
    the people are creating new refugee cities of their own.

    The creation of, for example, the modern metropolis of London, came about through the expansion of a series of villages, which merely got latrger and larger and …. larger.

    The same might happen in distinct areas of Uganda whose population is expected to rise from 30m to 50m, in a very few years.

    The city arises organically, and yet one wonders about the wisdom of that remark when confronted by the sudden instant shanty town metropolises of Lagos, and those in Kenya.

    They are comparable with the “fast food” of North America and the “slow food” of Italy, the former taken in with vast belches and burps and wind passing, while the latter might well be sweetly perfumed, and profoundly enjoyed over a very long lunch!

    It is a very different kind of civilization development.

    (Abuja of course in Eastern Nigeria was indeed a planned New city, with all its failings and successes)

    Herby has his opinions on OWBKY Hervey (search) in Ky should get you there, although it would only be worthwhile for an exchange of e-mail conversation individually
    if it is available.

    Perish the thought that the potential oil riches of Lake Albert region also, should be mis spent in providing that part of the continent with internal combustion engines of the sort that have four wheels, in use in the developed world.

    There must be far better developmental and health uses for oil, firstly in cooking and heating and ,lastly, in fancy transport development

  2. MilesJSD
    24/06/2012 at 3:01 pm

    The international community can lay-open its expertises and facilitative-abilities in
    1) Method III Cooperative Needs & Hows Recognition and Cooperative Problem Solving
    2) How to live ‘decently’ off just one-sufficient-human-living each.
    3) How do perform powerful personal Prayer without passing out or on in undiscovered Privacy.

    But “Some-one” would have to get an immediate Agreement from the Parties and the United Nations,
    for a United Nations peace- Keeping body,
    to administer this ‘thin-iced’ and ‘near melt-down’ Interim,
    wouldn’t that “some-one” ?

  3. 05/07/2012 at 8:50 pm

    I would encourage your readers to look for signs of hope…unarmed civilian peacekeepers with Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international INGO, have 8 teams in 5 states in South Sudan…in Jonglei, on the border with Sudan, and working to protect women and children. They have been successful in reducing violence, protecting civilians and in providing safe spaces for local people to do their own peace building.

Comments are closed.