Deadline Nears For Sudan But Peace Seems Far
LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.
This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of one of the greatest diplomatic achievements in modern Africa. The signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan ended the continent's longest running civil war. The document also provided a six-year timetable for North and South Sudan either to work out differences or divorce amicably. There's only one year left. The most important issues remain unresolved and relations between North and South are deeply mistrustful.
NPR's East Africa correspondent Gwen Thompkins joins us from Nairobi to talk about this.
GWEN THOMPKINS: Hi, Liane. How are you?
HANSEN: Just fine, thanks. Take us back, would you please, to 2005 when the agreement was signed. Back then, how important was it for Sudan and for the United States?
THOMPKINS: Well, you know, Liane, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, it ended 22 years of civil war in Sudan. It took two years to broker. And in those 22 years of war, two million people died from fighting or from the conditions that were caused by the fighting. And millions more were displaced across Africa, across Europe and, of course, in the United States.
The Bush administration, and most particularly, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his special envoys, were instrumental in brokering the peace between North and South. This was one of the biggest achievements of the Bush administration and one of its lasting gifts to Africa. You know, but it's also important to note that Sudan's regional neighbors also got involved and helped broker the deal. So the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was something that Africans achieved for themselves.
HANSEN: What are now the remaining main points of tension between the two sides?
THOMPKINS: You know, it would be fair to say, Liane, that North and South Sudan have been incompatible for centuries. You know, these are all black people we're talking about. I mean the word Sudan means Land of the blacks. But the North defines itself as Arabic and Muslim, and the South defines itself as non-Arabic and Christian and animist.
And during the colonial period and the slave trade, Southern Sudanese were marched across Sudan and sold too slaveholding nations in the Middle East and Asia. And there's a lot of lingering bitterness about that, especially because human trafficking still takes place in Sudan.
Also, and maybe more importantly for the 21st century, neither the ruling party in Khartoum nor the British colonials ever invested in any kind of development in the South.
But the biggest cause for tension and the reason why the North would be very reluctant to see the South declare independence is because of oil. Most of Sudan's oil is in the South and oil is the number one source of income for the entire country.
HANSEN: So what has to happen between now and this time next year to keep the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on track?
THOMPKINS: Well, the first thing that needs to happen is that everybody needs to calm down. You know, there's been terrible ethnic fighting in the South and the Southern government has been unable to contain it. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Also, in Darfur there's been terrible insecurity. And the Obama administration is linking the fate of Darfur now with the North-South peace agreement.
In April, national elections are supposed to take place. And early next year, the South is supposed to vote on whether it's going to stick with the North, or whether it's going to become an independent nation. But if the South becomes independent, then the question that is on everyone's mind - and thats from the people who are in Sudan to the regional neighbors - the big question is going to be whats next? Because, you know, the North, they just may fight for the oil.
And if they dont fight for the oil and Sudan becomes independent and this divorce happens amicably, then, you know, Southern Sudan is going to be one of the poorest independent nations in the world because the North owns all of the infrastructure that gets the oil out of the ground.
HANSEN: NPR's East Africa correspondent Gwen Thompkins. Thanks a lot, Gwen.
THOMPKINS: Thanks, Liane.
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