A darker sunset over Abyei (via joodmc, Flickr)
After years of ignorance in the west, the Darfur crisis finally made it into the media 1 ½ years ago. Since then, the tragedy has not stopped, but at least the world is watching. But maybe we should take a look what happens further east, too.
The region of Abyei, where North and South of Sudan meet, has recently been hit by clashes between troops of the Sudanese government (lead by the National Congress Party, NCP) and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Both parties had brokered a peace deal in 2005, ending a 21-year-long war that had left 1.5 millionen people dead. But the situation has been shaky ever since: Both sides are convinced the oil rich Abyei region (revenues in 2007: US$529 million) belongs to their side and the north has been hesitating to withdraw its troops and is said to aim at provoking an armed conflict before there can be a referendum about Southern independence, which is scheduled for 2011.
Local clans had acted as proxy fighters as UN troops watched not to let the region slip into a political vacuum, but in mid of May the two parties clashed for real, leading tens of thousands to flee. Since then, both parties have agreed to form a peace committee, but the situation remains tense as western diplomats try to stabilize the situation (and oil supply). As if oil was not enough, another layer of the conflict makes things even more difficult: With the Arab north being dominated by Muslims and the south being largely Christian and animist, the conflict has a strong note of the “war of cultures”.
So what next for Sudan? Two scenarios are likely. The peaceful one would be a federal Sudanese state in which north and south both get their share of the oil-revenues. The grimmer outlook would be an escalation. As the north does not want to let go the Abyei region and its oil-reserves, the conflict could escalate with UN troops looking on and the security council unable to agree on a mission (remember, the Khartoum government has kept good relations with veto-power China). In this case, western support for southern independence (oil-fields included) would be likely, be it with weapons or via a direct mission of one sort or another.
The last scenario would prompt thousands of deaths and a further rise of jihadism in this part of Africa. The skyrocketing oil-price does not favour one of the scenarios: If the international community wants to keep oil flowing, they need to keep the region peaceful at any means; but with oil-revenues being vital for the survival of the northern regime, Khartoum will do everything in its power to cling on to the fields of Abyei.