Juba — June 9 …. On June 8, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir suddenly announced the halt of the export of South Sudanese oil via Sudan’s pipeline.
There was a lot of populist theatrics and incitement in the way Bashir announced his decision to close the oil pipeline in a public rally in Khartoum.
On stage, Bashir turned around to Oil Minister Awad al-Jaz, who was standing behind him, and gave him instructions on state matters. “Tomorrow you … will order the oil companies to close the pipeline,” Bashir told al-Jaz with the microphones open and the TV cameras rolling.
Bashir then turned to the cheering public and explained that his decision was in response to South Sudan’s continued funding of rebels in the southern parts of Sudan. Bashir explained that the “decision follows careful study of all its consequences and repercussions.” The crowd started cheering. “Sudan will not allow revenues from oil exports from South Sudan to be used to buy arms for rebels and mercenaries,” Bashir declared. It was a public politics undertaking designed to maximize political rewards for Bashir.
Khartoum is indeed cognizant of the ramification and consequences of Bashir’s sudden move. Bashir’s public declaration came irrespective of all the promises of a new era of cooperation by the highest levels of official Khartoum, and, more important, the explicit guarantees to Juba by Obama’s Washington that Khartoum will abide by all the agreements on oil export and revenues sharing.
In principle, Khartoum is exploiting Juba’s desire to export oil in order to increase pressure on Juba and demonstrate that Khartoum remains the senior player in the region. The desire of South Sudan to use oil revenues as an engine to jump start the nation’s economic recovery makes it vulnerable to Sudanese extortion.
Moreover, Bashir’s declaration comes in the aftermath of repeated warnings and threats regarding Juba’s alleged support for the escalating insurrection and popular revolt in southern Sudan. On May 27, Bashir accused South Sudan of helping the rebels in the southern parts of Sudan and explicitly threatened to stop the flow of oil from South Sudan to Red Sea ports. “We warn the government in the South that if they provide any assistance to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) or to the rebels in Darfur, we will completely close the pipeline,” Bashir declared. “We will know if they stop the assistance, and we will know if they assist them.”
However, Bashir’s June 8 declaration is part of a major undertaking against South Sudan that goes far beyond retaliation for the alleged support for rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile States. Khartoum’s new policy aims to markedly escalate tension, and even lead to wider war, along the Sudan-South Sudan border. Indeed, addressing the Khartoum rally on June 8, Bashir emphasized that stopping the flow of oil was only the beginning and that a military confrontation with South Sudan was soon to follow.
Waving his trademark baton and dancing on stage, Bashir addressed the now agitated and jubilant youth in the crowd and those watching the televised speech. Bashir urged the youths to join the Army and the paramilitary Popular Defense Forces in order to go and liberate the southern parts of Sudan from all rebels. “I want you all to go there (Southern Sudan),” he reiterated to the cheering crowd. Abdallah al-Jabili, the Chief of Sudan’s notorious Popular Defense Forces, was also on-stage. After Bashir made his call for action, al-Jabili stepped forward and announced that the Popular Defense Forces were ready to “confront any attempt by South Sudan to shake up the country’s stability.” He also appealed to the agitated youth to join the Forces and bolster their ranks.
The real reason for Bashir’s sudden bellicosity and threats has little to do with South Sudan’s alleged support for the rebellion in the southern parts of Sudan.
The real reason is the opposition’s credible threat to topple Bashir and his regime within 100 days because of the rapidly deteriorating socio-economic situation in the country. Earlier on June 8, Sudan’s opposition alliance, which is comprised of over 20 opposition parties, announced a plan for the peaceful overthrow of the Bashir regime. “I expect the regime will fall before the 100 days finish,” said alliance head Farouk Abu Issa. The alliance’s plans include public forums and mass rallies aimed to mobilize the country’s destitute youth for peaceful protests until they are able to topple the Bashir government. The opposition alliance already prepared “an initiative for democratic change” that includes modalities for a transitional administration, and is “going to send this initiative to the president.”
The opposition alliance intends to ask the state security services for permission to hold their first mass rally at Khartoum University. “If we don’t get it, then there is another step we can take but we will not announce it now,” Abu Issa told a press conference.
Bashir’s Khartoum cannot afford to ignore the opposition’s threats to agitate and mobilize the youth. Sudan is suffering from months of inflation exceeding 40%. Meanwhile, the overall unemployment rate is rapidly growing to well over 20-25%, with youth unemployment in the cities exceeding 50-60%. To-date, there has been no outlet for the frustration and despair of Sudan’s urban youth. Nor was there any hope for a way out of their destitute. Now, Bashir fears, the opposition alliance might be offering these youth a venue for venting their frustrations and a hope for employment and betterment of life in the aftermath of a peaceful regime change.
Bashir’s Khartoum has no plan for economic change or recovery. Hence, Bashir desperately needs a foreign distraction for the masses, as well as excuse to dispatch the poor and discontent youth far away from Khartoum. The most expedient solution is for Bashir to send them to fight and die for the Jihad against South Sudan.