By Joe Odaby
Juba — September 5, 2013 (SSN). The visit by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to Sudan’s capitol Khartoum on September 3-4, 2013, might prove a turning point in both bilateral and regional terms. In the climax of the Summit, Presidents Kiir and Omar al-Bashir signed oil export agreement guaranteeing the South Sudanese oil exports will continue “without any impediments” across “flexible but secure borders” between the two countries.
The agreement removes the immediate threat of economic strangulation and uncertainty by repeated Sudanese threats to close down the oil exports of South Sudan via the pipeline to Port Sudan.
Kiir and Bashir also agreed to “remove all obstacles” in bilateral relations and fully implement all existing cooperation agreements. In this context, the two presidents tilted toward the Juba interpretation of these mutual agreements – namely, the separation between economic issues and each of the various security issues from border delineation to the fate of Abye (where the referendum scheduled for October is unlikely to be implemented on time). Khartoum remained reticent, though.
“We are now taking new steps,” Bashir told Kiir. “We respect all the agreements … and are committed to implementing them as one package.” Kiir was more optimistic about the impact of the Summit. Khartoum and Juba must “close the old chapters and open a new page,” he said. “These two countries cannot always remain on a war footing. If they do that, they cannot offer services to their citizens.” Kiir considered the Khartoum Summit to be the springboard for a new era in bilateral relations. “I do not want these agreements to be on the books [only]; we will work to implement them fully and we are here for that,” Kiir noted.
This breakthrough did not happen in a vacuum. In early August, soon after the establishment of the new government, President Kiir instructed the government to come up with a breakout in the deadlocked relationship between South Sudan and Sudan. Within days, Foreign Minister Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin announced the formulation of new Sudan policy in effort to address the immediate economic challenges and defuse mounting threats along their mutual border and elsewhere.
After rocky start and several delays in the planned Kiir-Bashir Summit, Juba succeeded to convince Khartoum of its sincerity and the Summit took place. Indeed, President Kiir arrived in Khartoum a mere 72 hours ahead of the expiration of the deadline set by Khartoum to halt the flow of South Sudanese oil via the pipeline to Port Sudan.
Beyond the dramatic oil export agreement, the Summit contributes to the overall building of trust and reducing tension between the two neighboring countries.
Ultimately, however, the greatest achievement of President Kiir in the Khartoum Summit is buying time and securing funds for consolidating the true independence of South Sudan from strategic and economic points of view. The arrested development of the first two years – the direct result of the country’s stifling by blocking of oil exports – can now end and the true potential of South Sudan be realized.
Juba will soon have the resources to properly address the growing geo-strategic and geo-economic importance of South Sudan in both economic and regional strategic spheres. Juba can free land locked South Sudan from dependence on one venue of export, as well as develop a system of regional alliances and joint infrastructure construction programs (particularly westward as favored by the EU and Russia).
Juba can also accomplish a long-overdue defense build-up to address the lingering domestic crises (particularly Jonglei), the growing regional instability (such as still unresolved Nile waters crisis), and the unprecedented build-up by the Sudanese Armed Forces (especially the Air Force).
With Juba’s new political vitality and acumen clearly demonstrated in the conduct during the Khartoum Summit – Western political leaders and senior experts are eagerly awaiting the follow-up moves at the geo-strategic and geo-economic levels.