Crisis Points that Bring Suffering, Conflict, and Instability: Sudan and South Sudan/Darfur and Much of East Africa

Today we woke with news that Sudan is preparing to invade South Sudan over an oil field dispute that threatens an all out war that can only add to the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths that have already been part of the long history of the brutal Omar Hassan al-Bashir regime. This recent development is another indication of the continued instability and precariousness of the entire region of East Africa from Egypt through Zimbabwe. 

The existing actions were covered in a small box in the New York Times on page A11, and the Washington Post gave it a story at the bottom of page A8 of its April 19th edition. In some ways this is emblematic of the degree of dull normality with which we are treating cataclysmic events that impact millions of people in a far away but strategic region.  

Bashir’s statement that it would “liberate” South Sudan from its ruling party is simply a declaration of war that makes a mockery again of all the agreements that have been made in the past regarding both South Sudan and the Darfur region. 

The current press agency reporting coming from the region indicates that the Darfur rebels and the South Sudan governmental forces are acting in some possible joint effort. The specific news from reports is that the rebels from Sudan’s Darfur region on Thursday seized two Sudanese military positions north of the Heglig oil field occupied by South Sudanese forces.

While the immediate cause is the seizing of an oil producing and contested Heglig region, it could also be an effort by Bashir to destroy the independence of South Sudan and negate entirely the earlier 2005 peace settlement and restore the status quo ante. 

The UN is calling for South Sudan to pull out of Heglig to defuse the situation. Sudan has traditionally had the backing of Russia and China. In some ways the assessment on the part of Bashir may be that with conflict in Syria still active and unsettled this is a good time to act unilaterally given the inaction by the international community. In the end, a better solution would have been some kind of independent international mediation. 

It is time for the international community and the U.S. to take a hard look at existing and emerging “crisis points” and to create a more robust preventive diplomatic and peacekeeping/peacemaking capability. It is also time to rethink our humanitarian and development assistance structure. A long time ago I pointed to a growing “high risk” world of instability and danger to global security. Our international institutions and structures clearly have not evolved sufficiently to meet these challenges. 

The global economic crisis has also sapped the will to act effectively to allocate necessary attention and resources by nations and international organizations despite repeated calls for stopping the carnage. Unless we rethink again with re-imagining of security for the now interconnected world we live in, we are going to see more and more South Sudans, Syrias, Somalias, Darfurs, and worse.

By Harry C. Blaney III.