In his speech following the signing ceremony of the recent peace agreement concluded with South Sudan, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir urged media outlets to support the agreement. Many people found it strange that al-Bashir was devoting part of his brief address to media outlets, calling on them to support the agreement, as if the media was responsible for the implementation of the agreement or as if the success or failure of the negotiations depended on it. In reality, the agreement is incomplete and still carries the seeds of problems that will hinder its implementation, or cause it to completely collapse. This has been the case with all previous agreements signed between the two sides since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, which led to the South’s secession but failed to achieve the desired stability or peace. In every situation, the Sudanese regime has unilaterally handled all agreements relating to the South, indifferent to the opinions of other political parties. The Sudanese regime also acted alone when it came to the South’s secession, an issue that drew criticism from many writers given that this was the most important event in the history of post-independence Sudan, and should have been subject to discussions and negotiations between all political parties. The citizens of the North should have been consulted about their country’s destiny, yet the National Islamic Front and its regime made the decision on their behalf for purely ideological and selfish reasons, regardless of Sudan’s interests.
In line with this approach, al-Bashir has not allowed the media to discuss or analyze the new agreement in a free and rational manner, as is the role of the media in the first place. Rather, he has asked for media outlets to support it without question, in effect demanding that they refrain from any opposition or criticism. Of course, al-Bashir did not express his demand this bluntly, in order not to contradict the Sudanese regime’s claim that it does not impose censorship or pressure on the media. However, in reality, Sudanese security services have never hesitated to censor newspapers, even seizing copies from the printing press. Whilst they have never refrained from pursuing and detaining journalists; banning them from writing.
It seems the Sudanese security services understood al-Bashir’s implicit message, for no sooner had the ink on the new agreement dried, censorship on media outlets in Khartoum was ramped up and some journalists found their articles went unpublished. Even some writers, whom the regime had previously used to promote the South’s secession, advocate an invasion of Juba and champion Sudan’s wars, were muzzled. Al-Bashir does not want media outlets to understand and analyze the agreement to explain its advantages and disadvantages, or its feasibilities and defects, to the public. Rather, he wants the media to applaud it regardless of any reservations or fears it may have. This is how the “salvation regime” understands the role of the media, and this is how little the regime trusts the partial agreement it has just signed. Sudan and South Sudan had previously been locked in an economic impasse and an oil war, whereby Khartoum attempted to force Juba to accept its terms and conditions for exporting oil through northern pipelines. Yet Khartoum lost its gamble when the South ceased its oil exports and closed its wells, hence commencing a nail-biting game between the two sides.
The problem with the recent agreement between Khartoum and Juba does not lie in the media, but rather in the documents themselves, at a time when trust between the two sides is absent and some major issues are yet to be resolved. It was these outstanding issues that frustrated or thwarted all previous agreements between the two sides, and eventually led to military confrontations between them. These same problems prevented a comprehensive, not partial, agreement in Addis Ababa several days ago. Everyone is aware that the two sides signed the recent agreement in Addis Ababa under internal economic pressure and external diplomatic pressure, especially with the threat that the whole issue could be taken to the Security Council and a resolution could be issued against them. Such pressure may have prompted both sides to agree to sign a partial agreement, rather than continue with negotiations and try to achieve a comprehensive solution for all problems, ensuring that confrontations do not arise once more.
Perhaps oil was the fuel for the recent confrontations between the two sides, particularly as Khartoum has lost nearly 75 percent of its oil resources. The regime in the north was relying heavily on the hefty sums it would collect from South Sudan – in revenues in return for allowing the South to export oil through the pipelines running through its territory – to eliminate its massive budget deficit. However, this did not happen after Juba declined to pay the shipment and transit fees determined by Khartoum. Although the Sudanese government tried to suggest that it had achieved many of its demands with regards to allowing the South’s oil to pass through its territory, a closer reading of the new agreement reveals that the Khartoum has now accepted a rate close to what it previously rejected. This reflects the enormity of pressure caused by the economic crisis Sudan is facing, which prompted protests in a number of cities earlier this year, especially during the summer.
South Sudan has also suffered from the consequences of ceasing its oil exports, as President Salva Kiir has acknowledged on several occasions. Therefore, Kiir sought to conclude an agreement that would once again entitle the South to export oil through northern pipelines, despite his earlier threats that the South would seek new export outlets in other countries. The change in Kiir’s attitude stems from the fact that running a new oil pipeline to export harbors in eastern Africa would take years and would cost billions of US dollars, meaning the venture would be of no economic value. Hence, a number of observers and Western analysts believe the recent agreement is merely an attempt by Khartoum and Juba to overcome their acute economic crisis and reduce the international diplomatic pressure mounted on them, rather than a genuine attempt to solve the disputes and problems that have marred relations between them since the CPA was signed seven years ago, and especially since the secession of the South.
What Khartoum and Juba require is not a temporary oil agreement concluded under the pressure of economic problems, but rather solutions to end all other outstanding problems and issues; from border demarcations to the future of Abyei, and from South Kordofan and the Blue Nile to the lack of trust and proxy wars being waged between the two sides. Unless this happens, the cycle of suspicions and wars, and the failures that have frustrated all previous agreements and have kept Sudan suffering from internal strife, will only be repeated.