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NewsNotes, May-June 2010
Vol. 35 No. 3

Sudan: Elections aftermath

See related article from March-April 2010 NewsNotes

The Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA) described well the “disappointment” in Sudan following the first multiparty general election there in 24 years. “Sudan’s ruler of 20 years [President Omar Hassan al-Bashir], who last year became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, is now a presidential shoe-in.” In the weeks prior to the election, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which led the south in a decades-long struggle against the regime in Khartoum, withdrew from the election, eliminating the candidacy of Yasir Arman, the man seen as “able to present the strongest challenge to al-Bashir.” Other candidates followed suit, “citing repression and the expectation of vote-rigging.” Jennifer Schutzman, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, contributed to this article.

A necessary step in the process mandated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the elections drew heavy criticism from within Sudan and internationally. Independent election monitors noted serious irregularities and the elections’ failure to meet international standards. The general secretary of the Sudan Council of Churches, Rev. Ramadan Chan Liol, called the elections neither free nor fair, but said they should continue as a “key step in the implementation” of the CPA.  The U.S. “noted” the assessment of independent observers and serious problems with the elections, but emphasized the importance of these elections to the CPA process.

At a meeting in Juba on April 20, Salva Kiir Mayardit, chair of the SPLM, and Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, deputy chair of the National Congress Party (NCP), pledged to accept the results at all levels despite any complaints from parties and discussed the expected formation of the next Government of National Unity – a clear move to perpetuate the “status quo.” The former SPLM presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and the party’s secretary general, Pagan Amum, also attended the meeting, where resumption of the dialogue over contested CPA issues, including those related to Sudan’s oil, also was discussed.

Thanks to divestment campaigns organized by the Sudan Divestment Task Force and the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan – with the goal of pressuring the government of Sudan to change – most industrialized nations have avoided supporting Sudan’s oil industry, a root of its violent conflict and war. However, the state-run China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) continues to receive roughly 84 percent of Sudan’s oil; India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. (ONCG) and Malaysia’s Petronas are the other major buyers.

This stand-still, with ethical investors not yet changing the system and oil benefits not yet reaching communities, will be affected by the referendum scheduled for January 2011. If, for example, South Sudan decides to secede, it will be faced with the challenge of how to handle its oil trade in a manner that will profit its citizens and maintain peace with the North at the same time. 

Although at least 75 percent of the country’s 6.3 billion barrels of oil reserves are located in South Sudan, the North will not want (or be able) to break all ties with this industry; 60-70 percent of the North’s current income comes from the oil trade. One incentive for the North to permit peaceful secession would be for the South to maintain the status quo (as mandated by the CPA) of 50/50 revenue sharing. Pagan Amum, the SPLM’s secretary general, assured the North that, in the event of a vote for secession, in the interest of peace,  the South would initially continue similar profit sharing.

Since all of the oil currently drilled in the South is sent directly through infrastructure in the North for trade; the South will not have an option in the near term to break off oil relations with the North.  If the South were to withdraw immediately from the 50/50 agreement, it would risk not only armed attacks from the North but also abrupt economic failure.

The CPA also specifically addresses citizens’ rights pertaining to oil, yet the companies continue to disregard, if not work against, them. IKV Pax Christi refers to the Sudanese oil industry as “possibly the least socially responsible on the earth” and points a finger directly at the companies for making no attempt to guarantee CPA-granted citizens’ protections.

IKV Pax Christi also points to the CPA for not specifying exactly how those rights are to be protected.  Article 3.1.5 of the CPA states that the oil companies “shall share in the benefits of that development” but the oil companies do not have viable strategies to ensure community benefits.  The CPA also states that “the communities in whose areas development of subterranean natural resources occurs have the right to participate, through their respective states/regions, in the negotiation of contracts for the development of those resources,” but this kind of involvement rarely takes place. (Sudan: Whose Oil? IKV Pax Christi)  Possibly the most blatantly disregarded section of the CPA is Article 4.5: “Persons whose rights have been violated by oil contracts are entitled to compensation. On the establishment of these violations through due legal process, the Parties to the oil contracts shall be liable to compensate the affected persons to the extent of the damage caused.”

As Sudan takes the next steps on its painful journey toward peace, North and South, separately or together, with or without oil, will have to face very difficult questions about how to build an economy that is sustainable, inclusive and provides a life of dignity and well-being for every Sudanese person.

For additional information, see IKV Pax Christi’s Sudan: Whose Oil?

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