Last Thursday, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signed a series of agreements addressing issues that have at times this year brought the two countries to the brink of war.
The agreements are the culmination of months of talks and a one-day presidential summit that turned into four. The current deal allows for oil production to resume, creates a demilitarized zone along the border and opens the border up to trade. However, despite progress made by both sides, this is far from the comprehensive peace agreement that is needed.
There is no doubt that this deal is significant. An agreement on security issues, specifically the demilitarized zone, was a prerequisite for the signing of the provisional oil agreement reached in August. A resumption of oil production in South Sudan, shutdown since January as a result of a dispute over oil fees, is vital to the economic survival of both countries.
While resumption of any substantial levels of oil production can be expected to take months to a year, the effects of the deal on the price of food and basic necessities in Sudan and South Sudan where the shutdown has caused hyperinflation should be apparent quickly.
In the past, Sudan and South Sudan have signed any number of agreements that failed to be implemented and while much can happen to derail the process in the months it will take to restart production, it is a step back from the brink of conflict between the two countries. Once resumed, the international pressure to keep the oil pumping should prevent both sides from threatening to turn off the spigots.
Nevertheless, this is not yet the dawn of a new day in Sudan/South Sudan relations. In a recent post we drew attention to the fact that any deal that fails to address the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile will be hollow and fragile.
The deal not only failed to address the humanitarian crisis but it failed to achieve consensus on border demarcation or ownership of the contested Abyei region. In fact, as the deal was being signed in Addis Ababa, Sudan was bombing South Kordofan state. With such violence continuing and critical issues still left unresolved, last week’s deal shows limited progress that is motivated by economic self-interest.