Two years ago today, Sudanese citizens in South Sudan began waiting in sprawling lines for hours to vote in a referendum over whether South Sudan should be an independent nation. When all votes were tallied, over 98% of the people chose independence. That wish was realized in July 2011, but at the same time, war broke out anew in two states that would remain part of Sudan leading to a humanitarian crisis which has affected hundreds of thousands. Continued tensions and the threat of a return to war between North and South has paralyzed the international community from doing much to change that.
Just days ago, the Sudanese and South Sudanese presidents met for talks in Ethiopia. It was significant in that the leaders have only met a handful of times since South Sudan’s independence, but each meeting has led only to rhetorical progress which has been inevitably delayed. While the two heads of state assured that they would push forward on a security buffer zone and resumption of oil flows as agreed to in September, little substantive progress was made at the summit. In fact, all you really needed to know was what was listed as the last line of a recent AP piece, “The issue of humanitarian access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile was not on the agenda.”
Over 900,000 people in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are living in a “truly appalling” state (including some 170,000 who have fled to South Sudan) according to the UN’s director of humanitarian operations John Ging, who pleaded before the Security Council on Tuesday. As US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice points out, both rebels and the Sudanese government share some blame, “but the preponderance is and has been on the government of Khartoum.”
Many observers (most recently Alan Boswell in a piece titled “Civil War Still Rages in Nuba Mountains, Thwarting Sudan, South Sudan Peace”) have pointed to the close link between the fighting in South Kordofan and Blue Nile and the prospects for agreement between the North and South. Indeed the main sticking point used by the Government of Sudan to delay further progress is the charge that South Sudan is arming rebels and that the South should actively disarm them.
As further talks and a possible next presidential summit loom ahead of and at the African Union Summit, humanitarian access must not only be on the agenda, but at the very top of it. Until the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is dealt with, both in terms of humanitarian access and pressure toward a political settlement, the vision of an independent and secure South Sudan that millions of people voted for two years ago today will remain out of reach.