A mix of quiet dignity and wild joy marked the days leading up to the establishment of the world’s newest country. Rising from the ashes of the continent’s longest running civil war – from 1955 until, well, actually, it is still kind of going on right now, despite an intermission and lots of paperwork that says the Muslim north and the Christian / animist south are at peace. The second part of the war, from 1985, cost some two million lives and saw over 200,000 Dinka taken as slaves by their northern so-called ‘Arab’ enemies.
As the rather sour-faced Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir waited in a throng to take his place on the podium on a scorching day, his generals were sharing a pleasant chat and laugh with their southern counterparts. Yet hundreds of miles to the north, hostilities continued between southerners and northerners in the oil rich provinces of South Kurdufan and around Abyei. Many insiders speculate that despite the euphoria and posters proclaiming tolerance and peace, fresh large-scale fighting is just over the horizon.
The north earns some 80% of its revenue from the oil-wells of the south; yet revenue sharing from those same wells contributes 98% of South Sudan’s income. The oil flows north and essentially bankrolls the belligerence of Sudan towards its restive secessionist provinces like Darfur, Blue Nile and Kassala. South Sudan has said it will build pipelines to take their oil east through to Djibouti or Ethiopia, and deprive the north of the majority of their income. This is incendiary enough to provoke a war. Despite this, perhaps it is a much less volatile fluid that is perhaps key to the region’s fate.
The mighty White Nile flows through South Sudan and onto the dessicated north Sudan, and then Egypt. For the north of Sudan and Egypt, the water of the Nile is their lifeline. Without it, they would be unable to survive. Yet for South Sudan, the Nile is but a river – their copious rainfall means they are not so dependent on it. The South, and even its capital Juba, run off generators. There is not a single large scale power plant in the fledgling state.
It is obvious that damming the Nile is the answer to their power needs. Further upstream, Ethiopia has antagonized Egypt and Khartoum by planning to build a dam on their stretch of the river.
How this struggle for the great and ancient river plays out may dictate the regions future even more than oil and historic religious antagonisms.
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