Conflict Escalates in Sudan: North and South prepare for war
On July 9th 2011 the predominantly Christian Southern Sudan seceded from the Muslim north, bringing a decade of fighting that claimed two million lives to a close. Less than one year later, however, the North and South once again seem poised for war.
After last year’s fighting the North and South negotiated issues such as rights to oil revenue and border posts. But these talks failed to produce sound agreements, as both sides made extreme demands and tensions once again flared. In particular, South Sudan’s plan to build a pipeline to the Indian Ocean through Kenya outraged the North, as it would cut them out of the oil trade.
Both sides would benefit from dividing up the oil revenue. The South holds massive oil reserves but remains landlocked. The North owns the pipeline infrastructure to allow access to the Red Sea and the oil export market. It appears the North bears more responsibility for rising tension, as it has demanded enormous prices from the South to access the pipelines.
This gridlock has greatly increased the likelihood for war. Some militaristic hardliners in the North still want to see the South fail as a state and want nothing more than to reclaim the oil fields beyond the border. The South is ready to respond to this threat.
This tragic situation illustrates what Professor of Economics Yuri Maltsev calls “the curse of natural resources.” He says, “Natural resources, when they are not owned privately, can, and often do, provoke conflicts within countries, as various clans, groups and factions fight for their share. In economics it is called rent-seeking. Sometimes these emerge openly as independence or separatist conflicts in countries where the resources are produced. New ruling elites fight old ones for the right to loot natural resources. Access to resource revenues by belligerents can prolong conflicts and result in mass murder and devastation.”
This type of violence can, however, be avoided. North and South Sudan must negotiate clear property rights for the oil fields and agree on a proper arrangement for revenue distribution. The African Union and U.S. President Barack Obama have made urgent calls for calm negotiations between the two states. The UN may also send peacekeepers to the North-South border in the near future. Still, ultimately the North and South must come to an agreement in order to prevent a war that their citizens do not want. Maltsev adds that market based reform can best accomplish this task. “It is freedom and not natural resources which is the source of prosperity and only in a market economy these resources can benefit rather than harm people”.