South Sudan versus Sudan on North-South boundary case

By Jacob K. Lupai


May 27, 2012 (SSNA) — In the colonial era known as the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, Sudan was administered as North and South separately. The two parts of Sudan were distinguishable in that northern Sudan was Arab while southern Sudan was African. The two parts of Sudan were different worlds apart from which a common national consciousness never emerged. Northern Sudan was identified with the slave trade and oppression in southern Sudan. There was nothing in common except the sharing of the name Sudan as a common factor. Even with Sudan as a common factor northern and southern Sudan were nothing other than loosely connected parts. It was the Condominium that brought the southern Sudan under the British colonial rule for semblance of connection with the northern part. Southern Sudan consisted of three undeveloped provinces of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. The British authorities treated the three southern provinces as a separate region and in all southern Sudan was detached from the rest of Sudan. Southern Sudan became a distinct geographical region with secure borders in its own right. Clearly North-South demarcation line was distinctive on January 1st, 1956 when Sudan became an independent republic after southern Sudan had been conned to become part of independent Sudan. This may be taken as marking the beginning of North-South conflict.

North-South Sudan borders not basis of conflict

From 1956 when Sudan attained its independence from colonial rule to 1974 when oil was discovered in South Sudan, North-South borders were never a hot issue and arguably were never the basis of conflict. Between 1956 and 1972 the North-South conflict and hostilities between the two regions was often phrased in terms of conflict between people of different culture and language but not in terms of North-South borders. For example, the language and culture of northern Sudan were seen as Arabic and the religion Islam. In contrast southern Sudan was seen as having its own diverse non-Arabic languages and cultures, and it was non-Muslim. Nowhere was there any mention of North-South borders as the basis of conflict because probably it was assumed either part knew where the borders were. The North-South conflict was also more of uneven development between northern and southern Sudan rather than a border conflict. It was the northern arrogance that added fuel to the conflict but not any border issue. It can be seen that the initial North-South conflict between 1956 and 1972 was not about where the North-South borders should had been. It can be argued that both northern and southern Sudan knew precisely where the North-South borders were as on January 1st, 1956.

Exploration for oil in southern Sudan

It was between 1955 and 1972 that northern and southern Sudan were locked in a war that neither could easily win. The war was not where the North-South borders should have been but rather for equitable sharing of wealth and even development in the two parts of Sudan with a secular system of governance. As it was northern Sudan that was imposing the war on southern Sudan, it was northern Sudan that saw it could not win. Northern Sudan initiated a dialogue and southern Sudan seized the opportunity without second thought. The dialogue ended in an agreement on what was called the problem of southern Sudan. In 1972 the agreement ended a 17-year war between northern and southern Sudan. Article 3(iii) of the agreement defines “Southern Provinces of the Sudan” to mean the Provinces of Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile in accordance with their boundaries as they stood on January 1st, 1956 and any other areas that were culturally and geographically a part of the Southern complex as may be decided by a referendum. Article 3(iii) clearly indicates that northern and southern Sudan knew very well where the boundaries of southern provinces of Sudan were supposed to have been. In the agreement northern Sudan was the dominant partner where the central government was headed by a northerner who was a military dictator. The implementation of the1972 agreement started off somewhat smoothly with all the self-government machinery in place in southern Sudan within the first year of the agreement with the borders of southern Sudan as on January 1st, 1956.

Southern Sudan was lagging behind in development. It was therefore natural that the self-government in southern Sudan was to embark on development activities as a matter of priority to raise the living standards of southerners. Two years into the agreement oil exploration was to be conducted in southern Sudan. However, there was resistance from the central government in northern Sudan. Northern Sudan feared that new found riches in southern Sudan would threaten national unity. The fear was that oil discoveries in southern Sudan would encourage separatist tendencies. The plan was to make southern Sudan economically dependent on northern Sudan as a way of guaranteeing national unity. It was obvious that northern Sudan did not want to see southern Sudan developed and this was one of the causes of conflict. On oil exploration the regional government in southern Sudan pressed hard for it to take place. Southern Sudan won the argument and oil exploration indeed took place. However, the price for oil exploration in southern Sudan was high as can be seen later. The problem started when the central government refused to have the company exploring for oil in southern Sudan to have its base camp but in northern Sudan. More problems were to follow when oil was at last discovered in southern Sudan.

Northern Sudan redrawing North-South boundaries in aftermath of oil discovery

In 1978 oil was struck in one of the first wells in Bentiu in Upper Nile province in southern Sudan. The discovery of oil created worries for northern Sudan but none for southern Sudan. Northern Sudan worried about what name to give to the oil well. In debating possible well names, the wells were named Unity Wells and the oil field of the Unity Wells was named Unity Field. The aim of northern Sudan was to create a kind of unity province consisting of Bentiu and Gogrial Area Councils in southern Sudan, and Abyei, Kadugli and Dilling Area Councils in northern Sudan. This was to distort the map of southern Sudan by redrawing boundaries. As this was not enough northern Sudan downplayed the presence of oil in southern Sudan. The main worry for northern Sudan was about how to remain in full control of the oil and other valuable resources in southern Sudan in order to deprive the people of southern Sudan of their own wealth. Northern Sudan attempted to transfer oil fields, and agricultural and grazing lands of Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal to northern provinces by redrawing the map. The northern fiddling with the map of southern Sudan brought out the strongest protest yet by the people of southern Sudan that the central government was forced to appoint a committee to investigate and advise accordingly. To the relief of southern Sudan the central government accepted the recommendation of the committee which was the retention of North-South borders fixed as on January 1st, 1956. It was also discovered that Kafi Kenji in western Bahr el Ghazal province had been secretly leased by the central government to the oil company prospecting for oil in southern Sudan.

Kafi Kenji was transferred from Bahr el Ghazal to Darfur by the central government in 1961 because of uranium deposits in the area. However, Kafi Kenji was restored to southern Sudan under the terms of the 1972 agreement. Kafi Kenji was again retransferred to Darfur by the new 1980 Act defining regional boundaries. Determined to redraw the map, discoveries of another oil field north of Unity Field in Bentiu revived the boundary dispute. The new field was near the boundary between Bentiu Area Council and Southern Kordofan. Nevertheless, the central government claimed that the new field with its first well was within Kordofan in northern Sudan. However, the southern Sudan view was that the new field was within Bentiu Area Council which was two hours drive from Bentiu but five hours drive from Kadugli in Kordofan. Anybody in the locality knew that the new field was in fact a part of Bentiu Area Council hence in southern Sudan. The Dinka name of the place was Pan Thou but northern Sudan adopted the Arab name of Heglig as one of the many manifestations of a claim based on vested interest. Heglig is an Arabic equivalent of Thou in Dinka. Northern Sudan literally translated the name Thou in Dinka to Heglig in Arabic as a crafty way to redraw the map to share resources in southern Sudan just like the Arabs renamed the Jewish Patriarch Abraham as Ibrahim to share in God’s glory.

Sudan has no case versus South Sudan on North-South borders

The world should be made to know that the Republic of Sudan has no case versus the Republic of South Sudan on North-South boundaries. It was the responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in South Sudan to educate the world in depth in order to be knowledgeable of North-South border issues. However, the performance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was very disappointing to say the least. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting did its very best in carrying out a mammoth task of informing the world of Sudan’s naked and unjustified aggression against South Sudan for its resources. As usual Sudan managed to deceive the world into believing that South Sudan was the aggressor. In reality, though, South Sudan was simply asserting its territorial integrity within its international borders like any other independent country in the world. What the world did not know was that Sudan’s naked aggression against South Sudan was to redraw the map of the region behind the back of the international community in order to exploit South Sudan’s main asset, oil. Sudan’s claim that South Sudan was occupying its territory was nothing but a diversion and to con the world. As time goes the world will come to know that in fact Sudan has no case against South Sudan in relation to North-South borders.

Sudan always looks for trouble where there is none. Because of being starved of oil from South Sudan, Sudan will push itself to any length to violate international law with impunity. This is seen in the violation of South Sudan’s air space where there is no comparable air defense system to deter Sudan’s air aggression. This is especially so when the United Nations Security Council seems to encourage Sudan with utter inaction in the face of Sudan’s air bombardments of South Sudan’s territories. On the other hand the International Criminal Court should accelerate the process of apprehending the indicted president of Sudan to bring peace and stability to the region. The president is like a wounded buffalo and a wounded buffalo is very dangerous. To divert attention from home for his political upheavals and economic crisis, the president, in his confused mind, will consider aggression against South Sudan an easy route out of his nightmares. However, whatever the case may be South Sudan will stand firm on its legitimate right to exercise sovereignty over all areas within its borders as on January 1st, 1956. The United Nations Security Council will be very helpful in North-South border conflict when it can get all the facts on the ground from independent verifiers appointed by the United Nations. In this way the United Nations Security Council will act on informed decisions. This will be in the best interest of peace, security and stability in the region. Any violator of the United Nations Security Council resolutions should be dealt with swiftly for the desired effect. For now Sudan seems to have all the leeway despite its disrespect for the United Nations Security Council.


In conclusion, the North-South borders as on January 1st, 1956 need independent verifiers with expert membership of South Sudan and Sudan to resolve the problem once and for all. The border conflict is not about the North-South borders per se but it is precisely about oil, agricultural and grazing lands, and uranium in South Sudan. This explains why Sudan by all means wants to annex territories of South Sudan by the use of brute force. This is because in its imagination South Sudan is a weakling in air defense. Also, Sudan is aware that a peaceful resolution of the conflict will deprive it of the resources in South Sudan. Sudan seems to calculate that aggression helps it to exploit the oil deposits from South Sudan’s territories without accountability. On the other hand Sudan’s noisy but efficient Ministry of Foreign Affairs will always portray South Sudan as the aggressor when in fact South Sudan is only asserting its legitimate right over all its territories within its borders as on January 1st, 1956. It is here that with the help of experts the United Nations Security Council can have the knowledge of where were the North-South boundaries when Sudan got its independence. This knowledge can finally help to resolve the problem of aggression in the area in order to maintain regional peace, security and stability for the next coming generations. People need peaceful co-existence to enjoy life with minimum worries.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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