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Story Publication logo July 1, 2007

The Curse of Boundaries


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Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

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By David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

"I was cursed to be born Sudanese," Pagan Amum once told me wryly "A good friend of mine was born in a village near the Uganda border where they didn't even know exactly where the boundary lay. He was cursed to be born Ugandan."

His irony bears explaining. Pagan Amum is Secretary General of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. He loves Sudan, and he has fought most of his adult life for a free Sudan that is for all Sudanese, regardless of race and gender and region - not just for the Arab power-brokers who rule from Khartoum. He was referring to the artifice of boundaries that causes some of us to be born as 'Haves' and others of us to be born as 'Have Nots' - some of us to be born into the throes of civil war or starvation; others to be born among the small percentage of the world's inhabitants who enjoy peace and prosperity.

He went on to refer to the Colonial borders that demarcate Africa into the "fictional" entities we call nations. And he voiced the dream of a pan-Africa, in which a democratized Sudan might help democratize the continent.

This conversation took place over beside the White Nile in Juba, in December 2005, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was not quite one year old, and only six months into its implementation.

Last week in Juba I was pleased to have the opportunity to renew the friendship and resume the conversation. The setting was more formal this time. The interview took place in the anteroom outside President Salva Kiir's office. The differences in circumstances and mood were telling.

I didn't recognize Pagan at first. He had grown a goatee, which gave him a more pointed face, and he was wearing a suit and tie - though after we began talking I recognized the same philosophical mind. By now the CPA was entering its third year. The new Government of South Sudan was struggling to deliver services to its people. The nature of the challenges had changed. Pagan called the peace a "continuing struggle."

We talked about the progress of the SPLM toward changing from a liberation movement to a political party, about the coming elections, and the status of the country's oil reserves. It was Pagan's earlier remarks about boundaries that came to mind. Those cursed boundaries had taken on new relevance.

I asked whether there had been progress in two keys areas of power-sharing where Khartoum had been dragging its feet. The setting up of a Boundary Commission, formed jointly by North and South, to settle on the precise demarcation between the two - internal boundaries that are absolutely essential if the South is to gain control of the proceeds from the oil wells, most of which lie within its borders. Khartoum has delayed at its end, and the delay is causing great anger in the South. The other joint-body necessary for fair allocation of oil revenues is the National Oil Commission, provided for under the CPA. That commission will approve oil contracts, monitor the flow of oil, and audit the proceeds. Khartoum has again dragged its feet.

In the absence of these commissions, the South has no real idea of whether it is getting its fair share of the oil. Khartoum has its troops in the oilfields of Upper Nile, Kordafan, and Abyei, where Chinese and other oil exploration companies are extracting oil with great haste, with little attention to environmental standards. The South is left to take Khartoum's word for how much oil it has produced.

This is of utmost concern to a Government of South Sudan that depends on the oil revenues for most of its budget, from social services to military spending, and for its credibility. The situation is complicated further by Khartoum's efforts to claim the oil-rich area of Abyei for the North, although its people are Dinka and have identified with the South. The oil question may determine whether peace is maintained in Sudan or whether the country divides once again into war.

The final irony I would like to highlight is that now it is the colonial boundary - the border drawn by the British in 1956 - that Southerners believe should be preserved.

Asked whether there had been progress on that front, Pagan told me that by February 2008, the Boundary Commission will have met and demarcated the boundaries.

Khartoum has made other promises. A week from now, on July 9, the government of Sudan has promised that all activity by the militias it has sponsored in the South will cease.

Pagan is optimistic. Whether his optimism is rewarded remains to be seen.


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