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Will Sudan fall off Obama's radar?

Some rights activists fear their country will not be on the Obama administration's priority list.
Last modified: 15 Feb 2013 15:02

The newest African nation, South Sudan, is a year and a half old. But it and its northern neighbour, Sudan, still have not fulfilled all nine terms of their comprehensive peace agreement (CPA), signed in 2005.

The US government is not pleased, particularly with Khartoum. Princeton Lyman, special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, recently told me: "Both sides see the worst in each other’s conditions. I think right now the problem is with Khartoum’s definition with how to get its own security needs addressed."

Lyman has announced his departure after nearly two years in the job. So now President Barack Obama will have to pick a new special envoy to urge both sides to implement the peace agreements.

Even so, he's trying to push the two countries towards a resolution on the oil revenue-sharing question.

Juba stopped all oil production last year in protest over the lack of a deal - and now it's running out of money.

"We're going to host a conference soon to bring together donours to ask, how do we adjust our programmes and mobilise resources to make sure South Sudan can weather this delay," Lyman said.

"A collapse would be calamitous not only for South Sudan, but for the whole region."

Revenue loss

Sudan would also be badly affected. Before the 2011 country split, oil revenue made up 70 percent of Sudan's income. And because there is no revenue-sharing deal, Khartoum's treasury is leaner than officials had expected.

Plus, because of the International Criminal Court indictment against President Omar al-Bashir for genocide and war crimes in Darfur, the US is providing only emergency aid to the country - aid which Washington accuses Khartoum of trying to prevent from reaching the people who need food, emergency shelter, and medicine.

Even without a new envoy, though, activists are looking to John Kerry, the new US secretary ofsState, to look beyond the stalled CPA implementation - and to strike a blow for human rights, justice and accountability.

First, these groups say that while the US knows that government troops are attacking residents in northern Darfur, it's time for it and other countries to figure out a way to stop the attacks and murders.

The other thing they want from the Obama administration is a concerted effort to get Bashir sent to the Hague for trial as soon as possible.

"It should be an imperative of our government that [Bashir] is turned over to the ICC, and we've got a number of countries in Africa who say they will [do that] if he lands [on their territory]," Greg Stanton, head of Genocide Watch, said.

"Our government and nation were established on fundamental human rights for all people. That’s what makes our nation great."

But with the US growing more worried about armed groups with al-Qaeda sympathies spreading in other parts of Africa, trying to end the war in Afghanistan, and managing its national security "pivot" to Asia, these activists fear Sudan will not reach the top of the Obama administration's priority list.