x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Citizenship rules will shape lives in both Sudans

Sudan's new border between North and South threatens to create problems for pastoralists and others used to moving freely.

As Sudan separated into two independent nations yesterday, pastoralists and many others found themselves in a new quandary. Northern Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir has promised friendly relations and cooperation but there is no guarantee of a peaceful future - especially as many in the North mourned the day of separation even as the South celebrated.

Many Sudanese tribes have until recently been nomadic, moving freely between what is now the North and South. Many northerners live and do business throughout the Republic of South Sudan. For centuries, southerners have settled in the north. These are realities that both Juba and Khartoum should recognise.

The University of Khartoum has suggested that both governments should sign a treaty similar to those signed by Egypt and Sudan in 1976 and 2004; the first one guarantees Sudanese the right to travel to Egypt without entry visas, the right to education, employment, health care and ownership of property; the latter guarantees reciprocity in terms of travel, residence, work and ownership. Such a framework would help to avoid immigration problems that might face citizens on either side.

The alternative is renewed conflict. Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia in 1993 provides a negative example. Thousands of people from each side were forced to relocate based on ethnic differences. The two countries fell back into military conflict shortly after separation.

The legal framework to guarantee citizenship rights, at least for southerners living in the north, already exists. The former Sudanese federal law allows dual citizenship, making it difficult to revoke citizenship based on ethnicity. The two countries should develop guarantees of civil rights, regardless of ethnic background, to all citizens. Integration is important for security and those "friendly relations" mentioned by Mr Al Bashir.

There are many issues ahead, including economic priorities such as the distribution of oil (73 per cent of which comes from the south), distribution of the Nile's water and debt payments (a shared $40 billion, or Dh147 billion). The international community should be party to this peaceful transition in part through the United Nations Missions in Sudan, which consists of 7,000 peacekeepers and 900 civilian police.

By now it is clear that the fates of the two Sudans are bound together regardless of secession. Second-class citizenship and marginalised ethnic groups have sparked conflict in the past. In this new political order, there is an opportunity to break with that history.