Beware of smiling politicians

Omar al-bashir of Sudan and Salvo Kiir of South Sudan just concluded a meeting to resolve a bitter dispute about oil production. After four days of talks in Addis Ababa, the two leaders emerged to announce that an economic and security agreement had been reached. Flanked by their delegates, Kiir and Bashir hugged and smiled at the flashing cameras. Yet beneath their confident smiles lies a contentious issue that has riled both leaders for months.

Over a year ago, South Sudan seceded from Sudan and became an independent country. However it attained this status without reaching a categoric agreement on how the 1200 mile border it shares with the North should be demarcated. Under the terms of independence, South Sudan maintained ownership of two thirds of the crude oil whilst Sudan controlled the oil refineries. But in January 2012, a dispute over oil transit fees and the unresolved border issue almost thrust the two countries into war. South Sudan shut down oil production forcing Bashir to implement austerity measures which sparked uprisings in Khartoum. In South Sudan, the lack off oil production also weakened their economy. To avert a financial crisis, the two leaders met in Addis and brought an end to the economic and security stalemate.

The newly signed agreement resolved three core issues: The two countries agreed to reopen oil exports from the South to Northern Sudan. They also agreed to demilitarize the zone between the border and end all hostilities that almost led to war in April. Inspite of these significant achievements Bashir and Kiir were not able to reach a decision about how to mark their border or how to resolve the disputed border region of Ayebi. Without a clearly demarcated border which shows where Sudan ends and where  Sudan begins, dazzling smiles and firm handshakes are insincere and irrelevant. All it will take is another skirmish at Ayebi for the former foes to draw their guns again.

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