Peace and War in South Sudan


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An article in Saturday’s New York Times entitled “Violence Grips South Sudan as Vote Nears” reminded me of a 2008 research paper by Ibrahim Elbadawi, Gary Milante and Constantino Pischadda which models the relationship between Juba and Khartoum as a “game” leading up to the referendum in 2011. 

They show that excessive militarization and brinksmanship can be a rational response for both actors, neither of which can credibly commit to lower levels of military spending under the current status quo.  Life imitates research.

While the Times article portrays the heightened violence as attempts by Khartoum to create divisions within the south Sudanese and split the vote in 2011, the paper by Ibrahim and co-authors points out that this excessive militarization, while rational, comes at the expense of much-needed health and education expenditures—and could be avoided by greater transparency, democratization and economic cooperation. 



Shanta Devarajan

Teaching Professor of the Practice Chair, International Development Concentration, Georgetown University

Ibrahim Ahmed Elbadawi
December 14, 2009

Dear Shanta,

I just read the article, which I think is a true reflection of the dangers looming over the Sudan. I also think that your comment on the article in the light of the Referendum paper is balanced and thoughtful.

However, if there is any positive thing coming out of Sudan these days it must be the emerging democracy alliance between the SPLM and the northern opposition parties. This alliance is steadily exerting pressure on the National Congress Party to agree on key legislations aimed at ensuring fair and transparent elections. I think the outcome is likely to be one of two extreme: should the broad coalition succeed, I think we will have a post-conflict democracy that might succeed in keeping the country united, or at least deliver a peaceful confederal system between north and south; or, instead, we could have an inter-state war followed by very conflictive relationship between the two nascent Sudanese states. In this context both the ICC threat hanging over the President of Sudan and the vulnerability of the south would, in my view, tip the balance of power in the NCP toward the hardliners, who favor confrontation with the SPLM and suppression of the northern opposition. Under this scenario, I would agree with the NY article in that this time the central Nile valley may not be that resilient and violence might very well creep from the peripheries to engulf the whole country.

I think the dual (SPLM-NCP) approach that the US administration is still pursuing in its mediation efforts should be abandoned and the popular northern opposition as well as the other southern stakeholders (beyond the SPLM) should now have a seat in the table.

Ibrahim Ahmed Elbadawi, PhD
Former World Bank staff
and visiting Research Fellow, Center for Global Development

Gary Milante
December 17, 2009

Shanta, thanks for remembering our little paper and agreed that this brinksmanship reflects rational responses on both sides.

In a more recent version of the paper (we keep updating it to reflect changes on the ground), we argue that one of the challenges to the peace in this "game" is precisely the "comprehensiveness" of the agreement. In other peace agreements, the game between the actors is repeated and cooperation is encouraged over time as actors build trust (a long shadow of the future is helpful). The CPA effectively collapses that repeated game down into a single "one-shot" game - the Referendum - which makes this brinksmanship all the more dangerous.