|The SPLA could take up arms again if southern Sudan does not benefit from peace [AP]|
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan's People Liberation Movement signed on January 9, 2005 ended years of bloody warfare which had effectively split the country in two.
But it is a peculiar contract between the once-warring factions.
On the one hand it is supposed to be an agreement between a rebel movement and the national government. Instead, it has become a power-sharing deal between the National Congress Party and the SPLM, as if the whole North is represented by the National Congress and the whole South is represented by the SPLM.
It is true that many Sudanese political parties had welcomed the CPA. They thought the National Congress was finally willing to democratise the country and share power. But that did not happen.
The new formula had place only for the signatories to the agreement. Nevertheless, none of the former Northern opposition parties caused any serious problems to the new partners and they settled for crumbs off the CPA dining table.
While goodwill and ceremony accompanied the signing of the CPA, the optimism faded a few months later with the death of John Garang, SPLM leader, in a helicopter crash on July 31, 2005.
For many Sudanese, particularly in the south, Garang inspired hope in a democratic, secure and united Sudan.
Garang fought for this goal for many years and believed the CPA to be a launchpad for his vision. But it seems that all of those noble notions were buried with him.
Massive civilian toll
It is estimated that up to three million south Sudanese had been either killed or displaced since the conflict began in May 1983.
The basis of their struggle had been their desire to end decades of discrimination and injustice inflicted upon them by the Northern-dominated government.
Their sense of disenfranchisement was further compounded by a sense of alienation in September 1983 when Ja'afar Nemeiri, the former leader of Sudan, introduced his controversial Islamic penal code into the judicial system. That was the last straw for the predominantly animist and Christian South.
Suddenly the SPLM and its military wing the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) – had been transformed from a regional rebellion comprised of one army platoon to a liberation movement that managed to win the respect and support of many members of the international community.
So is all of that bitter history a relic of the past? The answer is an emphatic no. History still haunts the peace partners to this day; the walls of distrust are too thick to be demolished by the mere exchange of smiles and pleasantries.
Sudan is considered to have vast natural resources.
In addition to oil reserves, largely untapped in the southern third of the country, Sudan has significant uranium, copper, diamond, gold, iron ore, mica and silver mines.
Less than 200,000sq km of the country has been cultivated but agricultural estimates indicate that Sudan can successfully become the wheat basket of Africa if it is able to develop the existing 1.2 million sq km of cultivable land.
It is also in a geostrategic area of Africa, bordering Egypt, Libya, Chad, Central Republic of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The South is in dire need of vital infrastructure and goods, from roads and industry to antibiotics and pencils. I toured parts of the South in 2006 and was shocked to see the total lack of development despite the rich potential of the land.
Poverty, illiteracy, and disease are everywhere while the inexperienced former fighters are desperately trying to grapple with the challenges facing them in affairs of governance.
The situation in Khartoum is not much better for the south Sudanese. The leaders of the National Congress Party, so used to being at the helm of power, have been loathe to relinquish their seats of power without a fight.
Some of them had to be dragged to the negotiating table and agreed to reach a deal only after a lot of coaxing and pressure from the international community.
However, they then tried to delay the implementation of the CPA every step of the way and sought to block the appointment of SPLM members in the government.
Such crises increased distrust and forced SPLM ministers to withdraw from the national unity government for more than two months.
Eventually, the National Congress caved in to power-sharing demands and the SPLM ministers rejoined the government.
Oil of contention
The CPA has also deliberately prolonged the transitional period in order to build trust between North and South. The goal was to convince south Sudanese that they would be better off in a united Sudan. Unfortunately, unity seems like an impossible goal right now after three years of this strange power and wealth-sharing formula.
Sudan's oil wealth is considered to be a serious bone of contention between the two regions and is threatening to plunge the country again into a bitter conflict.
The oil-rich region of Abeyei is located on the demarcation line between North and South where countries such as China, have been actively pumping out oil since 2001.
The arbitration commission that has been assigned to determine the exact borders between the North and the South has been inconclusive on the status of Abeyei, thus angering both the government and the SPLM.
The Khartoum government knows that it would choke economically without the oil produced in Abeyei, while the SPLM is trying to gain control of the area to honour promises of oil concessions made to many Western companies.
Unfortunately, one of the ugly legacies of post-colonial African rebel movements is that they receive generous donations from multi-national corporations in exchange for future concessions to prospect oil and other natural resources.
That is precisely why neither the government nor the SPLM is giving any quarters when it comes to the status of Abeyei.
Analysts also believe that many of the recent clashes between the SPLM and the government are due to the lack of experience and brash style of Garang's successor, Salva Kiir Mayardit.
As the military commander of the SPLA, Kiir - a man of few words and even less patience - suddenly found himself catapulted to this position of power; a position he was ill-prepared to undertake.
His failure to compromise was matched by an equally reticent government; many problems between the new partners came as a result of deeply-rooted hatred that both sides have for each other.
SPLM members have never been able to shake off the belief they are "oppressed southerners" while their northern counterparts feel as if they were being robbed of all achievements of the National Salvation Revolution – the name they call the coup that brought the Islamists to power in June 1989.
The CPA, which was designed to bring about peace and prosperity to the Sudanese people after 22 years of war, has so far very little to show for itself.
The south Sudanese are supposed to vote in a referendum in 2009 to choose between a national unity or secession.
But there are concerns that the people of south Sudan are highly unlikely to opt for unity. The reasons are many and painful, but what stands out as the single greatest justification for separation is that save for a few SPLM leaders, the lives of most southerners has not improved at all.
What adds fuel to the fire is the "whole country is suffering" rationale parroted by northern hardliners. Even if true, it could never compare with the horrors southern Sudan has had to endure since 1983.
It is time for a reality check for all of Sudan. Otherwise, the partition of the country is a very likely prospect.
The writer is an Al Jazeera journalist and has covered a wide range of conflicts in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. A native of Sudan, he has reported extensively on Southern Sudan and Darfur.
Source: Al Jazeera