Negotiating Peace in the Sudans: The Addis Ababa Agreement

Sudanese President (and ICC-indicted criminal) Omar al-Bashir and his South Sudanese counterpart President Salva Kiir Mayardit signed a cooperation agreement on September 27, 2012, marking a decisive step forward in the regional and international efforts to end tensions between Sudan and South Sudan. Concluding over a month of negotiations between the two countries, and four days of an extended presidential summit (meant to last only a single day), the agreement was widely welcomed by the international community.

But what prospects does it offer for lasting peace, stability, and prosperity in Sudan and South Sudan? What are the likely opportunities and challenges of its implementation?

Key Conclusions:

  • The Addis Ababa agreement is the result of a fruitful cooperation between the African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) led by South African Thabo Mbeki, and the United Nations Security Council, which had threatened to impose sanctions on the two countries, should they fail to reach an agreement after three months of negotiations.
  • The agreement addresses a broad range of issues that have been hindering a peaceful and stable relation between Sudan and South Sudan since South Sudan’s independence in July 2011.
  • Beyond commitments from Juba and Khartoum, the implementation of the cooperation agreement will require the continued support—and pressure—of the international community for both governments to fulfill their obligations, and for the people of Sudan and South Sudan to finally enjoy the dividends of a hard-won peace.
  • Though widely acclaimed by the international community, the cooperation agreement has also raised concerns and criticisms by political and civil society groups in Sudan and South Sudan. Issues such as the status of Abyei and other contested areas are causing some analysts to cast uncertainty on the agreement’s chances for implementation.


In its Resolution 2046 of May 2012, the UN Security Council endorsed a roadmap prepared by the African Union (AU) that addressed the intense crisis caused by renewed fighting in the oil-rich region of Heglig between Sudan and South Sudan in April;  facilitated the resumption of the negotiations on the outstanding post-secession issues, under the auspices of the AUHIP; and normalized the relations between the two countries.

Leaving behind the tension caused by the 2011 crises in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya and their respective handlings by the UN and the AU, the signing of the agreement illustrated a coordinated effort between the UN Security Council (charged with maintaining the international peace and security) and the regional AU Peace and Security Council (which has the benefit of proximity to crisis situations in Africa). The AUHIP, led by South African Thabo Mbeki, brokered the accord, while the Security Council threatened to impose sanctions on the two countries should they fail, after three months of negotiations, to reach an agreement.

Progress Made

The cooperation agreement was signed by both presidents and commits Sudan and South Sudan to implementing a series of arrangements dealing with issues including security, the management of oil resources and exportation, the status of nationals of the other state, border demarcation, as well as trade, cooperation on central banking issues, post-service benefits addressing the situation of workers who served on both sides of the border before the secession, and certain economic matters such as division of assets, liabilities, and debt.

The reciprocal security arrangement was signed by the defense ministers of the two countries. The arrangement reaffirmed a February 2012 memorandum of understanding between Sudan and South Sudan, which committed the two states to respecting each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; not interfering in the internal affairs of the other state; and rejecting the use of force. Renewing this commitment, the Addis Ababa agreement stated both countries will to stop harboring or supporting rebel groups against the other state; refrain from hostile propaganda and inflammatory statements in the media; and activate their Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mission and Safe Demilitarization Border Zone.

After nine months of suspension by South Sudan of its oil production over dispute of transportation fees with Sudan–suspension that fuelled inflation and led both countries to the brink of economic collapse–the security arrangement called for the resumption of production, which accounts for nearly 98% of South Sudan’s budget revenue. Renewing an agreement reached in August 2012, the oil arrangement established an average of $9.48 USD of processing, transport, and transit fees for every barrel transported through Sudan. Moreover, a transitional financial arrangement of $3.028 USD billion will be paid by South Sudan to Sudan to compensate the loss of ¾ of its oil revenue by Khartoum after South Sudan’s independence.

The arrangement on nationals created a joint high-level committee (an implementation mechanism that was missing from a March 2012 framework agreement) which awarded the citizens of both countries–about 700,000 southerners in Sudan who lost their Sudanese nationality after South Sudan’s independence–the “four freedoms” of residence, movement, economic activity and property rights.

The principle of a soft border was complemented by an integrated management approach. The border arrangement seeks to foster economic activity and social interactions–the movement of people, goods, and services across the 1,800 km (1,200-mile) border between Sudan and South Sudan, 80 percent of which needs to be demarcated. Financial and economic cooperation was formalized, with the establishment of a joint central bank committee that will facilitate bank transfers and strengthen trade between Sudan and South Sudan.

Considered by the Security Council as a major breakthrough that paves the way to peace, stability, and prosperity between Sudan and South Sudan, the September 27 agreement was widely hailed by the international community. Its immediate positive impact was noted on Sudan’s and South Sudan’s economy, with the value of both their currencies rising following the agreement. The accord has further eased tensions between the two countries, and Sudan has moved to reopening its borders with South Sudan.

Unresolved Issues

Besides the renewed prospects for peace, the failure to reach an agreement on the status of Abyei has, however, raised concerns. A proposal presented by the AUHIP suggested the UN put forth a referendum on Abyei and other disputed areas in October 2013. The proposal, endorsed by Juba, was rejected by Khartoum. While both governments agree on the principle of a referendum, Khartoum insists on having voting rights granted to non-permanent residents Messariya, a group of Arab pastoralists who traditionally enter the region each year for some months in search of grazing land for their cattle.

Another outstanding issue is the situation in the Sudan’s provinces of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, where the local wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has been fighting the northern army since June 2011. As a result, an estimated 520,000 civilians have left the region and over 200,000 people have found refuge in South Sudan and Ethiopia. UN Security Council Resolution 2046 called for negotiations between the Sudanese government and the SPLM-North, negotiations which have yet to yield concrete results. Moreover, the SPLM-North, which claims to control 40 percent of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, has warned that the security arrangement recently concluded in Addis Ababa would be hard to implement unless it signs a ceasefire with the Sudanese government.

Within each country, the new peace agreement is also facing criticisms. In Sudan, the accord was rejected by radical opposition parties that oppose any reconciliation or cooperation with South Sudan. In South Sudan, the inclusion of a grazing territory in an expanded demilitarized buffer zone between the two countries of the Mile 14 area, occupying 23 km between South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal state and Sudan’s Darfur province, has also raised a wave of criticisms. The withdrawal of national armed forces from the Mile 14 area is considered by several South Sudanese government officials and civil society groups as compromising the country’s territorial rights and national sovereignty.

At the international level, the advocacy group Global Witness has denounced the lack of transparency and accountability of the oil arrangement. Analysts have also expressed skepticism about the implementation of the latest agreement, in the absence of a definitive resolution of the status of Abyei and other contested border regions. The historical distrust between Sudan and South Sudan, a record of unimplemented deals, and pressing economic and political necessities seen behind both countries’ move combine to raise further doubts about the implementation of the arrangements.

Meanwhile, the outcomes of the Addis Ababa summit have been endorsed by the cabinets in Khartoum and Juba respectively. Plans are underway for both Parliaments to ratify the agreement within three weeks, and officials in the two countries have voiced optimism on the renewed relation between Sudan and South Sudan. This enthusiasm, along with the international community’s commitment to supporting both countries as they implement the signed agreement, will benefit the people of Sudan and South Sudan as long as coordinated efforts are pursued and a firm pressure is maintained on the two countries by the AU and the UN Security Council.

Mireille Affa’a-Mindzie is a Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute.

About the photo: Presidents Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan and Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan greet each other in Juba, July 2011. UN Photo/Isaac Billy