Both the United Nations and the African Union turned their gaze toward Sudan and South Sudan last week. The organizations condemned South Sudan’s military advances and Sudan’s air raids over the oil-rich border town of Heglig, calling for both countries to settle their differences over the territory peacefully.
Reducing the border dispute and conflict down to a Sudan versus South Sudan dichotomy, however, implies that only these two states are responsible for the conflict. It also forgets the other implications of the dispute.
Violence broke out last week when South Sudanese forces moved into the town of Heglig. Gleaming with oil and tainted by its “misplacement” in Sudan, the South Sudanese moved into Heglig to make a point that the town is necessary for their economy. South Sudan’s political stance is that the territory is rightfully theirs and was wrongfully given to northern Sudan by a 2009 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which drew the border between north and south. The Sudanese responded with air raids over the town, aiming to assert their ownership of Heglig. The issue here lies not with who deserves the oil-rich town for economic purposes, but in the fact that a border was imposed by the international community, dividing the north and the south. Setting ethics behind international intervention in a violent conflict aside, this intervention may have been a logical solution on paper but has in many ways exacerbated the problems facing the people there.
Etching out a border — no matter how culturally and politically sensitive the etchers are — divides people. One day citizens are in Sudan, the next they are in the South. Where do they belong? The majority of those affected by this problem are those who identify as South Sudanese. Many are dispossessed in Sudan, nationality-less in a nation they used to belong to. Now, they’re excluded because of the new borders. The grace period for them to shift their entire life to South Sudan ended April 8. Those who were unable to leave are now illegal aliens in their own homes.
Narrowing a problem down to two countries that are acting violently to settle their disputes is shirking international responsibility for the clashes. This is not to remove blame from either Sudan or South Sudan, but instead to bring attention to the question of dividing territory and drawing borders based on what the international community believes is fair and appropriate. What is not fair and appropriate is the legal exclusion of people from places that were once their homes.
Shaza Elsheshtawy is a junior journalism and politics major. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.