[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair] — backbench business — Sudan

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:47 pm on 28th April 2011.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry The Second Church Estates Commissioner 2:47 pm, 28th April 2011

As always, it is a pleasure to follow Mr Clarke who, over the years, has contributed insightfully to debates about international development.

My age is such that when I went to school, quite a lot of the atlas was still coloured pink. The Sudan was interesting because it was hatched pink and green to reflect the condominium of Egypt and the United Kingdom over it in the years immediately prior to its independence. The de jure Sudan was left as an uncomfortable nation, with a north that was basically Arab and Muslim, and a south that was essentially African and Christian. The two have effectively been in conflict pretty much ever since.

The referendum that was held was a considerable step forward, as was the south being able to declare that it would become a separate de jure state. However, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, a number of crucial issues remain outstanding, the most important of which is the question of Abyei, a part of the country that was to have a separate referendum to decide whether to go to the north or to the south. Where should Abyei be? There have been concerns about the intimidation of the local population. Reports in February and March suggested that as many as 25,000 people had been displaced from the region, with other people moving in, so it is extremely difficult to work out who should be the electorate.

The other crucial issue that has not been resolved is how oil revenues will be shared between the north and the south. I do not know whether anyone has analysed how much of the world’s oil reserves are in countries of conflict or difficulty, but oil is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing in that it may provide great income, but it is a curse if the parties concerned cannot agree how the revenues will be shared. Bearing in mind the length of time that the comprehensive peace agreement has been in place and negotiations have been ongoing, it is a matter of real concern that the north and the south have not yet agreed how to distribute oil revenues, particularly as much of the oil is located geographically in what will become de jure south Sudan.

It is important to emphasise that—through no fault of its own—there is lack of capacity in Juba and the south. Some years ago, when the International Development Committee visited south Sudan, it was striking that this area of the world had apparently been abandoned by many for a long time. We met the then transitional Government of south Sudan, which was mixture of two sorts of people. Those who had been army commanders in the bush and fought in the war against the north—they were referred to as commanders—seemed to hold about half the posts in the Government. The other half of the posts seemed to be held by people who had managed to get out of Sudan. Many of them had come to the UK to do something such as reading chemistry at Bradford, and they had since returned and were making a contribution. Civil society and the structure of governance in Juba, however, are unbelievably thin.

I want to make a suggestion to the Minister. Given that the issues concerning Abyei, oil reserves and so on are so critical, I hope, as with the drafting of the constitution and other matters, that Her Majesty’s Government will consider the extent to which it would be possible to help with the process by lending capacity in terms of people and officials, as well as resources, to the south Sudan Government. I never thought that I would suggest sending lawyers somewhere, but this is an instance when there is a requirement for those who are used to drafting treaties, putting things in square brackets, and the whole process of deciding how to negotiate agreements. What has tended to happen is that the leaderships in the north and the south have got together from time to time for a set-piece meeting, usually in Khartoum, but nothing is decided and there is then a long gap. The danger is that the longer the issue continues unresolved, the greater the risk of armed tension, a complete collapse of trust, and friction, with the result that much of what has been achieved will fall apart.

It is right that the people of south Sudan put an enormous amount of trust and hope in the United Kingdom. Perhaps I may share with hon. Members part of a statement entitled “Statement on Behalf of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan to Her Majesty's Government”, which is signed on behalf of the Anglican bishops to Sudan by the archbishop, who is also the bishop of the Juba diocese. It states:

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Her Majesty's Government for its tremendous commitment to the Sudanese people to date. With millions of pounds in funding through Department for International Development…you have successfully built schools and health facilities; you have fed and treated the most desperate. The Government and the ordinary people of the United Kingdom have advocated and lobbied to the highest level on behalf of” the people of

“the Sudan for which we are very grateful. This has all contributed to the greater effort of many that is slowly improving the lives of Sudanese. We can all accept…that the challenges ahead of us remain great.”

The statement goes on to outline some of the issues that I have identified, but it is clear that the people of south Sudan are looking, apart from to the African Union, to the United Kingdom to help them through the transitional process. They are of course grateful for funds that the Department for International Development may provide for schools and health facilities, but there is also a fundamental issue of how they get through the next few critical months of governance and deal with drafting a constitution, sorting out the remaining issues of the referendum in Abyei and the oil reserves.

I am glad that many colleagues wish to contribute to the debate, so I shall conclude my remarks to allow them to speak. The resolution of the issues in south Sudan and the creation of a new de jure state in Africa make it almost unarguable that Somaliland should be given the opportunity to have a referendum so that it can decide whether it wishes to remain part of de jure Somalia, or whether it is able to become a de jure state in its own right. The whole House will know that Somaliland is on the boundary of what was formerly the British protectorate of Somalia. It has been a de facto country for some 20 years with its capital in Hargeisa. For a considerable period, the people of Somaliland have wanted to be a de jure state. The African Union has argued that it does not want new countries emerging in Africa, but a new country has emerged in south Sudan, so that argument is no longer sustainable as far as Somaliland is concerned. I hope that, where appropriate, we will be able to support the people of Somaliland to obtain the independence that they want so much.

As the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said, these are days of hope for south Sudan, but there are serious obstacles ahead, and if matters in the next few months are not sorted out properly, it will be easy for the whole thing to disintegrate back into mistrust, bloodshed and a serious loss of life.