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|January 10, 2011|
Two days ago, President Omar Al Bashir made what is likely to be his last visit to Juba, the southern capital, as the head of a unified Sudan. Promising to be "the first to recognize the south" if southerners vote for independence in this weekend's referendum, Al Bashir's conciliatory tone left people here scratching their heads about his real intentions. Mistrust of his ruling National Congress party is intense in the south, and, until last week, officials in Khartoum had been uniformly hostile about the possibility of secession.
But there was a not-so-subtle subtext in Al Bashir's comments, namely his pledge to "cooperate and integrate in all areas because what is between us is more than what is between any other country." What he was really talking about was oil. Both the northern and southern governments need Sudan's oil to survive financially. The government in Khartoum currently gets 60 percent of its annual budget from oil revenue, while, for the southern government, the figure is 98 percent. And nearly 80 percent of this lucrative oil comes from here in Unity state, which will soon be part of a new, independent South Sudan, if the vote goes as expected.