Al-Harith Idriss on the blood-stained tragedy and ethnic divide in the ‘Land beyond the rivers.’
Gerald O’Hara (Thomas Mitchell): “Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” Gone with the Wind, 1939
The recent large-scale inter-ethnic war has laid bare the fragile state of the state in South Sudan whose key actors in the historic appeared monolithic in the post-independence period. In fact, the secession dynamic was at no time more appealing than at the end of the transitional period in January 2011, when the referendum stipulated for in the CPA was conducted.
The major factor behind the spirit of solidarity amongst the Nilotic has remained animosity toward the Sudanic Arabs due to the longest civil war with Sudan central governments that was fought during the periods (1955-1972) and (1983-2005).
There is no doubt that the scope of the war has expanded after the Islamists waged a military coup against the democratically elected government of Sadiq Al-Mahdi in June 1989. The civil war had converted into a full-fledged jihad against the SPLM/A during (1990-2005), which consumed scores of thousands of Sudanese youth from both sides. The Nilotic emerged from the last civil war as a reasonably unified bloc who managed to heal their wounds and resolve their longstanding-ethnic differences, shortly before the Naivasha peace talks were hosted in Kenya.
Richard Dowdenm, the renowned Africa issues analyst and a former Economist editor on African issues, has recently described the birth of the South Sudan state as ‘Caesarean, sliced out of the Republic of Sudan by American surgeons’. He saw the international leverage that was used as a launching pad for the new State as the reaction of governments of George Bush and Barrack Obama who supported the idea of a separate South Sudan after succumbing to the ‘…extraordinary coalition of African Americans and right wing Christian evangelicals, [and] ambitious young US politicians’. He affirmed that they ‘…forced the government of Khartoum to a ten year transition to independence’. The scramble for South Sudan has apparently made Patrick O’Connor to point out that the ‘South Sudan’s very existence is in part a product of the US rivalry with China’.
The ‘new Sudan’ an ideology that proved to be appealing for the Sudanic periphery and so menacing for the Riverain North-centric elite, which was in part the drive behind the South secession from the Sudan, crashed when its proponents opened machine guns against each other killing their counterparts, the other tribe’s members and the dream of setting up a parallel statehood model free from ‘mondokoro mentality’ which has been been brewing in the North-centric establishment.
Some people who came from South Sudan after the events said that there is hardly any functioning government, let alone law and order. The soldiers ransacked and looted abandoned houses, stripped four-wheel drive cars from their owners, and there is total chaos in Juba. They further added that the killings were ethnically motivated as many Nuer have been killed including innocent citizens, sick patients on their hospital beds and doctors on duty. The UN had to resort to hosting the IDPs in separated areas according to their ethnic background.
Those who were killed in the ethnic-driven conflict were roughly estimated by some circles at 15000; the thing that must have widened the gulf between the two biggest tribes in the country, the Dinka and Nuer.
US Democracy was invented after the civil war’s death toll reached 600 thousands. British democracy was the result of a civil war that extended for more than 150 years. French democracy was born out of a blood-stained revolution. Yet one can hardly say the inter-ethnic war in South Sudan was a sacrifice on the path to the democracy following the western model. This sounds a luxury the country can’t afford after the huge human capital loss in the civil war and the inter-tribal fighting in 1985 and early nineties.
Riek Machar when he said they are ‘fighting dictatorship’ has given us the impression that he was fighting for democracy, more inclusive policies and accountability on the one hand. On the other, President Salva Kiir by mentioning a plot to oust his government gave us the impression that he was fighting betrayal masquerading in a military coup; but this claim seems to have gained no ground as the majority of the purported coup plotters are now free.
The Nuer and other minority tribes have lambasted what they deem as Dinka domination and feel bitter about their marginalization; the thing that the Economist portrayed in a recent issue as ‘Dinkocracy’. The South Sudan is now beset by many problems and uncertainties that will definitely affect its long-term viability. Some Academics specialized in conflict analysis described the recent fighting spree as ‘beyond quick fix’ due to lack of institutional culture and resistance to restructuring and organizational reform. The dominant corporate culture if there is any is handicapped by the militarized power structure.
Astonishingly, The CPA signed in 2005 had not enshrined any reform formula for the post-independence period and it had just entrenched the power bases in both the North and the South during the interim period (2005-2011).
The State system was overwhelmed by ideological contradictions and internal divisions amongst the core elite. The stranded transformation from the guerrilla movement’s state which was characterized by military legacy has underpinned the post-independence period during the two and a half years where the post-independence setting was ethnically-based and dominated by a patronage sort of administration. This tendency has subtracted collective leadership, and promoted espousing of ‘ethnocization’ of politics under a highly polarized setting. It goes without saying that there was no conflict resolving mechanism at a time when the internal party differences reached their zenith.
The House of Lords European Union Committee in its 18th Report of Session 2010-2012 titled the EU and Sudan: On the Brink of Change assessed the situation in the South as follows:
Severe Lack of infra-structure; paved roads were only around 100 km. There were no hard-topped roads between towns, and internal travel is impossible for 6 months in the year because of the tropical torrential rains. Basic skills and experience were below level, and around 70% of the civil service was functionally illiterate. There were no keeping of accounts and only 40% had access to basic primary services. 51% of the Southern Sudanese live below poverty line. The report had signified the main drivers of conflict in the South as folllows:
Grazing rights, natural resources, water, degradation of institutions, ready supply of weapons and lack of structures to accommodate returnees estimated around 2 million from Uganda and Kenya due to non-existence of integration assistance. The very important conflict drivers are the domination of the Dinka and the political and ethnic rift or divisions, not to forget that the whole region before 2005 was war-ridden since 1983, if we skipped aside the beginning of the civil war in 1955.
These factors have put the state under its biggest ever stress-test, which was also exacerbated by the raging dispute within the SPLM’ leadership and the clash between the party organs that continues to simmer for 18 months before it erupted into inter-tribal killing. The SPLM/A who was led by a prominent military high command of 5 historical leaders has failed to make a smooth transformation to the civic structure that the vertically ethnic divided State needed. Although access to statehood has preceded the attaining of a formidable degree of nationhood; consensual decision-making set up was established after the bloody and massive split that took place in 1992. It was expected that consensual politics will prevail in the new State given the wisdom that the Southerners enjoy.
The post-secession/independence period has witnessed a major power struggle between the key actors, Sava Kiir and his entourage on the one hand, and the late Dr. John Garang’s close confidants and assistants during the war period; those who were called as ‘Garang’s boys’ or the reformists, including the former Sudan’s foreign affairs minister and the post-independence cabinet minister, Deng Alor, and Nihal William Deng and few others.
President Salva Kiir with his penchant for stylish Cowboy’s Hats, had undergone a substantial degree of marginalization till shortly before the signing of the CPA. As a president he saw ‘Garang’s boys’ as a threat and rivals within the context of the unfolding and simmering power struggle. Salva Kiir during the rift that took place in the Bush in the early nineties has advocated separation and even during the transitional period (2005-2011) he was not bothered to involve whole-heartedly with the Northern issues including Darfur. He must not forget that he is the only ‘orphan’ that is left. To the best of my knowledge the prime founders of the SPLM/A have all passed away. This reality shoulders him with a special and sacred responsibility to offer not only leadership but benign fatherhood.
According to Academic Specialised in South Sudan’s affairs, the integration and re-integration of the militias has impacted the process of transformation and developed into something akin to war-lordism, thereby, affecting the realization of peace and independence dividends. Since its formation, the SPLM/A National Liberation Council met only twice. They contended that tribalism has been strengthened because it is the easiest way to monopolize people and as such a source of conflict. The personal ambition of Dr Riek Machar, and the position of Salva Kiir who does not want to leave the power and uses the system to reinforce his power was one of the factors that triggered the conflict.
The unfolding fighting threatens to undo most of the gains that the South had earned after independence. The Government of Sudan affirmed that the South received US$ 9.5 billion, up to January 2011. By the end of the 6 years transitional period where the SPLM and the NCP were mutually running the country; the South would have received US$ 11 billion. Just before the beginning of the recent inter-ethnic fighting, it was reported that there were about $US 9.5 billion had been partly squandered and partly missing. The South after secession became out of the blue the 3rd exporting oil country just after Nigeria and Angola, with around 270, 000 oil barrels a day, relegating the Northerners to bemoan under an excessive austerity policy that heaped large-scale misery and poverty.
Some analysts said the reason that triggered the bloody events was that President Salva Kiir has resorted to his mechanical majority to pass the constitution and to dismiss the entire government. But, the problem is, the dismissed government includes the historical leaders who fought for the independence of the South and whose tribal weight is heavy. Their regional and international profile is also high.
The government has apparently failed to manage the collective dismissal of the big echelons of whom some were detained and were facing accusations of corruption, but most of them were recently released without trial. The unfolding tragedy has proven that the tribal affiliation is primary and over-stated to the extent it has overruled citizenship as the basis for the model state.
The position of the South Sudan at present is like the sick man of East Africa, where the IGAD’s role or intervention was made according to its own self-styled regional perspective, rather than the South Sudan’s according to western analysts.
The regional dynamics have been agitated by the unilateral Ugandan approach that sought to apply a military solution for a political problem for pursuing its national interests. Sudan and Kenya have expressed their concern about the Ugandan intervention, as Museveni seems to behave as the South Sudan’s government god-father.
Uganda has officially evoked rescuing the trapped Ugandans in the South Sudan and to prevent recurrence of Rwandan genocide as reasons to her intervention; but some observers say, South Sudan was not exposed to external or foreign aggression. Therefore Ugandan’s taking of sides must have exacerbated the ethnic divide in the country. There is striking similarity between Riek Machar’s alliance with Khartoum in 1997 and Juba’s present alliance with Kampala against him. It’s well known that the differences between the two tribes were resolved after special mutual reconciliation agreement was agreed in 1999.
President Museveni admitted his Country’s taking of sides by referring to the battle where his troops aligned with the government’s troops on 13th January to repel Machar’s troops, where the death toll was reported to be big from both sides. The Uganda Parliament deputy chairperson Peter Eriaku, expressed his disenchantment with role of their army in South Sudan. He accused the minister of Defence and the Attorney General of lying to the parliament about the exact objective of the intervention and that they precisely pledged to be impartial.
There are MPs who questioned the ‘authenticity of the agreement Uganda signed with South Sudan, after they failed to establish the name of the South Sudanese official who signed for Juba’. Aruu MP Samuel Odonga Otto said that “Ugand–by taking sides in a conflict that its underlying causes are seldom understoo–has become a stumbling block to a peaceful solution to the conflict.
It seems that the South has replaced what they saw as oppressive Northern Sudanic-Arabs by Uganda, and it’s hegemonic and expansionist tendencies are very well-known in particular in the grand lakes. But, the irony is that there is a working alliance at present between the governments of the two Sudans, due to the dictates of interests and in particular the oil. The current balance of power and entente between the two Sudans some would say is short-lived, because it’s an alliance of necessity. One of them needs the flow of oil for its revenues and the other for the cross-border fees.
The stability of South Sudan is a primary goal that all should work for. After the South Sudan’s independence in 2011, the EU has become a major development partner with projects worth around € 270 million invested nation building efforts and in the sectors of health, agriculture, education, and rule of law. Therefore, the status quo is of prime concern not only to Sudan and the EU; but for the US and china.
China is the major oil producer in South Sudan in addition to its investments in telecommunications, transport and infrastructure sectors. The Chinese are also keen to develop the untapped mineral wealth, gold, diamonds, uranium and iron ore in South Sudan.
The US must also be an extremely concerned party not only for its axiomatic role in orchestrating the independence of South Sudan, but for the estimated amount of $12 billion that it has dedicated since 2005 in regard to humanitarian aid, peace-keeping operations and development. Hence, a robust role must be played to see those monies have not gone with the wind.
Al-Harith Idriss is a former diplomat who read law and trained as lawyer in Sudan, The Hague and London. He joined the Sudanese opposition in exile in the early 1990s and since then is domiciled in London. He has written extensively about Sudanese and African affairs, diplomatic and international issues in the London-based Arab newspapers, commented on the same on the BBC Radio & TV, SKY TV and MBC. Recently the Universal Peace Federation, New York, awarded him the title, Ambassador for Peace.
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