By Andrew M. Mwenda
Sunday, 22 April 2012 15:49
How Khartoum is using South Sudan to hide a rebellion by its own people
The low intensity conflict between the new state of South Sudan and the
Republic of Sudan has escalated into a near full-scale war. On Monday April
9, the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) took control of the
strategic town of Heglig from troops loyal to Khartoum. That same day,
Khartoum launched a series of air raids, bombing the towns of Bentiu and
Mayom. In the ensuing fight, SPLA shot down two of Khartoum's MIG 29 jets.
On Wednesday April 11, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon,
called the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, saying "I am
ordering you to pull your troops out of Heglig." On Thursday morning, Kiir
addressed the parliament in Juba where he told a cheering crowd that he had
said to Moon on phone: "I am not under your command so I cannot take orders
from you." The United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice,
called on both parties to cease hostilities. As the week ended, South Sudan
was in full military mobilisation.
The war between north and south Sudan is a complex international issue.
Khartoum accuses the SPLA of launching aggression on its territory; that is
why it has retaliated by bombing South Sudan's positions. Technically,
Khartoum is right: the troops fighting it are SPLA soldiers. Yet Juba denies
involvement in the war in Northern Sudan. Although the soldiers fighting
there belong to the SPLA, they are actually not from South Sudan.
It is this part of the jigsaw puzzle that has to be understood if
international efforts to end the conflict are to bear fruit.
Khartoum is notorious for exclusion, marginalisation and oppression of many
communities in its territory. The civil war in Sudan that led to the signing
of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 was between many of these
marginalised communities against Khartoum. Given its oppressive ways, one
could even say that most Sudanese are marginalised by the Khartoum regime.
However, the more distinctly marginalised groups included people in the
territory currently known as South Sudan, South Kordofan (where most of the
intense fighting has been taking place) and eastern Sudan especially areas
around Red Sea Mountains. This region is occupied by different tribes close
to the Ethiopians and Eritreans. In fact eastern Sudan is the poorest and
most marginalised region of the Republic of Sudan. And finally, there is
Darfur, the most known conflict in Sudan.
The territory currently known as the Republic of South Sudan was a separate
entity from the rest of modern day Sudan until 1947 when the British
colonial government integrated it into Sudan. Although this is the region
where the SPLA was born, it was not the only region with grievances against
Khartoum. Thus, when SPLA was formed, communities from South Kordofan and
Blue Nile region that had grievances against Khartoum joined the SPLA. Even
marginalised groups from Darfur who did not form part of the SPLA got
inspiration and training from it. Therefore, by the time the CPA was signed
in 2005, communities from these regions other than Darfur formed two
divisions of the SPLA.
When South Sudan seceded, the divisions of the SPLA from these regions
remained inside northern Sudan. When Khartoum failed to meet their demands,
they too launched a war of liberation. Khartoum has used this to claim that
it is under attack from South Sudan and has won sufficient international
support with this claim. Secondly, it has also used it as an excuse to
attack South Sudan, now an independent state, thereby triggering an
Knowledgeable sources say that many of these communities felt betrayed by
the SPLA when it signed the CPA which paved way for the independence of the
south from the rest of Sudan. They had fought alongside the SPLA for more
than two decades and felt that the independence of South Sudan would leave
them in a relatively weaker position.
However, sources say, the main faction of the SPLA that formed the new South
Sudan promised to pressure Khartoum to reach an agreement with its former
allies in these marginalised regions. It also promised them support if
Khartoum failed to accommodate their concerns. But Khartoum seems to have
had little interest in addressing the grievances of these communities. The
question is why?
Contrary to what people think, Khartoum had a strong interest in the
secession of South Sudan. This seems contradictory because most states
prefer to hold onto their territories even at extremely high costs. This is
especially so for Khartoum because most of the oil (80%) is in South Sudan;
one would expect it to fight to keep the south. Yet there were many more
complex factors that seem to have driven the National Congress Party (NCP)
of Gen. Omar Al Bashir, the President of the Republic of Sudan, to desire to
let South Sudan go.
The interest was not one way. There were people in the SPLA faction that
came from South Sudan who wanted to leave the union for independence. But
SPLA was never united on this issue and in a series of internal debates, the
movement accepted a compromise that created an opportunity for unity and if
that could not work, go for independence. Therefore, there was a convergence
of different but compatible interests between Khartoum and the South Sudan
faction of the SPLA/M for separation.
By the time the CPA was signed, the only marginalised group of the wider
Sudan that had developed both the military and political capacity to
effectively challenge Khartoum was South Sudan. To put it the other way, the
most militarily and politically strong faction of the SPLA/M was that
largely drawn from the South. Khartoum seems to have calculated that if it
got rid of South Sudan, it would effectively break up the SPLA/M in the
middle, separating the strong part of from the weaker one.
In Khartoum's calculus, this would mean that the most effective fighting and
politically organised machine of the SPLA would have little interest in
helping the other marginalised regions to fight Bashir's regime. The
remaining camp of the SPLA/M inside the older Sudan would now be weak and
easy to crash. It is this calculation that drove Bashir to sign the CPA,
seeing it as an opportunity to shed off his major threat, weaken internal
resistance and open the way for him to subdue what remained of that
Meanwhile, within South Sudan, there were differences too on how to deal
with their allies from the other regions of Sudan. Some people in the SPLA/M
felt that they should not abandon them. But doing this would undermine
progress towards independence and perhaps drag the war on for many more
decades. In fact, sources say, former SPLA leader John Garang wanted to keep
a unified Sudan. He only signed the CPA, which recommended independence for
the south, because it had a clause clearly stating that both the north and
the south should work for unity.
Admirers and enemies in the south and north say Garang was very ambitious
and wanted to be president of a bigger entity than a small "fiefdom" called
South Sudan. However, there were other voices led by Kiir, Garang's deputy
and current president of South Sudan. These felt that unity was an
unrealistic ideal and separation a more realistic objective. The clause that
both sides should work for unity and separate if that ideal failed to work
was the key compromise between the Garang and the Kiir factions of the
SPLA/M that made the CPA possible.
Although Bashir's NCP wanted separation, many people in Khartoum did not
support this objective. Thus, many political forces opposed to Bashir saw in
Garang a patriot willing to keep the country united. These opposition forces
now became internal surrogates of Garang in Khartoum. Thus when he went to
the capital to be sworn in as Vice President under the CPA in May 2005,
Garang was welcomed as a hero by both the "African" and "Arab" elite and
rank and file. One million people turned up in Khartoum to give him a
heroes' welcome, a factor that was not missed by the Bashir regime and some
forces inside the SPLA/M who preferred secession.
When Garang died two months later, it was the final nail in the coffin of a
united Sudan under Khartoum. The new SPLA/M leader, Salva Kiir, was highly
committed to separation. In an ironic twist of fortunes, Kiir's greatest
ally was Bashir and his apparatchik inside the NCP. As said earlier, it was
a convergence of different but compatible interests. Kiir wanted secession
because he did not think unity was a viable option but also because he did
not want the south to share its oil wealth with people who had suppressed
them for years. Bashir wanted secession because it would help him get rid of
his strongest enemy from the union.
But this strategy was fraught with pitfalls because it did not resolve the
problem of the other marginalised groups that formed a weak but significant
portion of the SPLA. How were those SPLA divisions drawn from South
Kordofan, Nuba and Blue Nile regions going to be handled? Would it be South
Sudan to disarm them? Would they become an independent entity with whom
Khartoum would negotiate? Before all these issues could be digested, there
was an issue to deal with first.
In 2010, there were general elections in the whole of Sudan for a president.
SPLM had promised to contest the elections and actually fielded a candidate,
but an unknown entity called Yasir Arman.
Salva Kiir himself kept out of the election in order, many observers now
say, to ensure that Bashir wins. Many people say that if Garang was still
alive he would have contested the elections. If he did, it was very likely
that he was going to win as he would have attracted the votes of all the
marginalised communities and the votes of many Khartoum Arabs who preferred
a united Sudan.
Garang's potential for victory is evidence in the fact that the candidate
SPLA became a strong contender in the election for president. Realising that
he was likely to win, the SPLM on March 31 pulled him out of the race three
weeks to the election. Yet in spite of this, Arman got 22% of the vote. One
can only speculate how much Garang would have gotten had he been alive and
decided to run in that election.
This also means that had Kiir run in that election, he would have most
likely beaten Bashir hands down. However, critics of Kiir say he lacked such
high ambition and self-confidence as Garang to aspire to rule the whole of
Sudan. They accuse him of securing a deal with Bashir which allowed both of
them to capture small fiefdoms. However, supporters of Kiir say he was much
more foresighted and realistic than Garang.
Kiir's supporters argue that sections of the north that hated Bashir wanted
to keep the south not because they love unity but because of its oil. They
had been unable to unseat Bashir and saw in Garang an instrument they could
use to get rid of their rival. According to this view, the army, police and
all security agencies of the old Sudan are controlled by the northern
"Arabs" and so is the bureaucracy, judiciary, diplomatic service, education,
healthcare - everything. If any southerner had been elected president, he
would be unable to change the entire system overnight. So he would become a
hostage of these deeply entrenched interests who would be strong enough to
sabotage his plans or even kill him.
Kiir's supporters argue that in his big vision of a united Sudan and his
ambition to lead it, Garang was blind to this fundamental reality that would
have made him an ineffective president to serve the interests of the south.
The best way to serve the people of the south was independence as this would
give them an independent nation with oil revenues to sort out many of the
issues dear to their people. It is this argument that tilted the dice in
favour of Kiir and his supporters. But how would the south handle those in
its ranks who came from the other marginalised regions? SPLA promised to
urge Khartoum to negotiate with them.
Although South Sudan has constantly asked Khartoum to find accommodation
with these SPLA fighters, Khartoum has consistently dodged the issue. Thus,
when these groups (camps of the SPLA) decided to renew the civil war against
the regime in Khartoum, the reasons why Bashir was dodging negotiations with
them became apparent. Rather than accept responsibility of the war or see it
as an internal rebellion against the marginalisation policies of his
government, he accused Juba of launching an aggressive war against his
government - a perfect excuse.
The situation in Sudan is exactly like the one that Uganda faced in October
1990 when elements of the Ugandan army crossed the border and attacked
Rwanda. Then-Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana argued that the Ugandan
army had invaded his country. Technically he was right. But in fact he was
lying. The soldiers were Rwandan refugees who had been living in Uganda and
had joined the Uganda army. They had escaped from it to launch their own war
against his regime. But Habyarimana was able to use this "evidence" to
convince the world that his country was under attack from Ugandan troops.
Using highly skilful media propaganda, Khartoum has also been able to
effectively convince the international community that it is South Sudan that
had invaded northern Sudan. It is in this context that the UN's Ban called
President Kiir to demand that South Sudan troops withdraw from Sudan
It gets more intriguing given that Khartoum has resisted all attempts to
clearly demarcate the border between the two countries, making it difficult
to establish whether the positions that the SPLA troops under the command of
Juba have entered the north's territory or not.
As things stand, the conflict between the Juba and Khartoum is only a small
sideshow, a smoke-screen to hide the more fundamental issue of the demands
of other marginalised regions inside the old Sudan. How will pressure on
South Sudan by the international community solve the internal problem of the
demands by groups in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Nuba regions for good
treatment and inclusion? It will be interesting to see how Khartoum will
continue hiding the fact that it is not South Sudan but its own people who
have taken up arms against it.
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Sun Apr 22 2012 - 10:01:17 EDT