No excuses, no barriers -- so why is South Sudan keen on claiming northern
Sudanese territory? Oil and kith and kin bonds bind the two countries, notes
10 - 16 May 2012
The conflict between Sudan and South Sudan mounted swiftly in the past six
weeks from a few random shots to a full artillery barrage, wanton butchery
and much gore. Khartoum and Juba both assert that they are avoiding carnage,
but something obviously draws them onwards to conflict.
But this only tells half the story. The Northerners, Southerners affirm,
have turned their war machinery and camels southwards and urged them into a
deadly gallop. The leaders of the two states try to convince themselves and
their respective constituencies that this course of bellicose action was
dictated; that the doors of peace were shut.
Comparisons with past conflict have brought into sharp focus the stark
differences between the two states. Yet there are also marked similarities
between the two countries.
First, Khartoum and Juba are both ruled by quasi-one party governments. The
National Congress Party, a militant Islamist organisation, holds sway in
Sudan. The secularist Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) dominates
the political scene in South Sudan.
Sudan is often described as a failed state. The central authorities in
Khartoum are struggling to contain armed opposition groups and a disgruntled
and vocal opposition that has wearied of a series of unpopular wars and the
subsequent ruined economy whose problems have been compounded by the loss of
oil revenues with the independence of the South. Ironically, oil has failed
to transform the economy of South Sudan. The South risks a similar failure
of nerve and will.
Khartoum-backed armed opposition groups are marauding in remote backwaters
of South Sudan. The Lord's Resistance Army, a Christian fundamentalist group
headed by Joseph Kony, as well as the so-called Popular Defence Forces are,
Juba asserts, aided and abetted by Khartoum and have ravaged South Sudan's
countryside. The wars against these groups waged by the ruling SPLM are
depleting the national coffers. Moreover, the SPLM want to campaign as the
party that is bringing the boys home from the bush.
South Sudan since independence from the North last year is at greater risk
of becoming a swamp that festers with regional rivalries in the Nile Basin.
If South Sudan fails as a state, the whole sorry story of the two Sudans
will send a chilling message throughout the Horn of Africa about the
inappropriate nature of imported multi- party democracy in impoverished and
The North Sudanese are furious and fed up with what they see as the constant
interference by South Sudan in the domestic affairs of Sudan. The South
Sudanese in turn are up in arms against the incursions by forces loyal to
Khartoum in Upper Nile and Unity State, two South Sudan provinces adjacent
to the Sudanese border.
The garrison-city of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile, was subject to
infiltration by unknown forces and heavy artillery fire and bombardment. The
South Sudanese authorities blame the North, a charge Khartoum vehemently
denies. There are South Sudanese armed groups opposed to the SPLM that Juba
claims receive clandestine support from Khartoum. "We have nothing to do
with what is happening in Malakal. We don't support any militias in South
Sudan," Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) spokesman Al-Sawarmi Khaled said.
The African Union (AU) has called on Sudan and South Sudan to desist from
military confrontation and to immediately end hostilities. What is needed
sounds impossible. The major problem facing the two Sudans is that they have
been administered as a single country for over five decades. There are large
numbers of South Sudanese nationals resident in Sudan.
This is where the other set of worries emerges. First, the South Sudanese
resident in the North are reluctant to return to their original homelands in
South Sudan. The vast majority have been born and raised in North Sudan.
They have nothing to return to. The South is utterly underdeveloped and the
South Sudanese resident in the North have known no other country. They are
virtually foreigners in the South.
The process of acculturation and assimilation has failed miserably in the
North, meanwhile. South Sudanese hang on tenaciously to their cultural
identity. Many are Christian and hence the wave of arson in churches
suspected to be the work of militant Islamists is seen as targeting them.
Yet their livelihood is primarily confined to the North.
The Sudanese authorities know a staggering amount of information about the
Southerners resident in the North. There has been a great deal of
intermarriage and Khartoum is constantly devising ways to find out more
about the Southerners whom it suspects of being fifth columnists.
For the moment, leaving the Southerners in the North alone makes sense. If
they behave in a predatory fashion they would be severely punished by
Khartoum. Sudan has deprived hundreds of thousands of Southerners of their
Sudanese nationality, including those born and bred in Sudan. Today,
Southerners are treated as foreigners. Their citizenship rights have been
severely curtailed if not annulled altogether.
Another bone of contention is the pastoral nature of the tribes of Sudan.
For millennia, northern Arabised tribes have gradually moved southwards and
encroached on the richer grazing pastures of the South. The process was
accelerated since the independence of Sudan from British colonial rule in
The Arabised tribes such as the Baggara have moved from Kordofan and Darfur
into parts of what is today South Sudan, including the oil-rich states of
Upper Nile and Unity. These are the regions where tensions are currently
escalating. The tribal migration of Arabised pastoral peoples has
traditionally been seasonal. In other words, they have not been permanent
Moreover, the indigenous non-Arabised ethnic group -- and they are myriad --
have crouched in the pitiful corners of their ruined shacks. They seek the
backing of the SPLM, as well as Western powers and the international
community at large.
The Sudanese government accused South Sudan of employing foreigners to
sabotage oil installations in South Kordofan, especially in Heglig and
Abyei. The arrest of four suspects, a Briton, a South African, a Norwegian
and a South Sudanese allegedly involved in "suspicious operations" is one
result of a general posture.
Khartoum rejects UN intervention, charging that the international body is
controlled by the United States. The Southerners, maddened by the
humiliation and pain inflicted upon them by Northerners, are strengthening
their resolve to claim sovereignty over areas under Northern control,
including Heglig and Abyei. In short, the SPLM is keeping Khartoum in play.
The political game, though, is risky.
"Sudan confirms that it rejects any efforts to disturb the AU role and take
the situation between Sudan and South Sudan to the UN Security Council,"
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti told reporters in Khartoum. The
war is shifting northwards, too. The sword is in danger of slipping from the
hand of Khartoum.
A state of emergency has been declared along Sudan's border with South
Sudan. These are areas inhabited by ethnic Dinka and Nuer and Shilluk people
who owe political allegiance to Juba, rather than Khartoum. The SPLM has
staggered back, so to speak, to try to protect the Southerners' kith and kin
in the oil-rich border regions of South Kordofan, including Heglig and
Abyei. The SPLM forces charge again and again, deep into Sudan's South
Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces. Their incursions are swift and nimble.
Khartoum's appetite for oil and natural gas seems insatiable. But the local
population of the chief oil- producing areas is doggedly pro-SPLM.
Oil-producing Upper Nile state in South Sudan has become one of the
frontlines against Northern incursions. Malakal is a base for many UN
agencies and international aid agencies. The international community and
neighbouring African nations are not prepared to stand idly by as South
Sudan is ravaged the militant Islamist zealots egged on by Sudanese
President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and his bloodthirsty henchmen.
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Received on Wed May 16 2012 - 17:49:48 EDT