Lessons From South Sudan

Posted: January 26, 2012 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan
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Following the January 2011 referendum, South Sudan became the newest African state on July 9, 2011, in line with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army and the Government of Sudan which provided for a referendum to determine if the people of South Sudan want to remain in one Sudan or form their own separate country. An overwhelming majority voted to form their separate country, hence the creation of South Sudan as a separate country on July 9, 2011.

In so many ways, that was a watershed event. For one, it was the first time that the colonial boundaries of independent Africa were tampered with. It also set a precedent for all secessionists in Africa on how to go about separation. It also produced a template for micro-nationalism in many disparate African countries. This is not the time to apportion blames, but after more than 50 years of staying together, the pains of separation in Sudan can only be imagined.

But, less than one year after the event, what many visionaries have foreseen is now coming to pass. Jonglei state of South Sudan became a disaster zone where some 100,000 people have fled recent clashes between rival ethnic groups. Some 6,000 ethnic Lou Nuer fighters attacked the area around Pibor town, outnumbering the army and UN forces. Food, medicine and shelter were now badly needed there.

This is the latest round in a cycle of violence which has lasted several months – in one incident last year some 600 Lou Nuer were killed by attackers from the Murle community, the group which fled from Pibor. The clashes began as cattle raids but have spiraled out of control. There have been some reports that more than 150 people had been killed but government sources say that between 20 and 30 had died.

UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan, Ms Lise Grande, said that “hundreds, if not thousands” of people had started to return to Pibor. But she said the humanitarian situation was “pretty grim”. But, according to Ms Grande, besides the looting of a Medicins Sans Frontieres clinic, the town had not suffered much damage and the government was beginning to deploy 3,000 extra soldiers and 800 police officers to the area.

Mr. John Boloch of South Sudan’s Peace and Reconciliation Commission and a member of the Murle community had earlier said that people who had fled Pibor had since been hunted down and killed near River Kengen, south-east of the town. He accused local politicians of exacerbating the longstanding rivalries for their own ends and also asked why UN peacekeepers and the army were protecting government buildings in Pibor, rather than the people.

Mr. Boloch told Sudan Catholic Radio News that children and women were massacred in that area from January 2 up to 3 of 2012. There were also reports that many people may have drowned in a river as they fled the attackers. Government is trying to organize a “peace forum” where leaders from the two communities would be invited to discuss how to put an end to the cycle of violence.

Cattle vendettas are common in South Sudan, as are other clashes between rival groups. The UN says some 350,000 people were displaced because of inter-communal violence last year. This presents a major challenge to the government of the newly independent state, which also faces cross-border tensions with its northern neighbour, Sudan.

Any time there is an alliance due to a common enemy, once that enemy is no more, old conflicts resurface and new conflicts emerge. That is an iron law of history. When the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army was fighting the north, there was unity in the south due to a common goal of overcoming the north and or separating from the north. But soon after achieving that objective, South Sudan is now conscious of its heterogeneity. There are over 80 ethnic groups there with Dinka having more prominence than the rest.

Apart from diversity, South Sudan is also one of the world’s poorest regions. It hardly has any roads, railways, schools or clinics following many years of conflict, which has left it awash with weapons. However, it has enormous goodwill from the world’s major powers. It has enormous resources and huge potentials as well as great opportunities.

The government of South Sudan is already coming to terms with the fact that running a rebellion or liberation movement is not the same as running a government or a country. The task ahead requires statesmanship, patience and perseverance. There is need to carry along every segment of the society. In other words, a sense of belonging must be created for every South Sudanese.

And, at the end of the day, whatever may be the support they are getting from outside, developing their young nation lies with their people, who must accommodate each other equitably and fairly as well as live with their neighbours in common African brotherhood. In South Sudan, there is a lesson for all of us Africans.


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