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Sudan: Countdown to 2010

ElkiElki get busyModerator, ClubPA mod
edited June 2009 in Debate and/or Discourse
MAJOR JOHNSON GUCH of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) sits outside a grass hut at the edge of Nasir, a missionary post in Nuerland that in time became a dismal town (see map). Dressed in a tracksuit, he gives the air of a local warlord. A Nuer himself, Mr Guch is commander of a joint integrated unit (JIU) of southern and northern Sudanese soldiers mandated to keep the peace in Nasir. He says he has 150 southern soldiers, each with a small tin of bullets. But he is dismissive of the northern soldiers. He does not know how many there are. He says he does not care. It is not, in any sense of the word, a joint command.


The commander of the northern troops, Captain Osman Mustafa, is more gracious, but also more disingenuous. His tent is a walk across a black wasteland pocked by the twisted wreckage of vehicles blown up in the war and little piles of human faeces left by the locals, who eschew latrines. A Muslim from the Nuba mountains, Mr Mustafa says he has 300 soldiers, enough guns and, of course, very good relations with the southerners.

Together with a hopelessly inactive UN peacekeeping force dug in on the other side of Nasir, the JIU stood by and did nothing when one group of Nuer attacked another last month, slaughtering 71 people in the nearby village of Torkej. The Lou-Nuer targeted a cattle camp tended by women and children from the Jikany. Those sleeping outside under mosquito nets were shot point blank. The Lou sprayed the huts with bullets. They drove older children into the river, where they drowned. The Lou took the cattle and Torkej’s other meagre possessions. Fifty seven wounded were taken to a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital.

The Jikany insist it is unheard of for cattle raiders to target women and children. They are furious that they had no guns to defend themselves. Under South Sudan’s patchy disarmament programme, the Jikany gave up their guns, the Lou kept theirs. Jikany elders say the Lou are working for the northern government of President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum. They believe the north supplied at least 1,000 machineguns to the Lou in recent months. They say the Lou have been attacking their neighbours on all sides, including the Murle to the south, at the behest of Mr Bashir’s government. For their part, the Lou say it is the Murle who are proxies of the northern regime.

Whatever the truth, the episode is a sign of a wider breakdown of peace across southern Sudan. In the past month or so hundreds of people have been killed in violent clashes similar to the one in Torkej, as nomadic groups compete for the best cattle and grazing land. Conflict is normal, but it is not normal for so many to be killed in this way—at least in recent years. The UN says that more people are now being killed in the south than in Darfur, Sudan’s troubled western region.

Under the terms of a peace agreement with the northern government of Mr Bashir signed in 2005, the south is expected to vote for secession in a referendum in 2011. The prospect of gaining a new country, South Sudan, raised hopes of an end to Sudan’s civil war between the predominantly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, which lasted on and off for the best part of 50 years. At last, the flattened south would rebuild itself.

Now, however, even many southerners, let alone their fiercely partisan foreign backers, worry that the region’s progress towards independence is going awry. Not only is there the increasing rate of intertribal violence and the hostility of the north to contend with. But the south’s woes have been added to by the incompetence and corruption of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), mainly composed of former guerrilla fighters in the SPLM, the political movement of the SPLA. They have managed to spend about $5 billion in oil revenues over the past four years with very little to show for it, apart from weapons. At the present rate, South Sudan will fail before it has even been born.

There is no doubt that Mr Bashir’s northern government has played its part in the violence and turmoil in the south. The north has been slow to honour many of its pledges under the 2005 peace agreement with the south. In delineating the border line between the two territories, which directly effects its ownership of the country’s oil reserves, the north has refused to co-operate. This has bred deep distrust between the two sides. JIUs, therefore, like the soldiers at Nasir, are “joint” in name only, and unable to keep order in the disputed border regions.

Yet it is wrong to blame the north alone. The World Food Programme says the malnutrition rate in South Sudan is 16%, which signals a permanent humanitarian emergency. Over the past four years, despite billions of dollars in revenues, the GOSS has failed to build a single paved road outside Juba, the capital. In many towns, let alone the remoter areas, the putative government of the state of South Sudan has made barely any impression at all; most new clinics or schools have been built by churches or foreign charities. Increasingly, the mess is being blamed on the south’s own politicians.

The widespread perception is that the GOSS is corrupt, especially at the lower levels. The army chief was removed in a recent reshuffle after he failed to account for missing salaries. Foreign governments are reluctant to pump much-needed cash into the southern government’s coffers for fear that it will be squandered.

Guns not butter (or anything else)

After the sharp fall in the price of oil last year, the GOSS suffered a collapse in its oil revenues, which make up 98% of its income. Although the government cannot be blamed for the fall in oil prices, many question why it remains so beholden to the vagaries of one commodity. Oil output is not forecast to increase in 2010 and prices, though far off their lows, may now rise only slightly.

The government needs money. The GOSS has spent over half of its income on paying its old soldiers and buying new weapons. The SPLA argues that this is an insurance against the north in case it tries to prevent secession in 2011, but the policy leaves little cash for anything else. The government has been unable to pay salaries for months at a time and teachers recently threatened to go on strike. Some argue that the south is now bankrupt, although one person familiar with the budget process says that is an exaggeration: “It’s bad, but not a disaster.”

This week saw the first sign of an internal rebellion against the perceived misrule in Juba. The influential former foreign minister, Lam Akol, is founding his own party to challenge the SPLM. “Why did the SPLM fail to govern South Sudan even though it had all the money and 70% of the power?” he asked. Mr Akol will probably fight the SPLM in the national elections due next year. Given the SPLM’s poor record in office so far, he may do rather well.

And then a retaliation (see first bolded paragraph):
At least 40 south Sudanese soldiers and civilians were killed when tribal fighters ambushed river barges carrying U.N. food aid, in the latest in a string of ethnic attacks, officials said on Sunday.

Armed members of the Jikany Nuer group opened fire on 27 boats loaded with emergency rations destined for an area controlled by the rival Lou Nuer tribe on Friday afternoon, the U.N. World Food Program said.


The minister of information for Upper Nile State Thon Mom told Reuters Friday's attack killed at least 40 people including troops from the south's Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) who were escorting the convoy.

"Women and children who were on the boats were also killed, either directly by bullets or by drowning after jumping into the river," said SPLA spokesman Malaak Ayuen Ajok.

He said the Jikany Nuer fighters had first demanded to search some of the barges, south of the settlement of Nasir on the Sobat river, suspecting they were carrying arms and ammunition to their Lou Nuer enemy.

They searched one, finding only sorghum and other rations, but opened fire when the rest of the convoy continued on its journey, he added.

This sort of thing is coming pretty common, especially between grazing and farming tribes. There used to intertribal councils to resolve disputes between the two, and allow for nomads to move their cattle through farmers' land and then compensate them for the damage. Those councils fell apart after droughts in the 80s than destroyed about 80% of the cattle population. As the civil war raged on, it was mostly grazing tribes that the government armed, so the nomads who grew up after the 80s (well armed) never saw a need to compensate farmers for anything. The UN and other organizations are trying to resurrect the councils now, and organize grazing activity, but without much success.

And as the Economist' article points out, it turns out that the current government in South Sudan is amazingly corrupt and negligent, even by third-world standards. And now with oil prices so low, there have been many reports suggesting they haven't been able to pay salaries to many of their soldiers. Something that is both obviously dangerous for an already unstable region, and very hard to fix considering more than half the money already goes to the military.

So, fucked up situation. So, with all this hanging overhead, we have national elections less than a year away (it was originally July 2007. yeah). President Bashir recently gave a speech accusing the southern government of being a military dictatorship, demanded the SPLM withdraw all forces from towns in the south, and accused it of blocking his campaign for presidency down there. It all seems silly, but he used it to threaten to ban the SPLM from the North. Significant because there are many displaced southerners living in Khartoum's suburbs.

One of the major stepping stones toward elections, the census, was recently completed. Prompting a swift rejection of it by the south's president, who was disappointed by the results. We'll see how that works out.


Elki on


  • Andrew_JayAndrew_Jay Registered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Thanks for this. The South has been largely passed over ever since the mess in Darfur became big news 5-6 years ago - giving the impression that things had been settled down there, when they're not. I just realised right now that the most recent news I had heard about the region was Garang's death, and that was nearly four years ago now.

    But speaking of spending on arms, apparently that Ukrainian ship taken by pirates last year, loaded with tanks, etc. was headed for South Sudan.

    Andrew_Jay on
  • ShadowfireShadowfire Vermont, in the middle of nowhereRegistered User regular
    edited June 2009
    Elki wrote: »
    One of the major stepping stones toward elections, the census, was recently completed. Prompting a swift rejection of it by the south's president, who was disappointed by the results. We'll see how that works out.


    So... is this much like in the US, the dems and pubs arguing over the census results, because one favors one party, in another state it favors another, etc etc? Or is the south's president just cockblocking?

    Shadowfire on
    WiiU: Windrunner ; Guild Wars 2: Shadowfire.3940 ; PSN: Bradcopter
  • ElkiElki get busy Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited June 2009
    Shadowfire wrote: »
    Elki wrote: »
    One of the major stepping stones toward elections, the census, was recently completed. Prompting a swift rejection of it by the south's president, who was disappointed by the results. We'll see how that works out.


    So... is this much like in the US, the dems and pubs arguing over the census results, because one favors one party, in another state it favors another, etc etc? Or is the south's president just cockblocking?

    Mostly cock-blocking, considering international-monitors endorsed it. The SPLM doesn't want Arab-nomads counted, because they're out of the country during some seasons. And it was objecting to a census, anyways, before it was even held. The SPLM basically declared that the south has 33% of the population, and that that is the end of the story.

    Elki on
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