South Sudan celebrates independence, but old conflicts threaten world’s 196th nation

| June 26, 2011 | 0 Comments
The new country of South Sudan faces formidable problems, including the fight for control of Abyei, pictured here.

The new country of South Sudan faces formidable problems, including the fight for control of Abyei, pictured here.

On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan celebrates its first day as a national entity — the world’s 196th nation and Africa’s 51st. The celebration comes after decades of war and ethnic conflict with the North. Parades and prayers, speeches, a soccer game, and party time after dark will mark the day. It’s all scheduled for Juba, the new national capital. On hand will be diplomats who have supported South Sudan’s struggles in recent decades.
But the new country faces formidable challenges. Fighting for control of Abyei, a strategic town in disputed oil-rich territory, broke out in late May between northern and southern Sudanese forces. As well, there is tension among the citizens of the new southern republic over whether power should rest in Juba or be distributed across 10 states in a federation.
Voters expressed an overwhelming wish for separation from Sudan itself in a referendum in January. But in recent trips to Juba, I witnessed weakness of institutions and of government, the evils of corruption, tribalism — too often the stand-in for democracy and good governance across Africa — nepotism, favouritism and other forms of discrimination.
The new country has a (probably underestimated) population of about eight million, but there has been no census for many years in a country of civil war and population upheaval. Those millions of people are largely black, some Christian, some following indigenous beliefs, and have been dominated by a largely Arabic, Muslim north — a recipe for decades of strife.
Those holding the power in Khartoum, the northern capital of the “old” Sudan, engaged in war and genocide rather than sharing power with those whose religious, social, political and ethnic traditions were different from their own. This conflict pre-dates the regime of President Omar al-Bashir [eighth on our cover story featuring the “Dirty Dozen”] who came to power in 1993, and was only partly diminished after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the largely Muslim north and the largely Christian south.
To avoid a repeat of this dreadful history in the new country, South Sudan should have a federal system of government rather than a concentration of power in Juba. The federalism debate goes back a long way. Even before Sudan gained independence from Britain in 1956, a conference in 1947 in Juba — attended by local leaders and senior British officials — advised a federal future. But the northerners suspected the southerners of desiring separation, and the southerners suspected the northerners of wishing to dominate the south. As a result, the idea of a federal system of governance went nowhere.
But the conference brought the Southern Sudanese together for the first time into a political bloc. They started seeing themselves as Southern Sudanese and not as Dinka, Nuer, Zande and Bari.
Southern Sudanese remembered the statement of Aggrey Jadein, a graduate of the British colonial education system and the colonial administration, who left Sudan in 1957 to organize anti-government movements. He proclaimed: “The future of Southern Sudanese people will be determined by the next generation to come,” and his statement gave Southern Sudanese a determination to fight for independence right through to the 2011 referendum.
But in the short run, Jadein’s statement was followed by Sudan’s first civil war. It ended with an agreement at Addis Ababa in 1972, giving South Sudan regional autonomy and promises of international aid, as well as financial assistance from Khartoum. But development — in forestry, livestock, town and village planning, health and education — did not take off. Poor lines of communication in the South, lack of money and the northern focus of Sudan’s president, Jaafar Nimeiri, brought most projects to a halt.
The tactical objective of Mr. Nimeiri in signing the Addis Ababa agreement was to have the Southern rebels surrender their arms. Then, within two or three years, the North could tear up the agreement and continue with its agenda without a Southern military threat.
As a result, a second phase of civil war started in mid-May 1983 and ended with signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Kenya in January 2005 between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in the South, and the Khartoum regime in the North. This peace was achieved partly by pressure from regional neighbours Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
The peace was long overdue. A 23-year war had taken more than two million lives and displaced more than six million people. And violence continues to spill over into the country from conflict in Uganda to the south and around Abyei in the north.
Nation-building in such circumstances hinges on whether the SPLA/M will share its power and apply real federalism in partnership between Juba and the 10 wilayah (states or provinces) that make up the new nation, an idea proposed long ago in Juba itself. For the last six years of semi-autonomy, there has been no such decentralization of power. The central government in Juba is supposed to formulate policies and the states are supposed to implement them, but this has not happened.
Nor has there been any sharing of natural resources in a country where oil has begun to edge out agriculture as the main economic engine. The country’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, most of the cabinet, as well as deputy ministers, attorneys general, and senior police and military officers are from the Dinka tribe, the country’s largest.
The Dinka have suppressed other Southern Sudanese tribes instead of sharing the power — just like Arabs from the North did before 2005 — under the slogan of “Dinka Born to Rule.”
The political scene is dominated by the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), which emerged from Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the main armed revolutionary group. There are close to a dozen other parties, including some from other military factions.
Despite the military influence, there has been progress, some of it with support from Canada. The Canadian Friends of Sudan’s health care project equipped 13 clinics with medical supplies and equipment. The Friends supplied medical textbooks for three libraries at Juba University’s school of medicine, the Juba Health Institute and the city’s teaching hospital. There are plans to supply medical equipment, especially for physiotherapy, and more medical textbooks.
The NGO’s “Schools for South Sudan” project hopes to build schools across the 10 states of the new nation and to provide teaching aid from Canada to support them. State governors have promised transportation, security and accommodations for teachers who come to help out. Governors have also established a diaspora secretariat to connect with overseas South Sudanese who wish to return, and to encourage Canadians to invest in the South.
Canada’s former ambassador to Sudan, John Schram, has pointed out that the estimated 40,000 Sudanese diaspora across Canada are willing to help with schools and hospitals.
The Friends of South Sudan have established partnerships between Canadian and South Sudan legislators ­— politicians such as MP Maurice Vellacott, retired MP David Kilgour, Wani Konga, of South Sudan’s Central Equatoria State, and Manase Lomole, the minister of education. Their purpose is to demonstrate solidarity in support of democracy and good governance in the new country.
But much has to be done in South Sudan itself. First, a democratic and truly federal system of governance should be adopted. Recruitment, training and promotion within the army and security agencies should reflect the country’s regional balance and national characteristics. We need collaborative governance and reconciliation. Without it, the 63 or more tribal groups will almost certainly rebel against the South Sudan government because it’s not inclusive.


About our writer
Justin Laku is a Sudanese-born Canadian, raised in Sudan and educated in Sudan, Egypt, Germany and Canada. He has written widely on African affairs generally and on the role of the African diaspora in development there. He is the founder of the Canadian Friends of Sudan, a non-profit NGO promoting peace and development in Sudan. In 2005, he was the co-ordinator of a Canadian fact-finding visit to Khartoum and Darfur, and took part in meetings between Canadian and Sudanese MPs, Sudan’s vice president, African diplomats and internal Sudanese refugees.
He is the founder of South Sudan Community Association of Ottawa-Carleton, and has served as a member of the Ottawa Carleton Immigrant Services Organization, the United Nations Association of Canada’s Ottawa branch and was founder of the Kilimanjaro Students Association at University of Ottawa.
Mr. Laku is currently an MA candidate in development and mission studies at St. Paul University in Ottawa. He has served as an adviser to Canada’s Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, and taught cultural awareness at Canada’s Royal Military College in Kingston.

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