Tribal violence looms over South Sudan

By Vision Reporter

JUBA, Sudan â€" after decades of war fought for freedom from repression, south Sudan will vote in one year on independence, but analysts fear a choice to separate will bring long-simmering problems in the south to the boil.

JUBA, Sudan — after decades of war fought for freedom from repression, south Sudan will vote in one year on independence, but analysts fear a choice to separate will bring long-simmering problems in the south to the boil.

Tribal divisions, lack of security outside towns, inexperienced government, corruption and signs that the semi-autonomous authority in the south has showing signs of repression have raised fears that an independent south Sudan may not end the problems faced by its people.

“The post-independence period — when the common denominator of self-determination is gone — could be marked by significant infighting and increased conflict on tribal lines,” Zachary Vertin from the International Crisis Group think-tank said.
Sudan watchers fear that without the unifying goal of an independent south to fight for, discontent may grow over the government’s poor provision of basic services, corruption and bad behaviour by the south’s ill-trained army.

Delayed and reluctant implementation of the 2005 peace deal between north and south, which promised democratic transformation, power and wealth sharing, elections and the prized referendum, has led many southerners to say they will vote to separate on January 9, 2011.

The former rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which fought the Islamic northern government over ideology, religion, ethnicity and oil and which dominates the south’s government, was kept busy ensuring the deal was implemented, leaving unresolved tensions under south Sudan’s surface.

Ethnic disunity was highlighted in 2009 when 2,500 lives were lost in inter-tribal violence. Many of the dead were women and children killed in ruthless, apparently highly organised attacks on large villages.

Southerners have accused Khartoum of arming rival tribal groups — as they did during the war but have been unable to provide conclusive proof.

Some believe rivalries among southern politicians and a security vacuum outside urban centres are to blame.

“Political jockeying is likely to intensify as elections and the referendum approach,” Vertin told Reuters.
“A high degree of cooperation is necessary if they are to forge a new and viable state.”

It has been a bloody process to disarm a people bristling with weapons after decades of civil war which has claimed 2 million lives and driven four million from their homes.
“Many communities have doubts about the (army’s) capacity to protect disarmed communities,” a report by the independent US Institute of Peace said.

“Disarmament efforts have often been perceived as biased and asymmetrical.”
The massive army, whose salaries the south has struggled to pay, has seen infighting and is accused of human rights abuses.

“In general, it is not a united army, but rather a collection of former militias and ethnic groups, and a constant balancing act is needed to keep them together,” a report by the non-governmental Dutch organisation IKV Pax Christi said.

Foreigners, especially tens of thousands of East Africans who form a vital part of the nascent economy, complain of rough treatment with five Kenyans shot last month. Most northern Sudanese have left the south after attacks on their businesses since 2005.
Some political parties have complained of harassment. A splinter group led by former SPLM foreign minister, Lam Akol, are petitioning the constitutional court after saying the south Sudan government has arrested their leaders and shut them down.

Journalists have also sometimes faced harassment they say contravenes press freedoms enshrined in the constitution. Many worry about a proposed media law’s tough licensing requirements.
“Certainly, licensing would be used to control or refuse renewal to independent media outlets that are seen to be either critical of government or posing threats to vested interests,” said Hakim Moi of the Association of Media in South Sudan.

Events since start of civil war


  • January 8, - Southern Sudanese vote in a referendum on secession from the north in January next year.

  • 1983 - National army officer John Garang, a southerner, is sent to quell a mutiny of southern soldiers but defects to lead the insurgency and forms the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

  • September 1983 - The government in Khartoum adopts aspects of Islamic sharia law and, later, martial law. Southerners following Christianity or traditional beliefs protest.

  • June 30, 1989 - Lieutenant-General Omar Hassan al-Bashir allied with Islamist leaders takes power in bloodless coup.
  • 1992 - A government offensive seizes southern territory, including the SPLA headquarters at Torit.

  • 1997 - Khartoum signs deal with SPLA splinter groups, isolating the rebels. Peace talks open in Nairobi in October and continue sporadically until 2002.

  • 2002 - Five weeks of talks in Machakos, Kenya, bring a government and SPLM deal on key issues of religion and self-determination. They sign the “Machakos protocol”.

  • July 27, - Bashir meets rebel chief Garang for first time.

  • October 15, - Government and SPLM sign ceasefire for duration of latest round of peace talks, the first such truce.

  • January 9, 2005 – Garang and chief government negotiator Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha sign a comprehensive peace agreement ending the civil war. The agreement shares oil revenues between the north and south, sets up a coalition government and promises elections. Also the south and the oil-rich Abyei region are granted a 2011 referendum on possible secession.

  • July 9, - Garang is sworn in as first vice-president. Three weeks later he is killed in a helicopter crash; days of riots follow killing 100 people.

  • August 11, - Salva Kiir, last surviving founding member of the SPLM, is sworn in as first vice-president. Sudan’s new power-sharing government is announced in Khartoum in September.

  • October 11, 2007 - The SPLM rebels withdraw their members from the coalition government, to pressure their northern partners to implement the peace deal. The crippling political crisis formally ends on December 27, when 16 SPLM ministers take the oath of office and rejoin the national government.

  • August 8, 2008 - Former north-south foes reach agreement on an administration for the disputed oil-producing Abyei region, where clashes have threatened to derail the peace deal.

  • July 22, 2009 - The Permanent Court of Arbitration redefines the boundaries of the oil-producing Abyei area claimed by both north and south Sudan.

  • December 29, 2009 - The NCP and the SPLM pass the referendum law outlining a referendum on southern independence, ending months of wrangling. The next day the Abyei referendum law is also passed.


  • Reuters

    Tribal violence looms over South Sudan