South Sudan’s Difficult Transition

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Sudan‘s 22-year Second Civil War–one of the World’s bloodiest–has been a great success–in broad terms.  South Sudan–a remote non-Arab region where most people are Christians or animists–simultaneously deeply-impoverished and oil-rich, anglophile and mostly-illiterate–gained autonomy under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with a commitment from the government to honor the result of an independence referendum in January 2011.  The polls opened on January 9th and closed on , with over 95% turnout.  The result, announced on January 30th, was an extraordinary 99.57% voting in favor of secession from Sudan.  The voting was largely orderly, and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who presided over the savage civil wars there and in Darfur, promised over preceding months and since that time that he would recognize the result of the referendum on independence.

That vote in South Sudan proper was orderly, jubilant, and quite decisive.  In the contested region of Abyei between Sudan and South Sudan, however, disagreements over which nomadic Arabs and Dinka warranted count as residents of the region prevented institution of a referendum on whether the region was a part of North or South.  At the time of the independence referendum, the New York Times reported, there was pervasive fear of future violent conflict within this region.

In the past week, however, the disputed status and simmering ethnic violence of the Abyei region has been completely overshadowed by a military mutiny in South Sudan, of all places, in the states of Jonglei and Upper Nile in the east and northeast of South Sudan.  George Athor, a former general of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army which fought Bashir’s government until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached in 2005, mutinied and began an insurgency against the south after his apparent loss of the governor’s election in the state of Jonglei.  The BBC has covered various aspects of this story, mentioning that hundreds have been killed in clashes over the past month or so.  Now the transitional government of South Sudan, which has said it won’t declare independence until July on the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, accuses Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who rules a genocidal Sudanese government that is a hybrid of theocracy and military dictatorship, of plotting to overthrow the transitional government of South Sudan through sponsorship of an insurgency before July.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended Sudan’s Second Civil War; the First lasted from the mid-1950s into the early-1970s until a peace agreement was reached under which Colonel Gaafar al-Nimeiry promised to grant South Sudan autonomy in governing its own affairs: Local languages could be taught in schools and used in official documents, Southerners would have a greater share in the region’s considerable natural resource wealth.  Sudan’s very conservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence wouldn’t be imposed on the South’s mostly Christian or animist residents.  But Colonel Nimeiry wasn’t constrained by the political system to respect that peace agreement, and after gradually dismantling this settlement, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement revolted again in 1983.  The return to violence must have been deeply-disheartening for Southerners, and they have spent 38 of the 55 years of Sudan’s independence in a state of civil war in their own country.  As this BBC map of Sudan shows, those many years of war (and the years of cultural and religious imperialism and resource expropriation during the earlier time of “peace”) have left South Sudan one of the poorest, most-malnourished and least-educated regions in the World.

The allegation of deliberate sabotage by the government of South Sudan is more than plausible.  When he took power in a military coup in 1989, Omar Hassan al-Bashir maintained an already 6-year-old brutal war on the people of South Sudan to prevent their independence.  By the time the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended this 22-year civil war in 2005, it had caused the deaths of 2 million non-combatants through either infirmity or inhumanity.  Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s sponsorship of militias also made the still-partial genocide in Darfur possible, in which at least 300,000 civilians have been killed, and from which according to UN estimates 2,850,000 have been displaced.  In considering the Southern government’s claim of deliberate sabotage by Bashir, it’s worth remembering that John Garang de Mabior, who led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army to a favorable settlement of the civil war, was killed in a plane crash in November 2005.  There was no evidence–and as far as I can recall no allegation–of an assassination at the time, but South Sudan was deprived of its likely 1st president at the moment of reconciliation.  So, as South Sudan claims to have found weapons shipped from the North amidst a rebel arms cache they secured, let’s remember from his conduct in the South and Darfur (not to mention his past hospitality to Osama bin-Laden) that Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s 2 signature political talents are brutality and plausible deniability.  If South Sudan’s transitional government suspects Sudan of further support for the rebels, we should support it if it decides to declare independence early so that any Sudanese “pacification efforts” would be an invasion in the eyes of the World.  The United States should also be as ready to equip South Sudan’s new government with weapons and military vehicles to for its own defense as it is to provide the new country with much-needed development aid.

Last the Liberal Ironist checked, there are 32 T-72 tanks in Kenya that haven’t been allowed to reach their desination.


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