Opinion | The genesis of the conflict in South Sudan
"Without addressing the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan, there is no hope for a lasting peace and security. A highly centralized system of government is not appropriate for diversity in South Sudan. Devolution of power and resources to lower levels with no interference from any level is essential for a peaceful co-existence and security. To combat tribalism, all institutions should reflect the diversity of South Sudan as multi-ethnic. This means no single ethnic group should be monopolizing all positions in public institutions."
OPINION – The genesis of the conflict in South Sudan can be traced back to when South Sudan was part of Sudan. The northern and southern parts of Sudan were orchestrated to be a one country towards the end of colonial rule. Sudan was virtually divided between its Arab heritage, identified with the north and its African heritage to the south. The two groups were divided along linguistic, religious, racial and economic lines. The cleavage generated tensions and clashes.
In addition, the geographical isolation of southern Sudan had prevented southerners from participating fully in the country’s political, economic and social life. Imperial Britain recognized the north-south division by establishing separate administrations for the two regions.
The British wanted to modernize Sudan by applying modern technology to its underdeveloped economy. In contrast, the south received little official attention, except for efforts to suppress tribal warfare and slave trade. The British claimed that the south was not ready for exposure to the modern world. This was erroneous because southerners were unlikely asked whether they were ready for exposure.
The British closed the south to outsiders and as a result the south remained isolated and backward, developing on tribal lines. The south was detached from the rest of Sudan. Despite being a rich agricultural area, the economic development of the south suffered because of its isolation. Some British colonial officers questioned the economic and political viability of the south as separate from northern Sudan. It was therefore determined that Sudan should be administered as one country. This was one landmark in the genesis of the conflict in South Sudan.
There was a rise of Sudanese nationalism which was an Arab and Muslim event. As expected, the Sudanese nationalism had its support base in the north. The nationalists saw the isolation of the south as diving Sudan and preventing unification under an Arabized and Islamic ruling class. Obviously, the south would not accept Arab and Islamic domination and marginalization. This was clearly confirmed by some British officers who argued that northern domination of the south would result in a southern rebellion against the government.
The hostility of southerners towards northerners surfaced violently when southern army units known as Equatoria Corps rebelled in August 1955 against what was perceived as likely Arab domination when Sudan was to be independent from British colonial rule. Indeed, on the 1st January 1956, Sudan became an independent country.
The fear of the south of northern domination was confirmed when the military took over power in independent Sudan and started to suppress expressions of religious and cultural differences. The Sudanese military government made all attempts necessary to Arabize and Islamize southerners.
It was obvious that southerners were left with no option but to carry out an armed struggle against the Sudanese government to address the problem. However, in May 1969 another military coup took place, replacing the government that was unable to address the problem of rebellion in the south.
In March 1972 the southern rebel movement and the military government signed what was known as the Addis Ababa Agreement. In the agreement the three southern provinces of Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile became the Southern Region with an executive. The agreement granted the Southern Region a local autonomy and the executive was led by a president known as the president of the high executive council.
Southerners settled down in their well-earned local autonomy and freedom to start work on socio-economic development that was denied the south for so long. With limited resources, the southern regional government did what it could. The regional assembly, government ministries and houses for ministers were built. Roads in Juba were tarmacked. Agricultural production increased where the Southern Region was almost self-reliant in food production.
The author was an agriculturist and one time in-charge of Juba Island where a variety of vegetables were produced for the local market. Production of cash crops such as coffee in Yei in Central Equatoria State increased. Tea started to grow in Upper Talanga in Easter Equatoria State. Southerners were reliant on locally produced food commodities. Rice was grown in Aweil in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State where the author was an agricultural officer. In contrast, after independence South Sudanese are now relying on food commodities imported from the neighbouring countries.
All seemed to have gone well with the Southern Region until the problem of tribalism surfaced. In general, tribalism can be defined as tribal consciousness and loyalty, especially exaltation of the tribe above other groups. In a political context, tribalism can increase discriminatory behaviour and attitudes towards out-groups, based on in-group loyalty.
The negative aspects of tribalism are often fuelled by competition for power and resources, and the perception of a common threat. In addition, the negative aspects of tribalism promote fear, anxiety and prejudice, all of which make people more susceptible to fake news, propaganda and conflict.
The dangers of tribalism include mindless tribal affiliations, drive polarization of people and prevent them from finding common ground. However, the greatest danger of tribalism is that it transforms political leanings into social identities, creating political confusion and deadlock.
The southern regional government was eventually dissolved and three regions were instead created. The weakness of southerners was that in the ill feelings created, there was no attempt to do some soul searching in order to come up with something that would unite them. Foremost, there would have been an admission that mistakes were made. Instead, southerners were polarized with unlikely common ground. Tribalism had wreaked havoc.
The second rebellion in the south started in earnest. It was most probably because of the division of the southern region into three regions which might have deprived others of their perceived God-given privileges and opportunities which were not easy to let go. The rebellion ended with a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) signed between the rebel movement and the Sudanese government.
Under the CPA the three regions in the south became known as Southern Sudan under one administration. Following the signing of the CPA, six years later Southern Sudan became an independent republic known as South Sudan. However, just a little over two years of independence, South Sudan was engulfed in a vicious war that became nothing but tribal in nature. The war was fought along tribal lines.
The hope of a prosperous independent South Sudan vanished into thin air. However, two agreements were signed by the main fighting groups to resolve the conflict. Sadly, despite the agreements, there has never been any lasting peace and security in South Sudan. The conflict still continues with people suffering needlessly. People who have been displaced have been asked and urged to return to their homes. Unfortunately, the lack of peace and security have exposed people to untold suffering.
For example, people in Morobo Country of Central Equatoria State have witnessed displacement by soldiers looting food and non-food items, beating and raping women. Where is the peace and security people talk of? It is important to note that using a tribal army to conquer the country for a single tribe is unlikely to be an easy ride. People will always fight for their rights through whatever means.
It is important that the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan are identified and analysed. The root causes of the conflict include a highly centralized system of government that is chocking and suffocating, tribalism which is polarizing and alienating, and corruption which is seriously depriving people of basic and vital services.
Without addressing the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan, there is no hope for a lasting peace and security. A highly centralized system of government is not appropriate for diversity in South Sudan. Devolution of power and resources to lower levels with no interference from any level is essential for a peaceful co-existence and security. To combat tribalism, all institutions should reflect the diversity of South Sudan as multi-ethnic. This means no single ethnic group should be monopolizing all positions in public institutions.
For example, in the implementation of the Addis Ababa Agreement, the rebel army was divided equally between the three southern provinces. Similarly, all organized forces should reflect the diversity of South Sudan to avoid the creation of tribal organized forces.
Corruption can be minimized when there is accountability. Billions of Petro dollars are lost because of the culture of theft with no shame. Fiscal decentralization may reduce the rampant corruption which is eating away resources for serious development in promoting prosperity.
There will always be conflict when the root causes are not adequately addressed. In view of this a national conference is essential to address the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan. The conference should not be convened only for those who are holding guns but for South Sudanese of all walks of life. It should be convened to include the civil society consisting of the youth and women, professional groups, trade unions, the academia, and so forth, all to address the problems the country faces as a genuine way forward. In such a conference the organized forces and the holdout groups should be included.
The Saint Egidio in Rome should facilitate such a conference instead of concentrating on only armed groups that have not contributed much to peace, stability and security in South Sudan. Holding such a conference in a neutral venue will encourage people to attend in search of a lasting solution to the conflict.
It is important to reiterate that the conference should not be on power sharing but on what system of government to adopt in resolution of the conflict in South Sudan for a durable peace, stability and security. Power sharing agreements have proved a failure to address the root causes of the conflict.
In conclusion, the blame game will not resolve the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan but admission of mistakes that have been made may open a new chapter of collective responsibility in concretely addressing the root causes of the conflict for the common good and stability in the region.
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