Monday, December 22, 2014

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Sub-Ethnic Division is Being Embedded into the DNA of South Sudan’s Emerging State

The South Sudan government is formalising the dominance of certain groups in the region, writing conflict into the structure of the state.
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Photograph by Paul Harera/Think Africa Press

Following the referendum, there are still many obstacles to a peaceful secession of South Sudan.

Second-guessing President Bashir’s northern government in Khartoum is often difficult, and we still know relatively little about the diplomatic approach of the Government of South Sudan. Oil agreements are yet to be finalised, borders lie disputed, refugees remain displaced, and land and movement rights of nomads and pastoralists are still to be agreed. Yet it is not a resurrection of a North-South war which is the only risk. As the new government asserts its authority in the emergent nation, lasting peace within the south may prove the greater struggle.

The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) were the signatories of the 2005 peace agreement with Khartoum.  Despite internal divisions, they formed the Government of South Sudan and have led it through the transition to independence. The peace process has been built around discrete milestones; a census, elections, and this year’s referenda.

The long-term goals for the peace are not so clear cut. In part this is due to the political complexities of the south. It lacks clear developmental indicators as well as the infrastructure to achieve them within the five-years given by the peace agreement. Its ambiguity was born of concessions to Khartoum and a major compromise between factions of the SPLM/A. The SPLM/A lack unity and follow a very loose Marxist ideology (pdf). They are proceeding without a comprehensive model for peace building and have shown a willingness to consolidate their power by force rather than the democratic reforms sketched out in the peace agreement.

The causes of Sudan’s long conflict are proving to be more complex than the lack of representation and investment which the settlement sought to remedy.

On-going violence within the south has been widely accredited to the lingering influence of Khartoum, or conflated as ‘tribal conflicts.' Yet both of these explanations mask the reality of increasing ethnic marginalization and violence within the institutions of the new state.

The SPLM/A are asserting their dominance along old lines of patronage, ethnicity and tribal association. Efforts to build South Sudan’s infrastructure have been stunted. Little long-term investment has reached beyond the Dinka-controlled areas which have greatest representation in the government. The UN and charitable aid agencies operate short-term relief efforts in the rest of the country.

International funds have been used to entrench the interests of the SPLM/A and their favoured groups into local governance structures. This formalises a pre-exisiting dominance based on municipal border demarcations, land rights, water access and public services. Already large areas of disputed land are being sold cheaply to international buyers.

Politically contested areas remain ungoverned and susceptible to violence. In Wau, a regional capital on the banks of the Jur River, cattle raids are frequent. Residents see the raids as an assertion of local Dinka supremacy. Tribal divisions are being accentuated and politicised by an absence of governance and central authority. This is particularly true of the tensions between Nuer and Dinka which were previously overshadowed by conflict with Khartoum-backed militias.(PDF) The internal wars of South Sudan are being petrified into the security, economic and administrative structures of a modern state.

In defusing these emerging conflicts the international community may take lessons from Afghanistan. There is no excuse for state-builders to act as if they are starting from a blank slate. Existing political complexities must be addressed. A well-resourced central government cannot enforce its rule exclusively by fresh institution building, elections and trade liberalisation. Modern states depend upon compromises with their publics, various types of coercion, and if this fails, a demonstration of superior violence.

Social and political structures of patronage and coercion already exist in South Sudan. But for those outside the structures, there is little left. International pressure for transparency has intensified since the recognition of millions of aid dollars ‘lost’ through corruption, giving the government little incentive or means to offer carrots to any new or rival groups within the state.  It is left to demonstrate that it holds the biggest sticks. 

In an important step for the peace process, South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir, was returned with a disputed 93% share of the vote in the 2010 election. While there is still hope that this peace process may avert war with the north, fears remain that the peace left for the south will be a violent one.

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Comments

Hi Jaimie, I have found the follwing chain of sentences difficult to grasp:

"In defusing these emerging conflicts the international community may take lessons from Afghanistan. There is no excuse for state-builders to act as if they are starting from a blank slate. Existing political complexities must be addressed. A well-resourced central government cannot enforce its rule exclusively by fresh institution building, elections and trade liberalisation. Modern states depend upon compromises with their publics, various types of coercion, and if this fails, a demonstration of superior violence."

Could you please enlighten me regarding the responsibility of the international community and the dual use of compromise & coercion...
Thank you

Thanks for your comment; I did skim very lightly over a pretty big area. The international community could take more of an active role in managing relations between the new institutions of the state and the existing social and political institutions at local levels. Currently they are competing with each other but it is avoidable.

First, establishing a monopoly of violence can be done by engaging and compromising with marginalised groups, eg. Nuer and nomads. This would mean the international community prioritising flexible state institutions that are transparent and inclusive - allowing genuine political negotiation to take place - grievances need to begin being addressed at this early stage of institutionalisation, not after.

Second, violence being 'outsourced' to state affiliated militias, ie. not fully monopolised, can be given greater attention by the international community. Buying off militias/gangs/rebels, through tribal patronage or otherwise, may create stability for the state but leaves those at its margins in perpetual insecurity. Eventually these groups may be coerced under a security sector with democratic governance and the capacity to control the entire country - I just think that without appreciating the loyalties and collective interests of these groups and those they are in conflict with, simple coercion will just entrench these conflicts, rather than offering a peaceful means to address them.

So the international community can provide technical and material support to these processes if it recognises that this doesn't predede the politics of conflict resolution but forms a part of it. Coercing militias may be necessary for initially putting areas under state control but it must be immediately accompanied by negotiations that address deeper conflict resolution. Hope this clarifies things a little.