- Who We Are
- What We Do
- Get Involved
With the southern Sudanese referendum for independence less than a year away, it is a bit puzzling that the south is not overcome by an overwhelming sense of nationalism. It is true that on the eve of the national elections, the increasing number of independent candidates has fractured southern political parties that were previously utilized as national rallying bases. After decades of war between north and south Sudan, the absence of a distinct and unified southern identity is a deep rooted issue that citizens of south Sudan must overcome in their quest to establish an independent state.
Last year, Refugees International reported on the increase in local conflicts in south Sudan and the threat that it posed to security in the area. Today, as I travel throughout south Sudan, it’s clear that the security situation continues to worsen, ethnic tensions continue to rise, and tribal groups are fracturing from within. The south needs to strengthen its security sector if it will establish itself as a sovereign state, but the importance of national identity should not be minimized or overlooked.
While much of this violence is historical, Refugees International has learned that tribal clashes in the south go beyond the acquisition of cattle, land, and at times, even children. There have been reports of fighting between members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and local communities. This news was quite alarming considering the fact that since the end of the civil war the SPLA has been regarded as south Sudan’s heroes and freedom fighters- but it seems that the honeymoon is over.
The SPLA is currently the first line of civilian defense since police forces are widely considered ineffective by civilians. To their defense, they are rarely paid, under trained, under resourced, and the Government of Southern Sudan has little capacity to do more. Due to these constraints the SPLA has taken on this responsibility, and at times have taxed local communities in order to sustain themselves while deployed in remote and volatile areas. Some local communities have not taken kindly to this since their resources are already stretched thin, and have resisted SPLA authority. Mounting tensions and conflict in south Sudan have also led many community members to acquire weapons for protection. This high proliferation of arms has led the Government of Southern Sudan to employ forced and unbalanced disarmament tactics that have further stoked brewing tensions between the SPLA and certain communities.
Unfortunately, all of this tension is further exacerbated when ethnic identification by local authorities comes into play. Refugees International has learned that some members of the SPLA feel more allegiance to their tribes than to the people of south Sudan as a whole, and are “switching sides” when conflicts erupt. The battle for sparse resources and protection of one’s community supersedes all national identification and it becomes every tribe for itself.
There have even been reported outbreaks of intra-tribal fighting. Late last month, seven people were killed in Lakes State when the Rek Dinka and Gok Dinka ethnic groups fought one another. A short time later, the Gok Dinka attacked the SPLA base in Cueibert town, resulting in the death of seven SPLA members and at least seventeen civilians.
Violence in Sudan is no longer solely an issue between the north and the south and cessation won’t be the quick fix. Long standing grievances as well as the common theory that the north will use local proxies to destabilize the south, all highlight the importance for the citizens of south Sudan to put their personal gripes aside in order to unify and determine their own destiny. In this regards, the formation of a national identity and unity among the people of south Sudan is not only critical for citizens that seek the path to independence and the success of the state, but it may also affect the possibility of an independent state existing at all.
Click here to read our latest report on contingency planning in Southern Sudan.August 10, 2011 | Tagged as: South Sudan, Sudan