[Dehai-WN] Crisisgroup.org: South Sudan: Compounding Instability in Unity State

[Dehai-WN] Crisisgroup.org: South Sudan: Compounding Instability in Unity State

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 2011 23:52:53 +0200

South Sudan: Compounding Instability in Unity State

Africa Report N179 18 Oct 2011



Unity state confronts a set of challenges unparalleled in South Sudan. Some
exemplify concerns that register across the emerging republic; others are
unique to the state. Situated abreast multiple frontiers, its political,
social, economic and security dilemmas make for a perfect storm. Some have
festered for years, while more recent developments – prompted by the
partition of the “old” Sudan – have exacerbated instability and intensified
resource pressure. Recent rebel militia activity has drawn considerable
attention to the state, highlighting internal fractures and latent
grievances. But the fault lines in Unity run deeper than the rebellions. A
governance crisis – with a national subtext – has polarised state politics
and sown seeds of discontent. Territorial disputes, cross-border tensions,
economic isolation, development deficits and a still tenuous North-South
relationship also fuel instability, each one compounding the next amid a
rapidly evolving post-independence environment. Juba, and its international
partners, must marshal attention and resources toward the fundamental
sources of instability in places like Unity if the emerging Republic is to
realise its full potential.

Since 2005, the lion’s share of Juba’s – and international – attention was
focused on national issues: implementation of the Comprehensive Peace
Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war, volatile North-South politics, the
referendum that brought about Southern independence and negotiations toward
a constructive relationship with Khartoum beyond partition. Southerners
likewise put the unifying goal of independence ahead of other grievances and
aspirations. Now focus is shifting to the latent political, security, social
and economic stabilisation agenda at home. Nowhere are the challenges
deferred more evident than in Unity state.

Situated along the North-South border and atop much of the South’s known oil
deposits, Unity is a strategic territory and a primary source of the
country’s economic lifeblood. Its subterranean resources made it a
centrepiece in Sudan’s civil war; its people, land, and social fabric were
devastated by two decades of conflict that pitted national forces,
border-area proxies, Southern rebels and its own ethnic Nuer clans against
one another. As both wounds and veiled allegiances remain, the legacies of
this era continue to influence the politics, and instability, of the

Politics in Unity are deeply polarised, and the reverberations are felt well
beyond state boundaries. Citizens in many states harbour grievances about
their local governments, but resentment is particularly palpable and
widespread in Unity. The dispute at the heart of the state’s body politic is
partly linked to broader national politics, the unreconciled legacies of a
long and divisive war, and fundamental questions of identity and ethnic
competition. As new political realities emerge, it remains to be seen
whether the alliances of the recent past will endure. Many have high hopes
that independence will pave the way for a new, more democratic and
transparent administration in Bentiu (as well as in the national capital,
Juba), but those hopes are conditioned on fundamental changes taking place
in the state.

A series of armed rebellions emerged in the South in 2010-2011, several in
Unity. Though sometimes dismissed as mere armed opportunism, they have
together drawn attention to more endemic grievances, some of which are
manifest in Bentiu. Divisions over security policy and a flawed
counter-insurgency strategy highlighted a familiar dilemma of army
integration. An inconsistent response has yielded mixed results, sometimes
generating more violence, fuelling community grievances, or hampering
efforts to bring other rebels back into the fold. Northern support for such
groups is highly inflammatory and must cease, but external subversion
remains an exacerbating agent as much as a root cause. A demonstrable
commitment to reforms in the security sector and rule-of-law institutions,
an opening of political space, as well as a more stable North-South
relationship will be necessary to discourage future rebellions.

Meanwhile, boundary disputes and cross-border tensions persist. The
North-South border is now an international boundary, but it is not yet
demarcated and critical sections – including in Unity – remain dangerously
militarised. The seasonal migration of nomadic Misseriya cattle-herders to
Unity has been interrupted in recent years, generating violence and anxiety
along the already tense border. In the absence of negotiated migratory
arrangements and implementation of a North-South security pact, there
remains considerable uncertainty as to what the coming seasons hold.
Likewise, still undefined internal boundaries fuel inter-communal tensions
inside Unity state and many others.

A tumultuous end of the CPA era, partition of the country, domestic turmoil
in the North, and the absence of arrangements to govern the future
relationship between the two Sudans have compounded instability and left
questions unanswered. Tens of thousands of Southerners returned from the
North to their places of origin, their future uncertain as the state
struggles to absorb them. A Khartoum-imposed blockade of North-South transit
routes has choked supply chains and caused economic shock in an already
isolated state capital. The outbreak of war in neighbouring Southern
Kordofan further undermines cross-border movement and trade, protracts
North-South tension and has driven refugees into Unity, many of whom need
emergency services.

Finally, resources have driven instability and will continue to shape the
political, social and economic character of the state in the independence
era. Oil has fuelled the national economy and generated state revenue. But
Unity constituents remain undecided about its net effect, as tangible
development gains are lacking, allegations of oil revenue misuse are
widespread, and the social and environmental consequences of extraction
persist. The assumption of greater oil sector responsibility will bring
changes and an opportunity to revisit contracts and operating standards; it
may also prompt new investment. Though production is in decline, industry
management and the relationship between state, oil companies and community
will be a key determinant of future stability. Large-scale land acquisitions
have also generated controversy and drawn attention to inadequate
regulation. The potential for new commercial investment will force land
policy issues to the fore.

The brutal lessons of oil sector development in Unity illustrate that
rigorous regulation and government oversight are necessary to protect the
rights and interests of local populations. Meanwhile, violent cattle raiding
afflicts many of the state’s agro-pastoralists, often stoking disputes with
ethnic Dinka communities in neighbouring Warrap and Lakes States.

Now that independence has been achieved, the challenges and grievances
deferred will increasingly surface in what is already a fragile environment.
Many aspire to use the 9th of July – independence day – to make a break with
the troubles, injustices, and divides of the past. But untangling Unity’s
web of intersecting challenges will prove no easy task.

Juba/Nairobi/Brussels, 17 October 2011


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