Article written

  • on 08.01.2014
  • at 11:00 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

The crisis in South Sudan: swapping partners 0

When asked by the New York Time how he imagines the current crisis in South Sudan to end Jok Madut Jok, one of the country’s leading intellectuals, answered with obvious resignation referring to President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar: “The two men will eventually sit down, resolve their issues, laugh for the cameras, and the thousands of civilians who have died will not be accounted for.”

Jok might well be right, the question is rather when, or at the price of how many lives? Indeed, the South Sudanese negotiators from the two sides started talks about talks in the Ethiopian capital with keen hugs. The dead, alas, cannot share in the tokens of good will on display in Addis Ababa’s Sheraton.

As things stand, two interlocking factors are likely to determine the timing of the awaited respite: the balance of military power on the battlefields between the two men and the nature and extent of regional involvement in the South Sudanese theatre of war, with the second factor probably overdetermining the first. In the record of old Sudan’s wars, of which the current conflict in independent South Sudan constitutes a continuity, as much as a break, there are no victors, only the dead, and the negotiators and their ‘peace’ agreements, and of course books, some good ones with ignored lessons, and many that lay or rather renew the ideological ground for new wars.

Under the category ideology one should also consider media coverage of events in South Sudan. Ominously, mainstream Sudanese press and Western media, apart from some sane exceptions, shared the same outlook, namely the notion of atavistic drives devouring a country constituted of tribal hordes not peoples. Reports of the insurgency in southern Sudan always ended with the line that the war was between a Muslim Arab north and a Christian and animist African south. This time around, the standard wisdom was confrontation between the Dinka and the Nuer, or a variant thereof, usually the more qualified reminder that President Kiir is a Dinka and Riek Machar a Nuer, with the note that the Dinka constitute South Sudan’s largest ethnic group. ‘Quick descent’ from a power struggle between President Kiir and his former deputy to a civil war pitting the Dinka against the Nuer is then declared but left to the trusting consumer to fathom. Assuming the above reasoning to hold, the mystery is rather how is it at all possible that the Nuer and the Dinka are not at each other’s throats all the time, battle-keen as they are supposed to be.

If the on-going insurgency in Sudan’s South Kordofan and the Blue Nile is a tangential off-shoot of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between the Sudan government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), unsettled business as it were, so is the current crisis in South Sudan. Liberal peace-making efforts at the time consciously divorced between the necessity of ending the war and the condition of restructuring state power to secure peace, termed rather euphemistically ‘democratic transformation’. The outcome was reproduction of the National Congress Party (NCP) autocracy in Khartoum and the implantation of its precarious double in Juba under banners of the SPLA/M turned into a ruling party, argument being that only those with the capacity to wage war deserved to dictate the terms of peace, and so they did. The contradiction, so dear to the ‘experts’, between the Arab Muslim north and the African Christian animist south was resolved by an international border of terribly poor resolution. The contradictions that sustained the war however, primary among them the capture of the state by “bourgeoisified bureaucratic elites” to use John Garang’s eerie terminology, adding the adjective militarised in the case of South Sudan to account for the legacy of the liberation struggle, as opposed to the rural mass of the population, were accepted as destiny if not actively encouraged to facilitate ‘peace’. Consider in that regard how the 2010 elections, the landmark event of ‘democratic transformation’ under the 2005 CPA, were internationally delivered to the NCP in northern Sudan and the SPLM in southern Sudan without even the grace of acknowledging their farcical nature aloud. Yasir Arman’s aborted presidential candidacy on a SPLM ticket was the dramatic entertainment offered to the indulgent, a non-event to square the ‘bi-partisan’ deal. A long-time Garangist, Yasir is yet to come to terms with the secession of South Sudan, his politics remain a hangover from the days of the big man.

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By Magdi El GizouliSudan Tribune

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