Conflicts in South Kurdufan and Blue Nile
Following South Sudan’s independence in 2011, rebel movements became lively in the states of Southern Kurdufan and the Blue Nile along the new and partly disputed border between the two countries. The dominant guerrilla in the area was SPLM-N (see above) which during the civil war was active north of what became the state of South Sudan.
SPLM-N is led by people who were active in Sudanese politics during the transition period when the north and south formally ruled the country together. For example, the chairman Malik Agar was elected governor of the Blue Nile in the 2010 national elections. The Darfur guerrilla JEM, which also operates in the Red Sea region, also became active in the Southern Kurdufan and the Blue Nile.
In July 2011, the days after South Sudan’s independence, SPLM-N and JEM launched a joint attack on an army base in South Kurdufan. In September, Agar was fired as governor of the Blue Nile and SPLM-N was declared illegal. Agar fled to the countryside, where he began to build a guerrilla business and proclaimed a revolutionary state government.
At the end of the year, the SPLM-N, the JEM and the two largest factions of the SLM (Nur and Minnawi, see above) from Darfur joined the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), which said it aimed to oust the Sudanese government. The co-operation does not seem to have been without problems, mainly because the JEM demanded a greater role for religion in a future government than the other movements wanted to agree to.
Fighting in the area has been going on on a larger scale since 2013, but units from the JEM have also made raids into the state of Northern Kurdufan in their attempts to bring the conflict to Khartoum. In early 2013, the AU managed to get the Sudanese government and SRF to agree to peace talks in Addis Ababa, but no progress was made and in May, President al-Bashir suspended talks. SPLM-N’s leader Agar was sentenced to death in his absence.
New attempts at national dialogue on a solution to the internal conflicts began in 2014 but had not yielded any results by the end of 2016. In June 2016, al-Bashir ordered a four-month ceasefire, which was later extended by two months.
Conflicts within South Sudan
Barely two and a half years after the creation of the state, South Sudan was drawn into a devastating civil war in December 2013. A power struggle between the country’s two main leaders triggered the conflict. It was not until August 2015 that a peace agreement was signed after strong international pressure, and it took until April 2016 before a coalition government could take office. By then, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people had been killed and over two million had become homeless as a result of the war. Already in the summer of 2016, new fighting broke out and the UN warned of a humanitarian catastrophe.
South Sudan is one of the world’s least developed countries, where there is a lack of everything associated with a normally functioning modern state, such as schools, hospitals, roads and means of transport. Not least, there is a crying shortage of trained staff who can administer a modern society.
Ethnic and linguistic divisions have made it difficult to build a national identity and sense of belonging within the country. Most feel more at home in their own ethnic group than in the state of South Sudan. When the country has been exposed to external pressure, as during the long Sudanese civil war, the various ethnic groups have been able to agree on a common cause. As the pressure has diminished, old conflicts have easily surfaced.
It is mainly the two dominant ethnic groups Dinka and Nuer who viewed each other with great suspicion, despite the fact that they are closely related and have had a similar economy based on animal husbandry, which has also characterized their cultural patterns.
Wrong to kill
There are recorded eyewitness accounts from the early 19th century about how Dinka and Nuer regarded each other as enemies. Almost all conflicts have involved one group stealing cattle from the other – often the only way for a young man to acquire enough animals to be able to buy a wife.
The men went to war armed with spears, while women, children and the elderly gathered in temporary camps where they were not attacked. He who killed an enemy was considered to have become “spiritually defiled” and must be shed some of his own blood with the help of a spiritual leader in order to become a healthy and harmonious human being again.
When the spear was replaced by modern firearms during the civil war in Sudan in the 20th century, and killing could take place at a distance, this sense of self-responsibility disappeared. Guerrilla officers instilled in the warriors and village elders that traditional values did not apply in a “state war”.
Eventually, the old morality of war was forgotten and even cattle raids could lead to indiscriminate killing.
During the Second Sudanese Civil War, which began in 1983, the guerrillas led by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement / Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLM / SPLA) by John Garang, who was a Dinka. The movement was dominated by Dinka but also gathered many nues. But the Sudanese army tried to use the old contradictions in the south to split the guerrillas. Several militias from smaller ethnic groups were used to attack the SPLA.
The most serious schism within the SPLM / SPLA occurred in 1991, when one of the most prominent guerrilla leaders, the current Riek Machar, broke with John Garang and formed his own faction, the SPLA-Nasir. The name was taken from Machar’s hometown, where the movement was headquartered. Behind the quarrel was, in addition to pure rivalry for power, Machar’s view that Garang deployed too many Dinka soldiers in Nuer areas and that he made SPLA dependent on support from the Ethiopian regime.