South Sudan gov't unable to pay civil servants and troops
Southern Sudan - Fear of fragmentation
April 08, 2009 (NAIROBI)
From The Economist print edition
HUNDREDS of women and children were killed last month in Southern Sudan’s province of Jonglei, either shot or run through with spears. Some locals put the toll at more than 700. Officials in Juba, the capital of the largely autonomous region of Southern Sudan, say the figure was lower. In any event, a fresh spate of killing now threatens the broad peace that the region has been enjoying—and could even upset the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in 2005 between Sudan’s mainly Arab government in Khartoum and rebels in the black African south who had waged a war of independence for most of the previous three decades.
At first it seemed the killings were the result of routine cattle raids by Nuer warriors on the Murle, whom the Nuer accused of rustling thousands of cattle. Such raids usually end in a handful of deaths on either side. But the scale of the Jonglei killings, with the Nuer apparently riddling civilians with gunfire from weapons they were meant to have given up, has cast a pall of gloom over the south. It has not been lightened by the failure of the local Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to intervene. There have been killings elsewhere in the south too. Some fear the north-south accord is near to collapse.
Southern Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, who is Sudan’s national vice-president too, has every reason to play down the Jonglei killings. A slump in oil revenue, which accounts for most of his regional government’s budget, as well as corruption in Juba, has left him unable to pay his civil servants and troops. This has led to riots by disabled SPLA veterans and mutinies by soldiers. The border with Uganda, which handles nearly all of Southern Sudan’s trade, has been closed by veterans who said they had not been paid for seven months. Mr Kiir had to intervene with cash and grain to end the mutiny. Ugandan lorry drivers stranded on the Sudanese side of the border claimed that the SPLA harassed them.
Since 90% of Southern Sudan’s people live on less than $1 a day, tightening belts is not an option. They are as hungry, poorly educated and diseased as the ill-starred people of Darfur. Tribal leaders in the south say competition for water and grazing is adding to the tension between the tribes. Groups such as the Murle will return deaths in kind. The UN says 187,000 Southern Sudanese were displaced by tribal fighting last year. This year the number may double. As the Jonglei slaughter shows, plans to disarm have not been fulfilled. The worry is that the SPLA, a ruthless lot hardened by years of war, will end up taking sides, further unsettling the south and threatening the peace agreement.
Mr Kiir wants to stamp out “tribal spoilers” before national elections next year. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who was recently indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for alleged crimes in Darfur, is nervous about the possibility of Mr Kiir running as a candidate for the national presidency, appealing to voters even in the Arab bits of the country. Mr Kiir has so far been careful not to voice an opinion on the ICC warrant but may try to use it to squeeze concessions from the north—on oil and the Nile waters, among other things—before a referendum in 2011, when the Southern Sudanese will be asked if they want to secede from Sudan to form an independent country, probably to be called New Sudan.
This may put Barack Obama’s administration on the spot. American lobbies have concentrated on Darfur, largely to the exclusion of Southern Sudan. A policy review headed by Samantha Power, one of Mr Obama’s foreign-policy advisers, may be hard on Mr Kiir even as it endorses the ICC’s effort to bring Mr Bashir to justice.
The review may also suggest ways of dealing with the Lord’s Resistance Army, a murderous Ugandan militia that was recently hammered—but not defeated—by a joint offensive of Ugandan, Congolese and Southern Sudanese troops, underwritten by the outgoing Bush administration. Many in Juba are terrified that the Lord’s Resistance Army may now kill and rape its way through Southern Sudan, perhaps with weapons and training provided by the national government in Khartoum, which remains loth to see the south of the country peeling peacefully away.