The BBC reports that at least 100 people have been killed in clashes between the South Sudan government and soldiers loyal to a renegade rebel, George Athor, in Jonglei State.
This latest clash does not come as a surprise. Most analysts predict a high likelihood of civil war in post-independence South Sudan. Conflict will most likely come from two sources: Khartoum funding local dissident groups in order to check Juba and internal ethnic rivalry over government positions and the sharing of oil wealth.
Civil war in South Sudan may prove to be deadlier than the 2 decade war against Khartoum. Civilianization of the two decade war placed guns in the hands of most able bodied young men (In the South cattle herders tend to their animals with AK’s in hand). The prospect of Khartoum supporting secessionist movements along its border with the South is not pure fantasy.
The spotlight is on the political elite in the South. Will they hammer out a power and resource sharing deal or will despotism yet again kill the independence dreams of an African nation? I can’t stop thinking that John Garang’ de Mabior died too soon.
That Southern Sudan ought to be an independent state should have been apparent as early as 1956. The Anglo-Egyptian condominium that ran the Sudanese colony ensured a legacy of division between the North and South. The idea of two Sudans, already etched in people’s minds at independence, was further buttressed by years of what some have called “internal colonialism.” The marginalization of the South precipitated the two civil wars (57-72 and 83-05). 2 million people died and millions more were displaced from their homes.
Challenges abound for the new nation. The lack of basic institutions of state is hard to miss. Poverty and illiteracy are endemic. Corruption and ethnic favoritism remain to be serious threats to post-independence stability. To compound these problems, the North still refuses to recognize boundaries along oil-rich borderlands. Both sides are arming in case of a flare up.
The challenges aside, there is cause for optimism. Investors from Kenya and Uganda have been trooping into Juba since the signing of the CPA in 2005. Kenyan banks are now a familiar presence in Juba. Kenya also plans to build a new port in Lamu and link it to the oil fields of Southern Sudan. Juba will be a natural new member of the East African Community. Because the regional economies stand to lose in case of a return to conflict, I am cautiously optimistic that Southern Sudan will prove the naysayers wrong.
Southern Sudan is not the Belgian Congo circa 1960.