As I wrote a hopeful post about the coming independence of South Sudan (population: 11,090,000) in February 2011 I warily pointed to soldiers from what became South Sudan who had fought against the South as members of the Sudanese Army, I worried about the decision to integrate these opposing soldiers into the South Sudanese Armed Forces. My concern at the time had much to do with the prospects of violence resulting from continued meddling by Sudan in South Sudanese affairs through the military and the potential problems that would arise from failing to fully spread political power among all of the different peoples comprising the new state. Nearly three years since independence, the wrestling for power syndrome that virtually always accompanies the formation of an independent state has raised its ugly head in the violent contest between the current president and the former vice president. The nations of South Sudan did take steps to form a government with representation of virtually all of the 80 different peoples. But externally induced interference in South Sudan’s fragile democracy has proved stronger with the barrel of a gun.
Despite the public media’s wide-mouthed reports of “tribal war” the truth is that the new state’s monopoly of military power has been countered by the former vice president’s militarized political party that may indeed be directly or indirectly supported by the government of Sudan. The matter at stake is OIL in the northern states of South Sudan…OIL that the Sudan government was loath to lose as a result of South Sudan’s acendency to independence. The violence apparently emerging in South Sudan is nothing more or less than an attempt to destabilize South Sudan and over throw the current government by violence. As the map below illustrates, the main oil fields between Sudan and South Sudan are in northern South Sudan. The pipeline infrastructure is predominatly Sudan’s.
This is not a “tribal war!” This is a war that did not stop after independence between Sudan and the peoples of South Sudan. This was an interstate war and it remains so though it is now shrouded in BBC, NYT and other news outlet stories of tribal warfare. While this makes for a good story, the reality remains that the present clashes reflect the desires of a few using military means to gain full and effective control over oil.
Dinka (4.64 million), Nuer (1.72 million), Azande (713 thousand), Bari (508 thousand), Shiluk/Anwak (381 thousand) and at least 76 other indigenous nations (numbering from 600 people to thousands) have long lived next to each other in what is now South Sudan and in pre-independence days demonstrated their dominance as distinct peoples of South Sudan. They voted in overwhelming numbers to become an independent state.
As one can readily see, the nations of South Sudan (particularly the Dinka) sit on strategically important oil reserves and extraction sites while Arab dominated Sudan is mostly desert with very limited resources. The South is rich with many resources and the militant forces of Sudan remain adamant in their desire to control the strategic resources of the South.
There is no doubt that civilian members of many of the indigenous nations of the South have suffered and continue to suffer, but that circumstance does not make this a tribal war. When states monopolize the instruments of violence as they do, indigenous nations are often the victims of that violence.
The border between Sudan and South Sudan is easily overcome. When the coniving forces of Sudan reach into the military, government and populations of South Sudan, we actually see an externally induced conflict that is intended to reward the government in Khartoum. To stop this war, a major effort must be initiated by African States and other UN members to block infiltration of South Sudan by Sudan and thus eliminate the violent materials that now contribute to supporting a disgruntled former vice president.