Deadly Faultline Threatens to Reignite Civil War in Sudan
Howden, Daniel, The Independent (London, England)
The uneasy peace that has kept the two disparate halves of Africa's biggest nation together is under threat. Daniel Howden reports from Bentiu
AS SUDAN approaches its fifth anniversary of peace, the fragile accord which has held the north and the south together is unravelling and Africa's biggest country is sliding back dangerously towards what was the continent's longest war. Momentous elections are due in a matter of months, a referendum on separation looms and Sudan's complex ceasefire is in open crisis.
All over the south there are soldiers in new uniforms; the army was paid for the first time in six months last week. Around 2,000 people have died in violence there this year and the government of southern Sudan says small arms are pouring across the border. In the north, which is led by Omar al-Bashir, the president wanted for war crimes, opposition leaders have been jailed after protests over democratic reforms and crisis talks in Khartoum have failed to halt public demonstrations.
"Now we're seeing the crunch," says Sudan analyst John Ashworth. The "endgame" of the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has arrived, he explains, and the fact that "the north gave away more than it could afford" to get the ceasefire means new conflict is almost inevitable.
Tunguer Kueigong is among those who think that 2009 will be the last year of peace. In Bentiu, the dusty capital of Unity State, the paramount chief of the Nuer, southern Sudan's second largest tribe, holds court in his "office" under the shade of a mahogany tree . "You know the north will not just let the south separate like this," he says, matter-of-factly. "If it happens, the people must fight."
The traditional leader understands better than most that the biggest obstacle to peace is oil. Unity State produces half of Sudan's oil. His time as chief has coincided with the discovery of the first sign of Sudan's huge oil wealth, here in the state 33 years ago.
Tunguer's playful garb, sunglasses and a Manchester United cap pulled tight over his head, belie his status. Southerners from ministers to herders come to his "office". Gesturing occasionally to his unopened briefcase perched on a plastic stool, he explains the benefits that oil has brought to Unity State. "When we didn't know we had oil we built schools and clinics," he says. "Because of the oil there is nothing."
Since the discovery of crude, the preferred method of extraction has been to clear the local population by force and meet any opposition with overwhelming military power. For much of the last three decades this has meant war. The fighting in Unity State, Tunguer recounts, has seen people being bombed in their villages, burnt alive in their huts and children rounded up and marched north to become slaves. "When we tried to fight them we had only small guns; they had bombs," he says.
The reality of Unity State sits uncomfortably with its name. A super-hot expanse on the western fringe of the great Sudd Swamp, it sits on the northern border of what may become South Sudan under the terms of the deal that ended the civil war. For now it looks politically to the south but its economic wealth is pumped north to the Arab-led government in Khartoum.
Its oil fields are guarded by army units dominated by northern security forces, with two of them outright occupied by the northern- controlled Sudan Army. The state infrastructure has been built in spite of its people for the purpose of extraction, not development. Its countless miles of straight roads were built to transport oil, not to connect communities.
Unity is home to the cattle-herding Nuer and Dinka, southern Sudan's two largest tribes. With its rich resources, impoverished people, tribal tensions, history of violence and predatory extractive industries, the state is a microcosm of this troubled country.
While the Darfur crisis in the west of Sudan dominated world headlines, the tortuous negotiations that led to the CPA, which marks its fifth anniversary next month, commanded greater interest in the country itself. …