Field Notes: New Conflict Looms in South Sudan

Juba, South Sudan – Reflections from my field work in South Sudan’s southern edge, where new conflicts loom.

Potential sources of conflict in Central and Western Equatoria State
Summary case-finding report
Based on fieldwork in Juba, Yei, and Yambio in February & March 20111

Dr. Saskia Baas, University of Amsterdam
Emmanuel Malish, Juba University (research assistant)

In January 2011 the people of South Sudan took part in a referendum on self-determination and voted overwhelmingly for an independent South. With South Sudan becoming the world‟s newest country in July, its politicians and people face the tremendous task of building a nation on a societal foundation that has been severely affected by the 22 year civil war. The north-south war as well as inter-tribal fighting within the south have deepened rivalries between tribes, which may form an obstacle during the next phase of state-building. Since the signing of the CPA in 2005, state institutions have been built on the existing structures of the SPLM/A, which was well prepared for the task after running local administrations in the SPLM/A controlled areas during the war. However, to those who – either actively or passively – opposed the movement during the war, reliance on SPLM/A structures may create a feeling of being excluded from shaping the post-independence polity. And when perceptions of exclusion obtain a tribal dimension, a risk for escalation of tribal conflict exists. This report gives a brief overview of some of the findings from a research project aimed at assessing those risks in Central and Western Equatoria.

Findings in Central Equatoria State (CES)
In Central Equatoria, attitudes towards the current government are rooted in a more general skepsis towards the SPLM/A which is a result of difficult relations between the people and the movement since its foundation. During the years preceding the onset of the Second Civil war tensions within the south were rising over the issue of Kokora: splitting the southern region into three separate regions; Geater Upper Nile, Greater Bahr El Ghazal and Greater Equatoria. While Equatorians generally favored Kokora and actively pushed for it, other groups in the South severely opposed it. Dissent over the eventual implementation of Kokora in 1983 formed one of the main reasons for founding the SPLM/A. Further, the movement‟s origin in the town of Bor, its leader being a Dinka and the focus of recruitment initially being in Dinka areas, for Equatorians created an image of the SPLM/A as a Dinka movement, rather than a Southern nationalist movement. The issue of Kokora prevented Equatorians from joining in large numbers in the beginning, which further reinforced that image. In time, though relations improved somewhat, the SPLM/A‟s presence in CES also created new grievances among the civil population, resulting from the movement‟s forced recruitment policies and occasional bad behavior of individual soldiers. The fear of Dinka domination, negative experiences with the movement during the war and the ambition of an autonomous Greater Equatoria as was reflected in Kokora, continue to shape the perceptions of people in CES, in issues regarding governance and the state.

Specific issues: Governance
Negative attitudes towards the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) since the signing of the CPA are widespread in CES. As the GoSS is controlled by the SPLM, these attitudes partially derive from negative experiences with the SPLM during the war, though people are also able to nuance these experiences to some extent.

“Before the elections, we tried to talk to people. We got reactions from the people that showed negative
attitudes to the SPLM. Some people said they ran from the SPLM during the war.”
– SPLM campaigner in Yei, interviewed 11/2/2011

“Atrocities were committed by soldiers, in cluding killing of civilians, raping civilians. Robbery and force was
the main issue. They needed food and they used force to get it.”
– Civil society f igure in Yei, interviewed 12/2/2011

“Before the war, there was a system of t raditional justice. People used to settle disputes that way. During
the war, the t raditional mechanisms were weak. Chiefs had no authority. It was about the power of guns,
and military force.”
– Civil society f igure in Yei, interviewed 10/2/2011

“When the SPLA was still in the bush, they came and demand food. But after the liberation, they controlled
the place and it was safer.”
– Discussion with youth in Yei, 11/2/2011

A more prominent factor in shap ing skep sis towards the current government are people‟s perc eptions
of the performance of the GoSS since the CPA. Corruption in the GoSS and fraud during the April 2010 elections are the main complaints, and create fears of becoming voiceless in the new polity.

“People had been in the bush for so long, they were hungry. Maybe that’s why the level of corruption is so
high. If you go to a health center, maybe nurses didn’t get paid for years . Where is the money going? That’s
why some people say “GoSS” stands for “Government of Self Service‟.”
– Discussion with youth in Yei, 11/2/2011

“With the elections, the governor‟s seat was rigged. It damaged our reputation. Everything went fair at the
local level, but then it was rigged during the aggregation.”
– SPLM campaigner in Yei, interviewed 11/2/2011

“Last elections were a scam. People in CES were very bitter. They felt cheated. They believed that the GoSS
intended to marginalize their state by keeping someone [in the governor‟s position] who is in competent.”
– Opposition politician, interviewed 23/2/2011

Finally, concerns exist about the (perceived) domination of the Dinka in government institutions.
Young people feel chanceless in obtaining jobs in the civil service which they feel is currently being
dominated by the Dinka.

“Everywhere where there are non-Dinka, people are asking: what is the point of separation if we are
dominated by the Dinka?”
– Opposition politician , interviewed 7/2/2011

“I’m a member of the SPLM, but it‟s not easy for me to get higher in the SPLM. There are many of th e
Dinka there. They have key positions. There are very few Equatorians. And there are very few Dinka who
will not look at you as an Equatorian. If you apply for a job with a Dinka minister, they may reject you just
after reading your name.”
– Student in Juba University, interviewed 3/2/2011

“The constitutional review committee shows the corruption. The commission is all Dinka: when you see
the list of names, number 1-6 are Dinka, number 7 is from Equatoria, and number 8-12 are again Dinka.
Not only the Dinka fought this war. My own father fought and died in the war. This means I have a right
– Discussion with youth in Yei, 11/2/2011

As state institutions were being formed after the CPA, people who were appointed to positions in the
new institution started to flock to Juba. To facilitate their relocation they were given plots of land in
Juba to build their accommodation. 2 However, these plots were the property of locals, many of
whom had fled the area during the war or were unable to make use of their land during the war.
These people now find themselves tied up in complicated and costly legal procedures to retrieve
access to their land, while many complain about being intimidated by the new tenants who have high positions in the administration or the army. Narratives derived from interviews with people whose land was taken, display how the issue links back to concerns about Dinka domination in the new state.

“We own a plot in Tong Ping sin ce the 1980s. We have a certificate that shows the land is ours. In 2007, we
wanted to develop the land. We found a brigadier-general and a few of his soldiers there. They said “we
shed blood for this land. How can you say it is your land?” They were threatening us not to come back to
this land.”
– Man with a plot in Tong Ping, interviewed 8/2/2011

“We own our land since 1968, it was bough by my husband. We constructed houses on the land. It was
being rented by a person working in GoSS since 2005. There was no problem, but then the contract
finished in 2007. And my husband didn’t want to re-extend it. We wanted to live there. We opened a case,
but he doesn‟t come to the court. We are afraid to complain about it, because he has guns and soldiers.”
– Woman with a plot in Nimra Talata, interviewed 8/2/2011

“The Dinka people are the ones taking this land. They are all people working with the government. Moving
the capital would be a solution. It‟s better than staying with people with this kind of attitude.”
– Man with a plot in Munuki, interviewed 15/2/2011

“I don‟t tolerate this. I can‟t stay with this person. Even though we are now separate from the north, people
may go to war for this type of behavior. Equatorians and Dinka are having trouble since long. Because of
Kokora. This is the same thing again. W e can‟t live together this way.”
– Man with plot in Juba Na Bari, interviewed 8/2/2011

Findings in Western Equatoria
Western Equatoria is a remote area and remained relatively unaffected by the war until the SPLM/A
defeated the SAF in 1990 after which it controlled the area throughout the rest of the war. Relations
between the movement and the civilian population were difficult and many civilians fled the area to
refugee camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, especially in
respo nse to the SPLA‟s forced recruitment practices. To the Zande people, who form the majority in
Western Equatoria, the movement‟s authoritarian style of governance triggered recollections of a
“collective trauma”: the Zande used to populate a kingdom in an area comprising parts of Sudan, the
DRC and CAR, until they were defeated by Colonial powers in the beginning of the 20st century. This
has contributed to a general belief that outside powers conspire to annihilate the Zande and negative
attitudes towards the current government are nourished by this belief. In 2006, fighting occurred
between Dinka elements in the SPLA contingent stationed in Yambio and the local population,
indicating that a risk of conflict escalation exists.

Specific issues: Governance
The entry of the SPLM/A into WES was experienced by the Zande as yet another outside force
taking over. Voluntary recruitment was limited and many young boys fled to avoid being forcibly
recruited. In addition, there is a feeling that Zande who did join the SPLA were not given fair chances
for promotion in the movement during the war and, consequently, have not been given high
positions in the GoSS after the CPA.

“There was looting and beating by the SPLM [during the war]. Then, people were saying the Arabs were
better, this is not liberation. People didn’t like to join them.”
– Civil society f igure, interviewed 18/2/2011

“The Zande did not get into high positions. Most of them are Dinka. Th ey s ay it‟s because w e joined l ate.
There is one [Zande] Brigadier-General. Many are colonels, but not many are higher than that. People feel
left behind because they supported them. Because o f our support, the SPLA won.”
– Civil society figure, interviewed 18/2/2011

“The Zande are educated, but we are not in GoSS. The Zande don‟t feel that this is our government. In the
local government we are represented. The GoSS is still foreign.”
– Civil society figure, interviewed 18/2/2011

This conflicts with a strong desire for autonomy among the Zande. Their willingness to be governed
as part of a larger state is contingent upon their ability to rule themselves within that state. This
becomes clear in narratives relating to the April 2010 elections. WES was the only state where an
independent candidate managed to win the governor‟s seat, although there were attempts to
manipulate the results.

“During the elections in April, Salva put the governors. He picked a weak person from WES who would
serve his interest. The people here wanted another. Finally, he stood and won. They tried to rig. If they had
managed to rig the election, then on the day they would have announced the results, a war would have
– Civil society figure, interviewed 18/2/2011

“Elections in WES were awkward. There was no political maturity in that. It was premature, but people
stood firm to have their choice materialize. The issue of imposing leaders is what provokes our people. We
need freedom to choose our own people.”
– Local administrator, interviewed 21/2/2011

“Decision-making about policy should involve every one who is concerned. We don’t want nominations in
the government. We want elections. We don‟t like dictatorship. ”
– Discussion with youth in Yambio 19/2/2011

A major issue in WES is insecurity caused by the Lord‟s Resistance Army (LRA). Attacks on civilians
are frequent and have caused people to move from the villages to the towns, which has reduced
agricultural production, driving up food prices. Many feel that the SPLA has not adequately
responded to the LRA which has prompted the formation of locally organized defense forces known
as the Arrow Boys. The Arrow Boys‟ weaponry mainly consists of bows and arrows and they are
hard-pressed to obtain the resources to run their operations. A request to the GoSS for providing
financial support to the Arrow Boys has been turned down and the forces now operate on sporadic
contributions from civil servants working in WES. The assumed lack of response from the GoSS to
the LRA attacks has strengthened feelings among the Zande of being marginalized, which resonates
with the general assumption that others are out to destroy the Zande.

“GoSS gave WES to the LRA to stay. I ask myself why. Are we not important to the GoSS? Did we not
help during the war? Why are we left behind? Why are we not considered Sudanese? ”
– Discussion with youth in Yambio, 19/2/2011

“The GoSS have people and money. They don‟t want to support the Arrow Boys. It seems that they want
to finish the Zande people. The same is happening in CAR and DRC. Maybe they are working together to
finish the Zande people, because they are too strong.”
– Civil society figure , interviewed 18/2/2011

“We fear this government doesn’t care about us. They don‟t protect us, they don‟ t help us. This way they
are telling us: “we are not your government‟.”
– Civil society figure , interviewed 18/2/2011

Similar to CES, negative perceptions of the GoSS among the people in WES also link to the
perception that the Dinka dominate the army and GoSS institutions. The feeling of not being
protected from the LRA by the SPLA is the main cause of magnifying suspicion towards the
prominence of Dinka in the government.

“The SPLA is sometimes reluctant to go to the LRA attacked areas. Most of the SPLA are from one tribe.
They are reluctant to fight for another tribe. We asked for a Zande force to be deployed here, but they
refused. They said the SPLA is a national army.”
– Civil society figure, interviewed 19/2/2011

“The Arrow Boys are Zande, because the Zande boys are the ones dying. The Dinka are not helping. The
SPLA is not helping, not even giving us bullets.”
Arrow Boy, interviewed 19/2/2011

“We have a problem in the GoSS. We need justice and equality. Not one particular tribe leading up from
the top to the bottom.”
– Civil servant, interviewed 21/2/2011

“We love our president, he brought us this referendum. But we need to be treated equally. We need power
sharing. The government should not forget us.”
– Discussion with youth in Yambio, 19/2/2011

Since the signing of the CPA in 2005 the SPLM has worked hard to establish a system of governance
in South Sudan where virtually no structures existed to build on, while simultaneously having to
manage a fragile ceasefire with the NCP. With limited resources and enormously high needs to
address in all sectors of service delivery, any priority-setting would have been bound to leave some
parts of the population dissatisfied. A risk of ethnic conflict arises there, where unmet needs coincide
with perceptions of tribal favoritism. Such perceptions have been found to be widespread in CES and
WES where large groups express feeling neglected by and excluded from the newly formed state
structures. These feelings have become mixed with trauma inflicted by previous systems of
governance, going back to Colonial times. For some groups, the very idea of being governed
constitutes a threat which is expressed in a strong desire for self-rule within the structure of a nation

Under these conditions, democratic transformation and decentralization are crucial for the
new state to be acceptable to those groups. Since 2005, the malfunctioning of democratic
mechanisms, most prominent in the April 2010 elections, has alienated large groups of people in CES
and WES from the process of state building. Now that independence has been achieved, the GoSS
needs to start re-engaging these groups. The ongoing constitutional review provides an opportunity
to do so and the process should be comprehensive, not only including opposition parties but also
embedded in grass-root dialogue. Furthermore, decentralization of government functions will
accommodate the desire for regional autonomy. Finally, opening up the civil service to minority
tribes, especially at the level of the GoSS, is a necessary condition for those tribes to feel
acknowledged as part of the state.

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