Dark days in Sudan

July 7, 2009 in General, News

guns_02Richard O’Dwyer SJ writes from Sudan to share the shock of Irish people at the kidnapping in Darfur of GOAL worker Sharon Commins and her Ugandan colleague. The people of Darfur have suffered terribly over the last number of years. The work of agencies like GOAL is vital to provide them with basic food and care. The motive of the kidnappers is both puzzling and dismaying. Unfortunately for both Darfur and South Sudan, a huge issue is the ready availability of small arms.  Most households have a least one AK47. A simple dispute can swiftly escalate into an extremely nasty incident with fatal consequences if the local police and military are not fully in control of an area. Read Richard’s analysis below.


Richard O’Dwyer SJ

South Sudan, like most countries in Africa, is not a homogenous whole but a mixture of different ethnic/tribal groups.  Here as elsewhere, there is a lot of inter-tribal rivalry and jostling for control in the governance of South Sudan among the larger ethnic groups.  The ones vying for control are the Dinka Bahair El Ghazel, the Dinka Bor and the Nuer.  Issues over land, who controls the local government administration, and who administers oil money and international aid are the main bones of contention. The rivalry can turn violent and usually it involves the use of automatic weapons. Thus the number of casualties has been high. 

The other issue is that political progress has been slow.  The elections were due to take place later this year but have now been postponed twice.  Following the elections, the other huge event on the political horizon is the 2011 referendum which will decide the future of South Sudan.  There are two basic choices: to re-integrate with the rest of Sudan (i.e. with the Arab North) or to go it alone as an independent state of South Sudan. If the latter option is taken, there is the thorny issue about where exactly the border will be drawn between north and south. 

If people vote for an independent South Sudan there seems to be two main streams of thought as to what will follow:  One: that another war between North and South Sudan is inevitable, because the North will not accept an independent South Sudan and a huge potential loss in oil revenue, depending on where the border is drawn in Abeyi, the oil-rich state on the border.  The second viewpoint is that neither North nor South wants to have another long-drawn-out war. It would be an economic disaster for all concerned, because foreign investment would pull out of the country, creating massive unemployment and economic stagnation.  Furthermore, while there may be a border dispute, it will be short-lived and a compromise will be reached fairly quickly. 

My own hope would be that the will of the majority, who want independence from the North, will be accepted, and that a fair and equitable compromise will be reached over the drawing of the border.  I hope such a compromise can be reached without more bloodshed.

(Photo credit: Pierre Holtz for OCHA)