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‘Sometimes We See Ourselves As Apart’: South Sudan’s Response to Violence in Jonglei

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‘Sometimes We See Ourselves As Apart’: South Sudan’s Response to Violence in Jonglei

Posted by Laura Heaton on December 18, 2012

'Sometimes We See Ourselves As Apart': South Sudan's Response to Violence in Jonglei

Amid the host of challenges the South Sudanese people have faced, intercommunal violence has often been treated by South Sudanese leaders and the international community as a lesser priority for attention. But in recent years clashes over cattle, access to scarce resources, and retaliatory attacks have become more violent, accounting for thousands of deaths since 2009. Bouts of violence have been particularly severe in Jonglei, South Sudan's largest state, accounting for well more than half of all people killed in the country in 2012 and nearly 80 percent of its displaced people. There may be no other region in South Sudan where the interplay between internal failures of good governance and external support for spoiler elements creates a more explosive environment for deadly conflict. The severity of the violence in Jonglei over the past year and the independence of South Sudan have boosted the imperative for Juba and Jonglei's capital, Bor, to respond effectively.

Khartoum's direct prodding of the combustible situation in Jonglei is not a new tactic, and it is one that continues today. The Sudanese regime has a decades-long history of providing arms, ammunition, and cash to spoilers in Jonglei and other areas to exacerbate existing divisions and conflicts.Violence would likely exist in Jonglei without Khartoum's support, but not nearly on the scale and at the scope as that which has unfolded since the mid-1980s. But even as Jonglei remains a theater for external politics to play out between Juba and Khartoum, intercommunal violence in the state is primarily a manifestation of internal issues that must be addressed during South Sudan's state-building process.The need for greater economic and infrastructure development, political inclusion, systems of accountability, and the expansion of county, state, and federal authority through the delivery of basic services and security are among the underlying
causes behind the cyclical violence.
Intercommunal violence in Jonglei is a test case of the ability of the South Sudanese government to fulfill its responsibility to protect and govern in a more inclusive and transparent manner. Accordingly, 2012 has seen unmatched high-level attention from the government to the problem of intercommunal violence in Jonglei, both on the security side and through reconciliation efforts. This report will provide an analysis of government efforts to date to mitigate and prevent conflict in Jonglei following particularly grave violence from December 2011 through February 2012, with a focus on the Lou Nuer and Murle communities. The report is based on research conducted in Juba; Bor, the capital of Jonglei; and Pibor and Akobo, the towns that serve as the centers of the Murle and Lou Nuer communities, respectively.
The focus of the Juba government's security strategy is a comprehensive, simultaneous disarmament campaign throughout the state. While security efforts appear to have created momentary stability in the Lou Nuer areas during the rainy season—a fact that civilians on the ground echo—the abuses committed by the army during the disarmament campaign in Murle areas have directly contributed to renewed insecurity that has the potential to spoil the temporary peace between the communities. It has also stalled the larger Jonglei peace process. Efforts should be made to consolidate the gains made in the Lou Nuer areas and to isolate rebelling forces by gaining the confidence of the Murle civilian population. Increased diplomatic efforts must be made to counter Khartoum's support of militia elements in the region. It is important for the South Sudan army to distinguish between militia members and Murle civilians in its counterinsurgency tactics and to demonstrate greater accountability at the local level over abuses committed. Should the South Sudanese government restart its disarmament campaign in Jonglei, the military should be encouraged to strategically target armed youth, who are the main perpetrators of cattle raiding, and to coordinate with international partners in generating alternative livelihoods for those disarmed youth.
The reconciliation track has been defined by a government-led peace conference convening representatives from across the state and a church-led grassroots process. In March of this year, the government established a Presidential Committee for Community Peace, Reconciliation, and Tolerance in Jonglei State, spearheaded by Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul and President Salva Kiir. The presidential committee has attempted to mitigate conflicts by holding a peace conference in Bor and then traveling widely to hotspots to promote reconciliation. However, these and other ad-hoc efforts to continue the peace process suffer from insufficient engagement with youth, inadequate resources, and a lack of coordination between the many actors who are involved. An individual with sufficient political weight and seniority should be given the role of coordinating and tasking the various government and international actors in order to jump-start the implementation of the May resolutions.