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Southern Sudan’s Post-Election Flashpoints

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Southern Sudan’s Post-Election Flashpoints

Posted by Maggie Fick on April 29, 2010

Southern Sudan’s Post-Election Flashpoints


A South Sudanese woman is directed by a police officer to enter the polling room at a polling station in Lologo, Southern Sudan
(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
JUBA, Southern Sudan—Although the bulk of the results for Sudan’s recent national, regional, state, and local  elections have been announced, the potential for local outbreaks of post-election violence in certain areas of the South remains. At this tense juncture, the results of several hotly contested races for state governor may spark local violence and potentially broader conflict in the near future, with consequences for the South’s fast-approaching self determination referendum. This dispatch provides a brief overview of some of the more disconcerting situations.
Unity State: proxy showdown between SPLM leaders
The rivalry between the candidates for governor of Unity state has its roots in the intra-South conflicts that crisscrossed this oil-rich area during the war, and is linked to high level tensions within the South’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, or SPLM. The race between incumbent Taban Deng Gai and challenger Angelina Teny was referred to as the “most serious conflict” in the elections in the south in a recent edition of Africa Confidential. Governor Deng has the backing of the Government of Southern Sudan, or GoSS, President Salva Kiir, while challenger Teny was supported by GoSS Vice President Riek Machar and Paulino Matip, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Army, or SPLA.
Late last week, the National Electoral Commission announced a handy victory for Governor Taban over Teny, the candidate many saw as the frontrunner in the race. Supporters from Teny’s camp gathered in the streets of the state capital Bentiu, and during an incident between these supporters and southern security forces (known to be loyal to Governor Taban), two people were killed and several others injured. Bentiu has calmed down this week, but Angelina Teny has since announced that she will not accept the results of the election, and the situation remains in an uncertain stalemate.
Blue Nile: border tensions flare
Although Blue Nile, one of the “transitional areas” with special status in Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, falls north of Sudan’s 1956 North-South border, the state largely fought for the South during the war, and Malik Agar, the incumbent governor, is a long-time SPLM powerbroker.
The CPA established that the armies of the North and South would move their troops out of Blue Nile, to be replaced by “Joint Integrated Units.” But reports of the buildup of northern army troops along the border have complicated the security environment in the state. Elections exacerbated these tensions, especially as rumors spread that Govenror Malik had lost the election and reportedly fled South with his army. Soon after these rumors leaked, some of them in northern state media, results from the polling stations indicated that the incumbent governor had retained his post. The SPLM announced on its blog that their candidate had won, with official word from the National Electoral Commission following a few days later.
Initial concern that large-scale violence could be sparked by Khartoum’s hesitancy to accept Malik’s victory has subsided, but the presence of both northern and southern military forces in the border state will keep things tense. This is all the more the case because of the upcoming, CPA-mandated popular consultation process that Blue Nile will complete before the southern referendum (which Blue Nile will not participate in). Also, unless progress is made on demarcating the North-South border, which forms the southern boundary of Blue Nile state, the risks of border skirmishes between Northern and Southern security forces will multiply.
 South Sudanese driving to election rally in Juba, South Sudan
(Photo/Maggie Fick)
Central Equatoria: calm holds after politically-charged contest
Home of the southern capital Juba, Central Equatoria’s gubernatorial race evolved into a zero-sum game after the polls closed and during the tense tabulation period. Both the incumbent governor, Clement Wani of the SPLM, and the independent candidate, former GoSS advisor Alfred Ladu Gore, claimed victory through local media and asserted that if they were not declared the winner that the polls were fraudulent. Although both candidates later tempered their language slightly to suggest that they will not personally direct their supporters to take to the streets, both used public rhetoric to imply that they cannot control what their supporters might choose to do.
Gore and Wani hail from rival tribes in Central Equatoria—the Bari and the Mundari respectively—that have faced off in cattle herding and inter-tribal conflict in recent years, resulting in mass displacement in rural areas of the state and in an influx of people into Juba fleeing this violence. Their popularity varies across the state’s six counties, but the flashpoint for conflict lies in Juba, where many residents perceive that Gore should be the rightful winner and voted against Wani for unpopular policies, such as bulldozing the homes of tens of thousands of people without advance warning, purportedly for urban planning purposes.
The southern capital was increasingly tense in the run-up to the announcement of results. A visibly increased police presence in Juba did not allay the concerns of residents anxiously awaiting the results, many of whom fear the police and see officers en masse at roundabouts and in markets as a sign that trouble may be on the horizon. Thankfully, the announcement of incumbent governor Clement Wani as winner did not lead to serious violence in the streets of Juba (some scattered gunshots in one neighborhood were the only major report the night after the announcement). The GoSS and the United Nations declared curfews to keep residents out of the streets in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. The situation has remained calm in recent days, despite widespread sentiment of disappointment evident among many supporters of the independent candidate, who maintain that the this particular race was rigged—or at least tipped—in favor of yet another powerful but unpopular southern Sudanese politician.
Western Equatoria: state-sponsored intimidation not enough to stop independent candidate
Change did come to Western Equatoria State, the only state in the South where an independent candidate managed to defeat the incumbent or SPLM candidate for governor. “The people of Western Equatoria State waited for long to see this historic moment,” said Sudanese journalist Richard Ruati after Colonel Joseph Bakosero was declared the winner of the governorship. But Bakosero’s victory did not come easily, and the violations and irregularities (many alleged to be directed by the other leading candidate) could have a destabilizing impact in the state, given that tensions between local populations and the state security forces were already high prior to the elections.
Western Equatoria borders the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and has been rocked by intense violence against civilians by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Although the SPLA has been conducting a state-by-state civilian disarmament process in the South, Western Equatoria was spared from this exercise due to a decision by the southern government that citizens in this state would be better off retaining their weapons for self-defense against the LRA. SPLA presence was bolstered due to the LRA threat and further increased for the CPA anniversary celebrations held in January in the state capital Yambio; the Ugandan army, or UPDF, is also present in the area, where it is fighting the LRA in coordination with the SPLA.
Incumbent governor and SPLM candidate Jemma Nunu Kumba was the only female governor in South Sudan, and is known to be favored among the SPLM’s senior leadership in Juba. Although GoSS President Salva Kiir appointed a “caretaker government” during the campaign period to replace governors and ministers who were running for office, Governor Kumba retained her position. With the state apparatus  firmly under her control, it is widely believed that Governor Kumba overstepped her bounds during the electoral process. Mounting evidence from various incidents—including the burning of a school where ballot papers were being kept—indicate that the SPLA and police were used for political repression and intimidation. Credible rumors that high-level army and police officials pressured state elections officials to deliver results that favored the governor indicate that state-sponsored intimidation reached a very concerning level, one that threatened the lives of elections staff in the state and calls the eventual results of these local elections into question.

“The Western Equatoria State government really made a mistake,” said a member of one of the international observation missions recently in South Sudan for the elections. “The [incumbent] Governor [Jemma Nunu Kumba] underestimated the consequences of these actions,” said the observer, referring to some of the heavy-handed measures employed by the organized forces present in the state. The Government of Southern Sudan should engage constructively with the locally popular new governor, including by conducting a credible investigation into the allegations of electoral malfeasance. This will be crucial to help rebuild a measure of local confidence in the southern government as the referendum approaches.

Intra-South tensions won’t go away with the referendum

The people of southern Sudan deserve credit for participating peacefully in the polls and for accepting the results even in cases where they perceive that the contest was not free and fair. Their leaders, particularly the newly elected, SPLM-dominated government in Juba, must follow this example and begin the hard work of resolving some of the local tensions described above before they turn into much broader conflicts within the South following the referendum.