By Joe Odaby
Juba — July 19, 2013 (SSN) … The Fashoda Institute, South Sudan’s leading think-tank, asserts in its latest analysis that Khartoum’s objective in provoking armed conflict with Juba goes beyond the on-going drive to coerce South Sudan into giving up on independence and returning to the Sudanese fold. This time Khartoum is yearning for a major crisis that will serve its own domestic imperatives – particularly the building of international pressure on President Omar al-Bashir.
At the same time, Khartoum seems convinced that the crisis will not get out of control because of the limitations of force movements imposed by the rainy season. However, given the tenuous control Khartoum exercises over many of its cross-border proxies and in-home militias – Khartoum’s incitement to violence might get life of its own.
Mid-July saw a marked escalation in fratricidal fighting, ostensibly over cattle wrestling, throughout South Sudan. The escalation in Jonglei State has been the most intense. Confronting the ongoing rebellion led by David Yau Yau is compounded by new clashes between the rival Lou Nuer and Murle tribes in which thousands of rival militiamen are fighting each other and the military of South Sudan.
Over 100,000 civilians have been cut off from vital aid because of the fighting between the rebels and rival tribes. Because of the fighting and the rainy season overland travel is impossible in the Jonglei area and the UN does not have enough helicopters.
Fratricidal violence has now escalated to the point that both the South Sudan military and the UN warn they cannot provide security in most of Jonglei. “Much as we believe in the ideals of the responsibility to protect, our mandate as the government and the mandate of the UN cannot match with resources that are there,” South Sudan’s Deputy Minister of Defense Majak D’Agoot acknowledged on July 16. D’Agoot explained that, for example, in Jonglei’s Manyabol area the army had only one company and the UN had a handful of peacekeepers that are jointly confronting, and are vastly outnumbered by, some 7,000 militia troops.
UN officials note that this escalation of violence has been made possible by the large flow of weapons and ammunition from Sudan.
Meanwhile, the build-up of Sudanese military forces just north of the border continues. In July 2013, the Sudanese forces expanded their illegal presence in the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SBDZ). The Sudanese military is building new reinforced company-level encampments – each with three tanks, three or four howitzers, five to eight technicals, two or three supply trucks, and tents and other structures for some 150 – 200 troops. Such new encampments were detected in early July near the Sudanese towns of Keri Kera (White Nile State) and al-Miqenis (South Kordofan State) – near the northernmost tip of the South Sudanese border.
Meanwhile, Khartoum is raising the ante in the confrontation with Juba over oil exports from South Sudan. On July 18, Khartoum formally reaffirmed that Sudan will stop oil flow through its pipelines in early August despite signed agreements to the contrary.
“We have been notified through our embassy in Sudan that as of [August] 7th, the Republic of Sudan will cease oil belonging to South Sudan from passing through its territory,” Nhial Deng Nhial, South Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The reason for this escalation is the growing pressure felt in Khartoum on account of the chaos in Egypt and falling support for Bashir from the African Union (AU). With Egypt increasingly looking at a war with Ethiopia over the Nile waters as a national diversion from the chaos and destitute at home – Sudan must also come up with excuses for its own military deployments to the south. The building tension with South Sudan provides this justification. As well, the AU’s disenchantment with Khartoum’s antics was aptly demonstrated during President Bashir’s heralded official visit to Abuja, Nigeria.
Bashir had to cut short the visit and literally flee Nigeria for fear of arrest over the ICC warrant. Hence, Bashir is petrified that once his immunity as a head of state is stripped away he’ll end up in The Hague. Hence, despite previous promises to retire in 2015, Bashir must now get reelected, and the promise of returning South Sudan is an invincible crowd pleasing theme. Ultimately, the Sudanese government is refusing to accept or legitimize the very independence of South Sudan. Hence, reigniting of populist Islamist zeal over the reoccupation of South Sudan remains an infallible cause.
Khartoum is cognizant that the Islamist youth will rally in support for any confrontation with South Sudan irrespective of their plight or domestic destitute. Thus, for Bashir’s Khartoum banging the war drums is a sure diversion from the building domestic and international pressure.
The Fashoda Institute’s analysis point out that Juba will not accommodate Khartoum’s need for a diversion. Nor will Juba succumb to the growing pressure from Khartoum. President Salva Kiir articulated the resolve of South Sudan in his Independence Day speech on July 9. “The Republic of South Sudan attained freedom and independence after a generation long and bitter struggle in which our people were subjected to untold atrocities and genocidal persecution. Yet, we held together and endured the ordeals, and overcame the hardships. The untold sacrifices of so many led to our cherished freedom and independence,” President Kiir declared.
“This freedom, which we won through so much blood, sweat and tears, will never be reversed by current challenges.”
It is high time Khartoum internalizes this.