Sudan: Rebel Rebels Resist Rehabilitation

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October 6, 2017: In South Sudan the government and some of the rebels agreed to resume peace talks on October 13th. There is some urgency now because in July the major donor nations (U.S. and European) announced major cuts in financial aid and other support to South Sudan until the South Sudan government, rebel leaders and the East African community find a way to implement the August 2015 peace agreement. At that point the government insisted it would no longer negotiate with rebel leader Riek Machar. They cannot do so directly because Machar is stuck in South Africa. He arrived there in December 2015 and soon found himself confined to a house outside of Pretoria, though that is disputed by South African authorities. The South African foreign ministry said the rebel leader was being treated as a guest as part of an effort to facilitate peace in South Sudan. According to diplomatic rumor, IGAD (East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development) had asked the South African government to make sure the rebel leader did not leave. In late November the rebel leader left South Africa and flew to Ethiopia, in an aborted attempt to insert himself in new negotiations.

The South Sudan government resisted negotiations for a long time because they believed their armed forces could defeat the rebels. The government forces are more united than the rebels and sought to exploit the factionalism among the rebels. While the main rebel force, the SPLM-IO (Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-In Opposition) is fragmented it hasn't disappeared. Its core cadre consists of former army units whose soldiers came from the Nuer tribe. The civil war's tribal dimension is confirmed in the leadership. South Sudan president Salvaa Kiir is Dinka. The senior SPLM-IO leader, Riek Machar, is Nuer. Machar has opponents within the SPLM-IO and that is one reason why he remains in exile in South Africa. But the government finds that the main cause of the rebellion, corruption, was still widespread and causing more pro-government groups to rebel or become neutral.

The South Sudan civil war has persisted for nearly four years despite both sides constantly announcing they want to make peace. The basic problem here is that the two major tribes in South Sudan (Dinka and Nuer) are competing for control of the government and all the aid and oil money that entails. It’s the same old tribalism that makes honest and efficient government so difficult in parts of the world where tribal organizations still provide services that governments supply in the West. The Dinka are the about half the South Sudan population of nine million. The Nuer are the next largest tribe and comprise about a third of the South Sudan population. For centuries and Nuer and Dinka generally got along. In the decades of fighting against the Arab tribes that ran the Sundanese government the Dinka and Nuer cooperated. But once independence was achieved Dinka and Nuer leaders wanted a fair share of the aid and oil money for their people. Negotiations on that point never got far and the more numerous. Dinka began forcing Nuer officials out of the government. The rebellion is a Nuer reaction to the Dinka acting like Dinka are going to get most of the newfound wealth. Meanwhile minority tribes in South Sudan are concerned about future power (and money) sharing deals between the Dinka and Nuer. There are around 60 minority tribes in the country and they do not want to be marginalized by a Dinka-Nuer agreement to divide government power between the two major tribes. Dinka and Nuer leaders realize that all this fighting only helps the hated former masters in Sudan. But tribal loyalty is more powerful than common sense and the fighting continues.

Most South Sudanese support the concept of an honest and efficient government but tribal and clan loyalties have proved stronger and the composition of government and rebel supporters constantly changed as hundreds of different groups switched alliegence because where they were (in time and space) made it seem like the wise thing to do. Switching sides was often not enough and over 20 percent of the population has fled their homes since the war began and ten percent of the population has fled the country. The fighting has not been widespread and intense because no one can afford a large military force or the weapons and ammo required for heavy combat. The “war” consists of ambushes, occational gun battles and occasional use of mortars, artillery and PRGs as well as attacks with knives, spears and arrows. Thus the dead from disease and criminal activity (murder, rape, general abuse) have been more numerous than combat deaths. Altogether civil war related deaths so far are about 30,000.

Corruption in South Sudan is causing the more capable members of the military and civil service to quit and get better paying jobs in the civilian economy. The government blames the rebellionfor consuming most of the budget since 2014. But the rebels started the violence to protest the corruption that involved much of the government funds being stolen by those in power.

A good example of the sad state of government in South Sudan can now be seen in the capital, where police have been arresting young men from tribes that have largely sided with the rebels. All it takes is a hostile remark to get these men arrested, but most are soon released with a warning.

October 4, 2017: Uganda agreed to extend its electricity network to several South Sudan towns just across the border. This depends on there being some form of stable government on the South Sudan side so the transmission towers and local power distribution system can be built and operated efficiently.

October 2, 2017: In Sudan the government announced it would began a military campaign in the west (Darfur) on the 15th using 20,000 paramilitary (Janjaweed) fighters of the RSF (Rapid Support Forces) to forcibly disarm 8,000 former Janjaweed fighters belonging to the SRAC (Sudanese Revolutionary Awakening Council) and led by a prominent local tribal leader Musa Hilal. The RSF was formed in 2013 from members of Janjaweed (pro-government tribal militias) that participated in some of the more notorious operations in the Darfur region. In 2013 some pro-government Arab tribes had turned to fighting each other because subsidies (for fighting black African tribes) from the government have been cut in the last few years because the government lost control of the oil in the newly independent South Sudan. For more than a decade the government has been trying to deal with the side effects of using the Janjaweed.

In early 2014 Musa Hilal parted company with the Sudan government and joined SARC, which sought to represent Arabized tribes in Darfur against the government. SARC believes the government has exploited these tribes, especially the way the government had, since 2003 used Janjaweed militias to attack Darfur rebels and non-Arab Sudanese in general. By 2006 over 200,000 people had died in Darfur, mostly the result of Janjaweed raids and massacres of pro-rebel (and largely Moslem farmers) populations. Over 2.5 million people had been forced from their homes. The Darfur rebels always insisted there would be no peace until the Janjaweed were disarmed. At that point most of the Janjaweed were on the government payroll (unofficially but the cash was real and usually on time) and being armed and supplied by the government. Musa Hilal is now the SARC leader and is refusing to disarm and submit to government control because he and the other members of SARC have basically come to view the Sudan government same way the 0riginal (2003) Darfur rebels did.

The decades of violence in Sudan is mostly about religion and ethnicity, as well as money and power. Sudan considers itself Arab and Moslem. Sudan actually considers itself an Islamic republic (religious dictatorship). South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda are all largely Christian and black African. The animosity between black Africans and Arabs is thousands of years old and still active. It means that the Arab world will hold their nose and support Sudan in their war against the "blacks" Sub-Saharan (black) Africa will support South Sudan. It's an old war and it's not just about Sudan.

SRAC is not seen as a threat to the national government but it may mean another round of rebel violence, this time with mainly Arab, rather than black African, rebels.

October 1, 2017: In northeast South Sudan (Bieh state) soldiers and rebels clashed leaving as many as a hundred dead. There are different reports on how many were soldiers and rebels were killed.

September 30, 2017: In South Sudan the government returned Chol Thon Balok to army service. Balok had left the army in 2015 to become governor of Upper Nile state but subsequently left that job and found he was still needed in the military.

September 28, 2017: In South Sudan the government ordered all security forces to cooperate with the growing number of UN peacekeepers in the capital. There had been a growing number of clashes between newly arrived peacekeepers and local police over who could do what.

September 27, 2017: In central South Sudan (Eastern Lakes State) tribal fighting over cattle raids has left at least seven dead and ten wounded. Land and other disputes often leads to one tribe raiding another and stealing cattle. That often results in revenge attacks.

September 22, 2017: In western Sudan (Darfur) security forces fired on protesters in a refugee camp (for people driven from their homes by government forces) and killed five of the unarmed civilians. The protest was against the visit of Sudan president Bashir who was trying to encourage remaining rebels in Darfur to disarm and joine the peace agreement. Bashir was the one who ordered the savage reprisals in Darfur back in 2003 and supported the use of Janjaweed militias, whose main tactic was terror and murder. For that Bashir was eventually indicted by an international court for war crimes and has to be careful where he travels outside of Sudan (there are international warrants for his arrest).

September 18, 2017: In northern South Sudan (Unity state) there was a lot of fighting between soldiers and rebels with at least 25 dead. This area contains oil production facilities that have been shut down because of the fighting.

September 17, 2017: In northeast South Sudan (Bieh state) about 200 soldiers apparently switched sides and joined the rebels.

September 13, 2017: The Red Cross suspended operations in the lower third of South Sudan (the Equatoria region) because one of this personnel was shot dead on the 8th and it is unclear how much of a threat this poses for the other Red Cross staff in the region. About 90 aid workers have died in South Sudan since the civil war began and 17 of those have died so far in 2017.

September 8, 2017: In southwest South Sudan (Western Equatoria state) a Red Cross worker was killed when his convoy was fired on.

 


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