Article for The Jakarta Post
BORN IN BLOOD AND ASHES: SOUTH SUDAN
By George Junus Aditjondro
Although no African nation reached the finals in the latest World Cup in South Africa, by early July, next week, another world rank title will be won by an African nation. Namely, the title of youngest nation or Republic in the world will have moved from Asia to Africa.
The youngest nation in the world will not be Timor Leste any more, but South Sudan, which will also be the youngest Republic in the world, not the former Kingdom of Nepal, due to the week long referendum in South Sudan from 9 to 14 January, which has formalized the separation of South Sudan from Africa's largest nation (Sudan).
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter claimed on Monday, 15 January, that Carter Center monitors witnessed a “very orderly process” with “tremendous enthusiasm and excitement in the south,” where the bulk of the almost 4 million registered voters cast their ballots. Turnout in the polling stations that his monitors observed averaged almost 90 percent, he told reporters in Khartoum.
This vote for independence will give South Sudan control of 85 percent of Sudan’s current oil production of 490,000 barrels a day, pumped by an overseas consortium, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GBPOC), consisting China National Petroleum Corp. (GNPC, of the PRC, with a 40% stake), Malaysia’s Petronas Bhd. with 30%; India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corporation, with 25%, and Sudapet of the Central Government of Sudan with 5%. This consortium has made Sudan’s output the third-biggest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.
This oil production mainly comes from Abyei, a state on the border of North and South Sudan, which was scheduled to hold their own referendum later this year, but has been postponed indefinitily because of disagreements over eligibility.
Understandably, this oil-rich state may not be so easily handed over by Khartoum to the newborn South Sudn government in Juba, and continuous fighting has been going on between the pro-North Arabic-speaking Misseriya militias and the Ngok Dinka speaking people of Abyei, who consider themselves to be Southerners.
Leaders of both ethnic groups reached an agreement on January 13, while the referendum was in full swing, to take steps to halt the fighting, Abyei’s chief administrator, Deng Arop Kuol told the media on Monday, January 15. Nevertheless, clashes in Sudan's disputed oil-rich Abyei region have killed at least 30 people including police, reports say.
Abyei has long been seen as a potential flashpoint for renewed north-south violence as it lies on the border and is claimed by both sides.
Reports of the violence come on the second day of voting in Southern Sudan's referendum on independence.
The vote was part of a 2005 peace deal which ended 50 years of civil war and conflicts between the Arabic-speaking northerners and the African southerners, in which between 200,000 and 400,000 people died and 2,5 million people displaced
A Southern Sudan military spokesman said that the semi nomadic Misseriya who moved their cattle through Abyei attacked a village with anti-tank weapons and artillery. But a Misseriya leader responded that “if they continue to stop us going south, this fighting will continue”. He admitted, though, that they were joined by fighters from the Popular Defence Forces, a militia group backed by Khartoum whose existence was banned under the 2005 peace agreement.
Another Misseriya leader told AP that ten Misseriya cattle herders were killed in attacks by police on Sunday. "They want to keep us out of the area and declare independence unilaterally," he said.
This dispute between the semi-nomadic Misseriya, viewed as allies of the north, and the Dinka Ngok, seen as loyal to the south, actually began over grazing rights fortheir cattle, central to both communities' traditions and economies.
Socio-economic, rather than religion
As has been the case in many inter-ethnic conflicts in Indonesia, the violent conflicts in the border region between North and South Sudan mainly have their roots in the dependency of several ethnic groups over common natural resources, and not by different religious backgrounds per se.
However, these conflicts often flared into bloody and violent conflicts, after the religious backgrounds of the different parties were over-emphasized by national groups and politicians eager to gain political power.
This has also been the case in Sudan. The fear of Southerners of the Northerners has been intensified by the aggresive steps of Sudan’s corrupt dictator, Omar al Bashir, to adopt the shariah law for the entire country, while allowing the country to become a base for Omar bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, and tolerating an Arabic partisan group, the Janjaweed, to pursue local agendas of controlling land.
This corrupt and heavy handed regime of al Bashir and the violent and intolerant measures of Janjaweed and Al Qaeda militants towards indigenous Sudanese has been responded by the indigenous Southerners, who speak Nilotic languages rather than Arabic, to set up the Sudan Liberation Movement and Army under the leadership of the late Dr John Garang. As has been the case of Timor Leste, this liberation movement may become the forthcoming ruling party after South Sudan’s independence will be declared later this year.
So, a deeper socio-economic understanding of the Sudan conflict, rather than naively reporting it as a religious conflict between Muslim Arabs and Christian Africans should also be encouraged in Indonesian media reports in the post-referendum days.
The author has become interested in African politics since studying at Cornell University in the US, and has studied inter-ethnic conflicts in Ambon, Poso, and Borneo since 2002.