Sudan is on the brink…but of what?: NKU student reports from the frontlines

Peu Hillary Ujwok has great hope for his country. Its situation determines whether he will have the chance to further his education and work
within the private sector or if he will be called up for military intelligence for the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

It has happened before when he was tasked to assist monitoring of the Lord’s Resistance Army on the Democratic Republic of the Congo border in 2008 and 2009.

Led by Joseph Kony and formerly funded by the Khartoum regime, the LRA is known for its indiscriminate civilian killings and abduction of children who are then molded into fighters. Ujwok is proud that he served with South Sudan’s army, countering the LRA’s hold on the region.

But Ujwok fled Juba, South Sudan’s capital and his place of birth, at age ten in 1992 because of the fighting between the SPLA and Khartoum’s forces. He worked to build up his country’s infrastructure rather than remain in the army.

He attended school in Uganda and was trained for national service, returning to his home country after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which ended over the twenty-year civil war that caused an estimated 2 million deaths.

The war was fought between the South’s SPLA and sought greater recognition for the South’s predominately black and Christian population. Similar to the Arab Muslim Khartoum regime, the religion implemented Sharia law in the South and forced Arabic into schools. Ujwok wasn’t involved directly with Sudan’s second civil war, which had its roots in Sudan’s first internal conflict that spanned from the mid-50s until the early 70s.

Since joining SPLA, Ujwok has still been greatly affected by the internal slaughter. The CPA has brought a stability to Ujwok’s native South, and hopes for independence. The agreement stated that a referendum would determine if South Sudan would secede or remain part of the North-semiautonomous (but still under Khartoum’s influence).

That referendum began on Jan. 9, 2011, with the polls open for one week. Southerners were returning from the Diaspora to vote for their country’s independence, some on barges on the Nile coming from Khartoum, the trip taking eleven days.

It is widely accepted that the South will vote for secession and become Africa’s 55th country. This was obvious during the Sudanese president Omar Bashir’s visit to the semi autonomous South’s capital of Juba on Jan. 4. The city was bustling with the fervor of independence.

Civilians, children and those who lived through the wars lined the streets as Bashir’s plane touched down on the single runway airport in the capital. Children waved small flags calling for secession. Their wariness was obvious. They were new to carrying flags.

President Bashir confirmed he was aware of the referendum’s results during his visit. Bashir promised to support the referendum’s results and offered the North as partner to South Sudan if secession did occur. The South, not wanting any reason to arise for re-ignition of hostilities, ensured the president’s safety. There would be no chance the Muslim leader would be targeted during his visit, or any act of subversion would occur.

SPLA forces patrolled the area, soldiers armed with AK-47s and RPGs. Black Toyota SUVs escorted Bashir without a hitch from the airport to the ministries where meetings were held with the South’s president Salvo Kirr. The aura was celebratory, not confrontational. There was no palpable tension, and there seemed to be some hope for a peaceful relation between the North and the South after the results were tallied. It is widely known the South’s secession is inevitable.

Ujwok welcomes this, as do his countrymen.

“We are going to be fine,” he said. Unfortunately, there is already reason for concern that South Sudan’s future will not be free of conflict.

Reports have come from the border that there have been clashes between Arab militias and SPLA forces and that the militias are mobilizing around Abyei, Khartoum and Juba. Ujwok understands the implications of this. “That’s going to be a problem,” he said about the region where the UN has withdrawn all nonessential personnel as of Jan. 10.

The militias are believed to be nomads who use fertile lands around Abyei during the dry season in the North and fear that once Sudan breaks with the constraints of it’s colonial borders, they will lose their grazing land.

The Abyei region holds the majority of known oil reserves which the North uses with the help of the Chinese. The North and the South, as of now, ostensibly split the revenues from the fields. But the South wants Abyei for itself and feels entitled to it, yet the South has no pipelines to export the crude and has shown itself predisposed to pilfering oil revenues.

South Sudan hopes to gain control of the fields and develop its own infrastructure, allowing it to effectively use its own resources.

Abyei’s referendum would determine if it would join the North or go along with the South’s secession (if it did, in fact, secede). But no decision has been reached concerning what stipulations the referendum should be beholden to, so the vote has been postponed indefinitely.

The question is, will the South retaliate. In Nov. and Dec. of 2010 the North bombed areas in South Sudan under the pretense of targeting Darfur rebels that were operating in the South. Juba stayed quiet, not wanting to retaliate and undermine the CPA and the upcoming referendum. But given that the latest attacks were conducted by militias not openly associated with Khartoum, the SPLA may be much more likely to react with force.

Abyei threatens to be the spark that brings the North and South back to war and destroys all the hope which is prolific in Juba now.

If clashes do occur, Ujwok will be called up to the border to assist in military operations, while other issues of development will not be effectively addressed.

South Sudan will surely resemble other failed states. And Ujwok can then forget about furthering his studies abroad and his goal of bringing desperately needed expertise back to his underdeveloped country, and Sudan, ravaged by decades of war.

Corrections (Posted 01/18/2010): Paragraph Four (last sentence) – Rather than Ujwok “worked to build up his country’s infrastructure,” the sentence should have stated that he “now wishes to work to build up his country’s infrastructure rather than remain in the army.” Paragraph Six- Should state, “The war was fought between the South’s SPLA, seeking greater recognition for the South’s predominately black and Christian population, and the Arab Muslim Khartoum regime which was implementing Sharia law in the South and forcing Arabic into schools.” Paragraph Eight- “Diaspora,” should not be capitalized. When capitalized it refers to Jews living outside of Israel and Palestine. When not capitalized it refers to any people who live outside of their home country. Paragraph Fifteen- There was no report of militias mobilizing around Khartoum and Juba. It was only around Abyei.

Story contributed by Daniel Connor