South Sudan

Real but Fragile: The Greater Pibor Administrative Area

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The Small Arms Survey’s Human Security Baseline Assessment (HSBA) for Sudan and South Sudan project is pleased to announce the release of a new Working Paper:

‘Real but Fragile: The Greater Pibor Administrative Area,’ by Claudio Todisco

On 30 January 2014 the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) and the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army (SSDM/A)-Cobra Faction agreed on a ceasefire that laid the ground for a constructive series of negotiations to be held in Addis Ababa. On 9 May the parties signed a peace agreement. The deal put an end to a rebellion that first began in 2010, after David Yau Yau, a Murle civil servant, contested the electoral results for a constituency in Pibor county, Jonglei state. The specific grievances of Yau Yau and his close entourage aside, the struggle had progressively embodied a feeling of marginalization shared by most Murle people against the state government headquartered in the state capital, Bor, which they perceived as hostile and Dinka-dominated.

The peace agreement between the GRSS and the Cobra Faction called for the formation of a new Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA). The area comprises the boundaries of former Pibor and Pochalla counties of Jonglei, along the Ethiopian border, in a territory mainly inhabited by Anyuak, Jie, Kachepo, and Murle people, thus strengthening the administrative divide from surrounding counties predominantly inhabited by Nuer and Dinka. In line with the principle of decentralization, President Salva Kiir appointed Yau Yau chief administrator of the area with a status equal to that of a state governor. This exceptional compromise occurred at a time when the rest of the country was falling into the third civil war in about sixty years—and the first since South Sudan’s independence—between the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and followers of the SPLM-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO). In this context, longstanding demands for a federal system of governance have become stronger across the country, and were strategically adapted and endorsed both by leaders from the Equatoria region and by the SPLM-IO.

This Working Paper describes the path that led from the early stages of Yau Yau’s rebellion, through its evolution in the post-independence period, to the signing of the agreement culminating in the establishment of the GPAA. It explores the role of local and international actors in the negotiation process, and reviews the first phases of implementation of the new administrative area, its main challenges and early achievements, and the prospects of peaceful coexistence for its heterogeneous population. Among the paper’s key findings:

  • From mid-2013 onward and through the peace agreements of 2014, the Cobra Faction leadership has demonstrated the will and capacity to bring stability to Greater Pibor. Now that the GPAA has been established, however, it faces the major challenge of bringing a heterogeneous population together in inclusive new political configurations.

  • The GPAA’s existence on paper is a significant victory for David Yau Yau’s rebel movement, but its implementation is far from complete. As of early March 2015 the GPAA is a precarious entity, real but not yet fully realized. Government funding is pending, and the borders of the GPAA and its seven prospective counties have yet to be formally established. The initial redistricting of some areas, such as Vertet and Allale, has created tensions among political figures.

  • The destiny of the GPAA is intimately intertwined with the conflict between the government and the SPLM-IO. In fact, the prospect of a peace agreement could diminish Yau Yau’s leverage with the warring parties and lead to new alliances that could threaten the GPAA. For these reasons, Yau Yau has a strong incentive to see GPAA implementation move forward prior to the resolution of the conflict.

  • At the same time, the full enshrinement of the GPAA as South Sudan’s 11th state requires a new national constitution that is unlikely to be concluded until a negotiated resolution to the current conflict is reached, leaving the new area in a kind of limbo. The fait accompli of a functioning and established administration would have a much better chance for consideration in the permanent constitution.

  • The GPAA is not necessarily a harbinger of political reforms in the direction of a federal system in South Sudan. While the leaders of particularistic movements seeking political autonomy or greater representation are watching the experiment closely, the devolution of powers to the GPAA simply mirrors the current form of decentralization outlined in the Transitional Constitution of 2011.

  • As of February 2015, the integration of Cobra Faction fighters into the state security forces has been proceeding slowly within the GPAA’s borders. Many Murle are willing to seek jobs in the army or other regular forces, but it is unclear whether these new soldiers will be called on to fight the SPLM-IO. Yau Yau has repeatedly pledged neutrality, but if the new troops were deployed on the Pibor–Akobo corridor they would represent a significant new military advantage for the government.

  • The GPAA has achieved autonomy from Jonglei state, but it is far from clear whether it will avoid the sidelining of ethnic minorities within its own administration. The suspicion that SPLA officers are arming Jie fighters and widespread anti-Jie animosity in Boma are causes for concern. Moreover, political rivalries also exist internally among Anyuak factions and even among the Murle.

  • The establishment of the GPAA has created political winners and losers not only in the Jonglei government in Bor, but also in Pibor, Boma, and Pochalla. Sidelined actors who do not benefit from the new framing of power could emerge as spoilers as the GPAA administration takes shape. Cross-border tension, internal sabotage, and defections all constitute risks.