Jonglei's Tribal Conflicts: Countering Insecurity in South Sudan,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines violent conflict that has claimed several thousand lives in 2009. Inter-tribal fighting, while not a new phenomenon, has taken on a new and dangerously politicised character, with the worst violence in and around the vast, often impassable state of Jonglei.
"The Government of South Sudan has its hands full negotiating a variety of key issues with the National Congress Party in the North, but it must also focus internally", explains Zach Vertin, Crisis Group's Horn of Africa analyst. "It must recognise the primarily local nature of the conflicts, extend state authority, and prove itself a credible provider of security lest violence become an obstacle on the road to self-determination and beyond".
Violent conflict has killed some 2,500 people in Southern Sudan in 2009 and displaced more than 350,000. Perceptions that Khartoum is instigating tribal clashes have politicised conflict in the South and created new conflict dynamics. While NCP meddling is plausible given past policies, claims of Northern involvement in the year's deadly confrontations have not been substantiated. Despite a shared goal of independence, local and tribal identities remain stronger than national consciousness in the South. These identities are central to politics, and Jonglei is no exception. The escalation of violence has deepened divisions among its communities and leaders, some of whom may be manipulating conflict to their own ends.
Like much of the South, Jonglei is awash with weapons. While the need to collect arms from civilians is paramount, a campaign in which force may be used is cause for concern. Given heightened mistrust and increasing uncertainty about their future, communities feel the need to guarantee their own security, and government forces are likely to encounter some resistance. Authorities must make every effort to ensure public awareness about disarmament and secure buy-in of local communities and traditional leaders to ensure as peaceful a process as possible.
The Government of South Sudan should make police reform a greater priority, as they are unable to address domestic security threats. Meanwhile, it should standardise and clarify army policy on engagement in tribal conflict and increase deployment to undertake law enforcement in areas of concern. Long-term reform efforts for both institutions should be harmonised with immediate security concerns for the election and referendum periods. The United Nations Mission in Sudan should undertake a more pro-active civilian protection role, as per its mandate, and better define the circumstances under which it will provide protection.
"A more consistent security presence and some gains on South-South reconciliation could prevent further division along tribal lines", says François Grignon, Crisis Group's Africa Program Director. "Such steps could bolster confidence in the government and help it refute Khartoum's claim that "the South cannot govern itself".
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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org
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