Problems without Borders
AWEIL, Sudan While the tragedy of Darfur in western Sudan captures the world's attention, the fragile peace in southern Sudan goes almost unnoticed.
Seen from this dusty town almost bordering southern Darfur, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed two years ago between the mostly Muslim Arabs of the north and the mostly Christian and Animist Africans from the south is miraculously holding. After 20 years of civil war that took two million lives, all the Sudanese are genuinely relieved.
Not all is calm on the southern front, though. Recent clashes in Malakal, in the Upper Nile state of southern Sudan, cost the lives of 150 people.
The fighting was the most serious breach of the peace agreement so far: The Sudanese Armed Forces, representing the Khartoum government in the north, exchanged fire with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, which under the peace agreement has become the army of the Government of South Sudan, whose capital is Juba.
Here in Aweil, security is of paramount concern. The northern and southern armies are theoretically to merge in joint integrated units, but these are as yet neither joint nor integrated. The North's Arabic-speaking soldiers meet with the ethnic Dinkas from the South only once a month, when their commanders gather in a white tent of the United Nations Mission in Sudan, which has 10,000 blue helmets monitoring the peace agreement. This is a volatile configuration that can lead to clashes like the one in Malakal, and mayhem may still break loose.
On the larger scale, other crucial aspects of the peace agreement remain unfulfilled in southern Sudan: status and demarcation of transitional areas; disengagement of the northern forces from Upper Nile state; and the sharing of oil revenues. This last issue is particularly volatile: in the common government of national unity, northerners control both the finance and the energy ministries, but 80 percent of the oil reserves are in the south.
The unresolved border demarcation may play a major role in the census foreseen for later in 2007. Even more important will be the progress in piecing back together the prewar population. The census is only the first of three tests that the southern Sudanese will face in the coming years: In 2008 national elections will start (to be completed by July 2009), and then in 2011, they will vote in a referendum on independence.
Two decades of war displaced four million people within Sudan and forced half a million to take refuge in neighboring countries, mostly in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Now these people are coming back in huge numbers.
In Juba, the returnees come mostly by barges that ply the Nile from Kosti, near Khartoum. Many of the passengers make the three weeks' journey sleeping on the roof of the barge, which carries commercial merchandise in its hold.
The returnees land at a filthy river site amid rusting tanks — a reminder of the war they fled. The United Nations gives them three months' worth of food. After that, they are expected to have reintegrated into their former communities. Reintegrating such great numbers would have been a titanic task even for a more experienced team than the one that forms the Government of South Sudan.
And the infrastructure to absorb the returnees is not ready: Hospitals and schools are in disrepair, there are few jobs and too many weapons, so a delay in salary payment easily leads to shooting by disgruntled employees or soldiers, as happened twice in one week this month. Having been at war for an entire generation, the southern Sudanese leaders have very few human resources to build a team for peacetime governance.
Juba, which has four of the 14 kilometers of sealed roads in all of southern Sudan, is headquarters for the United Nations and aid groups. But outside the capital there is a crying need for aid work.
In Aweil, everyone I met asked for help. Experts use the term "capacity building." But most Sudanese put it simply: "please teach us to be a state," "show us how to live in peace" or words to that effect. It is obvious that such assistance is the best contribution that the outside world can make to help the Sudanese.
And it must come soon.