October 20, 2011 (NAIROBI) – Unity state on South Sudan’s northern frontier faces multiple challenges which threaten its continued destabilisation and exemplify concerns across the newborn country, a new report has warned.
- Unity state governor Taban Deng Gai (AFP)
The International Crisis Group (ICG), a Brussels-based research organisation, this week issued its first report on South Sudan since it gained independence from Sudan in July this year, choosing to focus on oil-rich Unity state.
Unity, whose population is predominantly Nuer, lies on the border with north Sudan and contains the bulk of South Sudan’s known oil reserves, making it the main source of revenue for oil-dependent South Sudan.
According to the ICG’s report, titled “South Sudan: Compounding Instability in Unity State", the strategic state faces “a perfect storm of political, social, economic and security dilemmas,” which demands particular solutions.
The state was steeped in controversy during the April 2010 state elections, in the then united Sudan, when the incumbent governor from the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Taban Deng, was announced to be the winner over his leading contender Angelina Teny, who left the SPLM to stand as an independent candidate.
ICG’s report examines a set of factors fueling instability in Unity state, including the several armed rebellions which emerged in the state since April last year.
Some rebel militias are still active in Unity but the most prominent rebel commander, Peter Gadet, returned to the SPLM/A’s fold in August.
Another key rebel commander, Gatluak Gai, was shot dead on 23 July, a few days after he signed an agreement to integrate his forces into the SPLA.
ICG noted that although some rebel commanders appear to be motivated by “personal or professional gain” and some were encouraged by elements within the north, rebel militia activities highlight “internal fractures and latent grievances.”
As far as ICG’s report is concerned, the factors fueling instability in Unity run deeper than the armed rebellions to include “a governance crisis with national subtext, territorial disputes, cross-border tensions, economic isolation, development deficits and a still tenuous North-South relationship.”
The ICG’s report opines that divisive party politics in Unity state, including the “ongoing competition” between the state’s governor Taban Deng and Riek Machar, are in many ways a “manifestation of a broader national politics.”
The report also talks of widespread local resentment with the “crisis of politics,” in Unity, citing controversy surrounding Governor Taban Deng and the support he enjoys from Juba as well as the perceived misuse of the state’s petroleum revenues and the conspicuous lack of development.
ICG’s report goes on to highlight disputes over management of the oil sector and state boundaries as well as persistence of cross-border tension in view of the interruption in recent years of the migration of the Al-Missiryah tribe.
The report recommended the assumption of "greater oil sector responsibility," saying that rigorous regulations of land-acquisition and government oversight “are necessary to protect the rights and interests of local populations.”
Now that South Sudan’s independence has been achieved, ICG says, focus is shifting to latent political, security, social and economic challenges at home.
"Nowhere are the challenges deferred more evident than in Unity state,” the report said, acknowledging that “untangling Unity’s web of intersecting challenges will prove no easy task."
Note from editors: Readers are advised to read the full text of the ICG’s report, attached below, for a detailed account of these issues and others, including oil-related challenges, the Khartoum-imposed blockade of trade routes to the south, the spillover from South Kordofan’s conflict on Unity, cross-border migration etc.