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More than a line: Sudan’s north-south border

Concordis International


Concordis International


Executive summary

This report, prepared by Concordis International under commission from the United States Institute of Peace, examines drivers of conflict in the North-South border areas of Sudan and current initiatives aimed at managing them. The contents derive from desk and field research undertaken in mid-2010. The document is also informed by the views and concerns expressed by participants at workshops in seven locations along the North-South border and at a senior level workshop in Khartoum.

General Findings

Hardening the North-South Divide The CPA did not fully address the issue of the
North-South border in Sudan, which goes beyond demarcation and requires peaceful coexistence between border communities in the years to come. The overall attention on post-referendum arrangements in the last year, though essential, has sidelined the urgent resolution of key CPA benchmarks, which are crucial for the sustainability of the referenda outcome. In assuming that unity could be made attractive, the CPA did not prepare the country for an attractive separation, even though the provision for a Southern Sudan referendum assumed the possibility of both scenarios. Instead, mistrust across the North-South divide has increased at national and local levels.

National mistrust, the consequent lack of full implementation of the CPA and militarisation have amplified instability and missed the opportunity presented by the borderlands. The border areas, among the areas worst affected by war, have received little support from the side of the Government of National Unity (GoNU) and Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). Today their socio-economic context is fragile, whilst state and local capacity to deal with border governance issues, land disputes and conflict resolution is limited. The CPA has resulted neither in effective state decentralisation nor in the empowerment of
traditional authorities for conflict resolution. The reconciliation of diverse identities in a framework of cooperation and mutual respect, as envisaged
by the drafters of the CPA, is not achieved. Instead, there has been a hardening of conflict memory in Sudan, and in particular at the borderlands.

Divergent interests between local and national interests fuel feelings of marginalisation in the border communities

National agreement (formal or informal) on post-referendum arrangements is a necessary but not sufficient condition to secure a lasting peace. The presence of divergent interests, marginalisation, complex alliances, a militarised culture and the availability of arms, also means that local actors risk drawing the CPA parties back to larger scale conflict if their interests are not perceived as being met. Communities in the border region do not feel that they have been consulted in the definition of the North-South border and Misseriya feel excluded from decisions made regarding Abyei’s boundaries.

They ultimately perceive that insecurity and uncertainty at the border is driven by national interests; if resolution is achieved at that level then local reconciliations may also be possible. To ensure stability, the border communities say their interests must be reflected in the design of the popular consultations and in arrangements for the post-referendum period.

Border communities fear further marginalisation in the event of internationalisation or continued militarisation of the North-South border. The idea of ‘separation’ is unfamiliar within populations who have interacted for centuries in the absence of substantial local administration or border governance. Pastoralist livelihoods and increasingly consumer societies depend upon a soft border to allow freedom of movement of people and goods. Border mechanisms to facilitate this whilst guaranteeing security will be required whatever the result of the Southern referendum.

A cycle of reinforcing conflict drivers

Local historical dynamics in the border areas have been reinforced by national disagreement over the control of land, oil and natural resources unresolved
by the CPA. In 2010 several clashes occurred between SPLA and nomadic tribes (clashes with Rizeigat in Hofrat al Nahas and Misseriya groups around the South Kordofan-Unity ‘triangle’). In the context of unmet CPA expectations at the local
level ‘Other Armed Groups’ are re-emerging as a significant security threat in both North and South and links between armed groups in Southern Kordofan and Southern Darfur highlight the potential for regional instability.

The interplay between national politics and the territorial ambitions of former militia in the context of a lack of state consolidation, widespread presence of arms and resentment towards SAF and SPLM/A is a risk to stability in the whole border land (e.g. the postelectoral violence in Unity state and the armament
of Misseriya in South Kordofan). ‘Tribal violence’ in 2009 and the post-election defection of SPLA commanders have also exposed cleavages within the SPLA and wider southern societies, facilitated by the widespread presence of arms in the hands of civilians and former commanders (including police officers).

Ad hoc conflict resolution initiatives are filling some gaps is addressing some of the higher priorities in the conflict areas, such as the Southern Kordofan
Reconciliation and Peaceful Coexistence Mechanism (RPCM). However, weaknesses in traditional conflict resolution mechanisms, changes in authority structures resulting from the impact of the CPA and wider development processes and mistrust arising from national and local disagreements undermine most attempts to reconcile populations.

Download full report from Concordis International here.

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