June 17, 2011 (JUBA) - As South Sudan prepares for independence in July, ethnic tensions fuelled by unequal access to resources and political influence could increase violence threatening the stability of Africa’s newest nation, Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) said in its latest briefing.
Competition between southern ethnic groups over scarce resources, according to MRGI, continues to spark violence, often in the form of deadly cattle-raids. As such, it adds, some minority groups feel that their interests are not being represented within the political system, and that resources have been diverted to more populous ethnic groups.
“The Government of South Sudan will need to focus on political representation for minorities and an equitable distribution of resources in order to alleviate ethnic tensions that threaten long-term stability,” said Chris Chapman, Head of Conflict Prevention at MRGI.
In Jonglei, one of the ten states in the semi-autonomous region, a MRGI commissioned research found poverty to be one of the main factors exacerbating existing tensions. Violent incidences were also reported during dry seasons, where cattle herding communities clash over water points and existing grasslands.
As such, MRGI appealed to the southern government to build more dams and drill boreholes that would ensure more access to water points by herders as a mechanism to reduce tension among the pastoralists.
“If the people could feed themselves and even sell some vegetables in the market, they would not be so dependent on food aid or on raising cattle. This will cut down on the violence,” said Paul Oloyo Longony from Boma Development Initiative (BDI); an MRGI partner organization.
Over the years, MRGI has reportedly supported BDI in holding reconciliation meetings between tribal leaders, allowing them to air grievances and resolve their differences.
Meanwhile, according to Chapman, “The government in Khartoum must also provide constructive support to the newly independent country. The current military intervention in Abyei is unacceptable and bodes ill for future good relations between the two countries.”
South Sudan is due to become independent after its population overwhelmingly voted for separation during a January referendum. The vote was a key prerequisite of Sudan’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended over two decades of war between north and south of the country.
Although the war is often described as between North and South Sudan the war was also characterised by fighting between groups within the region.
MRGI urged the government of South Sudan to capitalize on the spirit of unity that prevailed during the referendum to alleviate the threat of instability caused by tensions between ethnic groups. But to ensure success, it says, the government will need to create an inclusive political culture that brings development to all areas of the region.