As Sudan draws ever closer to its all-important referendum date of 9th January rhetoric is increasing from both sides of the North-South border. On the 1st of August, the 2nd Vice President of Sudan, Ali Osman Taha warned that North-South separation “cannot be allowed to happen under any circumstances.” In response, the spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), said that the South would not be cowed into submission by the North. Meanwhile, both national and international observers have expressed alarm that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the two decades-long civil war in 2005, expires in January regardless of the fact that many of the issues outstanding between the two countries, such as oil revenue and borders, remain unresolved. Indeed, it has been reported that over 75% of the proposed border currently remains disputed. Since the government in Khartoum insists that no referendum can be carried out without border demarcation, and the SPLM declares that no delay of the referendum date will be acceptable, prospects for an amicable solution to the issue seem slim. However, towards the end of August both parties began to release more amicable statements, reaffirming the fact that the referendum would, in fact, take place on schedule.
There is also widespread concern in the run-up to the voter registration period. Confusion abounds over the requirements necessary to register. There is also speculation that there will be a large scale migration of the estimated 1.5 million IDPs thought to live in the North of Sudan, mostly in camps on the outskirts of Khartoum, so that they might participate in the referendum. If this is the case, very few arrangements have been made for the transport and reintegration of these people, many of whom have been away from South Sudan for decades and who will be returning to communities greatly changed by the intervening years.
The work of NP’s team
Building upon the successful work carried out in July, August was another extremely busy month for NP’s team. Over the course of the month, in the wake of the national elections which took place in April, all local administrators and Commissioners changed posts, and NP’s team in the field has been busy meeting the incoming officials. The team was welcomed extremely warmly, and looks forward to building strong working relationships with the new government representatives.
Despite the successful resolution of the Kediba cattle raiding issue described in the July field report, much there is still much work to do in this isolated and troubled community. NP has made regular visits to the village to support the work of the newly established Peace Committee, and to meet with the Paramount Chief and County Commissioner. By sustained and consistent contact with the community, NP hopes to forestall any return to violence.
Mvolo County and School
Mvolo County lies north of Mundri, and is on the border between Western Equatoria and Lakes State. In October, with the coming of every dry season, cattle herders move south into Mvolo county with their large herds of cattle, and the people take flight ahead of them. In an attempt to avoid confrontation with the cattle keepers, many of whom are well armed, the people leave their land and their houses and sleep in the bush. NP is working with Mvolo in advance of the dry season to help the people in the border regions to develop protection strategies to keep them safe during the migratory period.
The tribal conflicts which so disrupt Mvolo during the dry season continue at a low level throughout the year, and have an extremely disruptive impact upon the whole county. A few months ago, ongoing tribal conflict forced the closure of the secondary school serving the north of the county. Those pupils who wished to continue their education were transferred to the school serving Mvolo town, where the tribal make-up is quite different. These new students placed extra weight upon the already overstretched school resources, prompting an outbreak of the inter-tribal violence which closed the first school. The young people attending secondary school in South Sudan grew up during the years of warfare, and as a result are extremely quick to resort to violence, as it is the only form of conflict resolution they have ever experienced. NP has helped the school to establish a Peace Committee which draws together students from all tribal groups to discuss issues of conflict, and prevent them spilling over into violence. This is a long-term project, and NP is continuing to offer support and expertise to Mvolo Secondary School to ensure that it remains open to all students who wish to continue their education.
In mid-August Wiroh School, in Mundri East was shut by students who staged a strike protesting at what they believed to be poor standards of education. The pupils claimed that despite the fact that they had sat exams throughout the year, and had paid to receive report cards, they had never been given their grades. They also asserted that if they wanted to use school books they had to earn them through manual labour in the school’s compound. During the strike substantial damage was done to school property, as a result of which several students and teachers were arrested.
The issue of the education provided at Wiroh School enflamed the entire community, to the extent that many teachers felt themselves to be under threat. The district’s youth organisation, Lui Youth Development Association (LYDA) had already intervened in the process, but felt that they required more specialist support in order to organise a dialogue bringing together students, parents, teachers and local authorities. As a result they turned to NP for help.
Over 300 people attended the dialogue hosted by NP and LYDA, and discussed the students’ grievances. It emerged that there had been limited oversight of the school by the headmaster, and little interaction between the parents and the teachers. It was decided that there should be regular parent-teacher meetings at which parents could air their concerns, and that both the local authorities and the headmaster would monitor the school more thoroughly. The school is now open again, and LYDA is leading the inter-community dialogue, with support from NP when they require it.
Issues such as the one which arose at Wiroh are relatively common in South Sudan, where access to educational resources is severely limited, and even the most committed teachers struggle to provide their students with an adequate education, and there is much to do to equip students, parents and teachers with methods of raising their concerns in a constructive and nonviolent manner.
Post election violence in Lanyi
The national elections that were held in April of this year were relatively free of violence, however, in some remote regions of Western Equatoria State the elections’ repercussions are still felt. In Lanyi village three siblings had supported different candidates in the elections, and the entire village had divided around them. The local Commissioner was so concerned by the escalating violence that he asked NP to attend a reconciliation meeting organised specifically for this purpose. Working again with LYDA, NP facilitated the discussion between the siblings and their supporters. Initially all parties were extremely hostile to the idea of dialogue, and refused to have their photos taken. However, after an entire day of difficult negotiations the three siblings were finally reconciled, and tensions in the village began to subside.
Work of this kind is extremely important in the run-up to the referendum, which is an extremely sensitive issue in the Greater Mundri area. In order for the referendum to take place peacefully there must be an underlying basis of stability within communities, and people must feel free to cast their votes according to their beliefs. The team found it extremely rewarding to be able to bring together a village and a family who were divided over political issues, and are continuing to provide support to Lanyi village.