by Rhodri C. Williams
I pause a bit before blogging on Sudan as there are so many people who know so much more than I do and blogs like Understanding Sudan seem to have made Khartoumology into the new Kremlinology (rightly so for anyone seriously interested in how to disentangle the knots of conflict and displacement that link the entire region). However, my reading of the surface phenomena this week has been slightly alarming.
First, Refugees International has come with a new report, No Time for ‘Business as Usual’ on North-South relations in light of the upcoming elections and the possibilities for renewed conflict. In essence, the report raises the concern that the persistence of longstanding international crisis response networks on the ground in Southern Sudan may have created a false sense of security:
While many international observers felt that the country would “muddle through” with only limited outbreaks of fighting in border and oil-rich areas, others felt that south Sudan was heading towards total collapse with an explosion of inter-ethnic tensions. A key concern was that a gradual ratcheting up of tensions rather than all-out war would mean no “CNN moment” to attract worldwide attention and funding.
The RI report warned about large scale territorial conflicts that jeopardize entire communities such as the “southern-aligned communities in the Nuba Mountains” who, after an independence vote, might be “isolated and targeted by proxy groups armed by the north in an effort to remove them from their land.” In addition to international contingency planning and community emergency preparedness measures, RI recommended the same type of basic returnee reintegration support measures that ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group and others have been advocating for years.
Meanwhile, as RI was busy telling the international community not to lose track of the South, a new report from AlertNet was warning that too much attention to the South was diverting international attention from a new potential meltdown in Darfur. And from a land rights perspective, perhaps the most disturbing element appeared to be that for want of any better idea of how to destabilize Darfur again, the Khartoum government appears to be backing a full dress re-enactment of the original pageantry of displacement that tore through the Darfur countryside six years ago:
And there are good reasons why violence may escalate in this highly militarised and polarised region. Any chance of lasting peace depends on addressing the root causes of the war which include the region’s political and economic marginalisation and tensions over access to land.
Tensions are also likely to spiral if the government carries out its plans to close the displacement camps and force people to return home.
Arab pastoralist and nomadic populations have moved into many of the villages abandoned by the displaced, most of them from non-Arab tribes, or turned them into grazing land, says Sudan analyst Eric Reeves.
“Forced returns amid present insecurity is a formula for renewed violence, and on a large scale,” he said.
Would someone pinch me or are South Sudan and Darfur really to be condemned to repeat their recent history – and all of us condemned again to watch?