South Sudan: “For Us Here There Is No Government”

Speaking in a focus group discussion reported by the National Democratic Institute’s study of the “three areas” of South Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile, a Nuba man complained that “The peace is now three years and there is supposed to be tangible things. The government should have expressed its presence, but for us here there is no government.” This is one among many worrying statements in this important report about the disappointing outcomes of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the fears of a return to war. People are notably more optimistic in Blue Nile. Abyei is flashpoint: the Ngok Dinka interviewees report that their relations with the Missiriya have been irreparably damaged and that they will all be voting to join the South. But the gravest messages come from the Nuba Mountains, where insecurity is still a major worry and inter-ethnic tensions are high.

Several issues of major concern stand out. One is that while people are all in favor of elections, most will vote along ethnic lines and many will not accept a governor who is not from their ethnicity (broadly construed). A second is that the process of “popular consultation” provided for in the CPA is not well-understood and most Nuba and Funj believe that they will participate in a referendum on their future. Underlying causes of conflict–notably land–have not been addressed. While the CPA designed these democratic processes to resolve the fraught questions of the political futures of these areas, an underlying message from the report is that people’s hopes were chiefly vested in the peace dividend, in the form of economic development.

The NDI report is entitled “Losing Hope: Citizen Perception of Peace and Reconciliation in the Three Areas,” and its cover shows a darkening sky. This is a warning.

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6 thoughts on “South Sudan: “For Us Here There Is No Government”

  1. Dear Alex,

    Many thanks for touching and bringing under focus, once again, a highly sensitive and important matter. For many reasons, and for quite a while, the issue of the fate of the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile was considered as a Taboo not to be discussed in the open due to the political complexity of the matter and its associations with the SPLA/M and the inherent fears to cross some red lines as far as the agreed upon sympathy with movement is concerned.

    The transitional areas, were in fact divided from within, and from long time ago, between the need to ally with the SPLA/M in their rightful struggle for justice, economic and social development, and political rights on the one hand, and the fears of a likely fate of having later on to make a choice of being part of the South or the North. In my view, the answer to the question was very clear in the minds and hearts of the majority of the people of these areas, however, the political and military needs necessitated the acceptance and the respect of the temporary or tactical alliance with the movement of the South because of the support it was receiving from the international community and as long as this could serve the rights of the transitional zone. I had the chance to talk to individuals from these areas who were serving under the command of the SPLA/M, and since the early 1990s they were quite clear that before the dust of their fight with North is over, that they were destined to start their next fight against the ambitions of the movement. This was quite clear specially when the peace negotiations revealed the presence of maps presented by the movement, showing some of these areas (and showing Abyei specifically and most of the Missiriya area disputed between Kordofan and Bahr el Ghazal) and bringing them within the border lines of the South. For many of them, it was a matter related to their livelihoods (farming and pastoralism), but also seen as a gesture of a hidden political domination intention.

    Following the peace agreement, the policy of the North Sudan government intentions and plans to maintain control over this transitional zone was very simple and clear in the Nuba Mountains. In the presence of the government institutions and authority, the SPLA/M was given a free hand to do whatever it wants without questions or intervention from the North government authorities. In the government view, this would reveal the real management style of the SPLA/M and would create adequate motivations for the people of the Nuba Mountains to reject any ideas of being part of an independent south Sudan state and being under the mercy and governance of the SPLA/M. based on this, it is totally understood when the people of these areas start to say “For us here, there is no government. The international community, through the CPA, brought a lot of damage to these areas through the probably intentional blurriness over the fate and future of these marginalized areas.

  2. Dear Ahmed,

    I don’t think you can blame the international community for bringing damage to the transitional areas ‘through the CPA’ as if the NCP and SPLM had nothing to do with drawing up the protocols for South Kordofan/Blue Nile but merely signed a set of documents drawn up by the almighty IC.

    If you would argue that the mediators in CPA negotiations put a lot of pressure on the representatives from the transitional areas to sign an agreement that was far less detailed than they would have liked, I think you would be right. (But if the NCP and SPLM Juba had thought it better to detail these protocols, surely the mediators would not have bothered in the first place.)

    In the following I will concentrate on South Kordofan, looking a bit more closely on the reasons why there is hardly any progress in the state.

    A central idea in the protocols for South Kordofan/Blue Nile was that the two parties would cooperate in the respective state parliaments to work out the details: first in the state constitution, then in state laws, and eventually they would address the relationship between the state and the central Government in the process of Popular Consultation.

    As you know, in South Kordofan this cooperation progressed only very slowly, to come to a grinding halt somewhere last year oktober. The main reasons – as far as I can tell – are a mutual lack of confidence and counterproductive political calculations that I believe are running as follows:

    The SPLM in South Kordofan more or less counted on the Nuba vote for its more popular stance on important issues like land ownership, religion, and culture. It seemed to see little benefit in letting the NCP become an acceptable partner rather than the enemy, and for a long time resisted integration of the SPLM administrated areas into an over all state administration. Security and development are major concerns for the SPLM SK because in the absense of these conditions, IDPs who are currently living in cities outside South Kordofan (El Obeid, Kosti, Khartoum, Umdorman etc.) are not likely to return.

    The NCP counted on the SPLM to shoot itself in the foot – as you justly pointed out. It is not a matter of management style though (suggesting abuse of power), but a matter of competence and qualifications. After fifteen years of war: where should the SPLM SK find enough educated and experienced people to participate in running the state?
    Meanwhile, the NCP works towards redivision of constituancies to improve its chances during the elections and of course it has changed the demographics by demanding that West Kordofan be added to South Kordofan. Security and development do not seem to be high on the NCPs agenda – why cooperate with the SPLM to improve conditions that would bring back a lot of SPLM voters to the state?

    I am convinced the calculations are more diverse and complex than this, but the outcome is all the same: in South Kordofan SPLM and NCP see little benefit from cooperation. It seems that this is somewhat different in Blue Nile. I did not really get a clear idea from the National Democratic Institute study as to what factors explain this difference (perhaps I did not read it thoroughly enough), but it might be very useful if they could be identified and addressed to improve the situation in South Kordofan as soon as possible.

    The NDI study is based on interviews from April to August last year. Since then so many things have changed again – and not for the better. The cited lack of security – although a grave concern – is not the reason for the mounting problems in South Kordofan. From the start in 2005 neither NCP nor SPLM SK saw much need to compromise. There was a brief period when things started moveing, most visibly in July and August 2008, but that momentum was lost by September 2008 and it hasn’t been regained. From the latest developments (the dismissal of Daniel Kodi as Chairman of the SPLM South Kordofan), it appears that the SPLM SK has more trouble dealing with this stale mate situation than the NCP.

    The lack of evident support or even involvement from Juba suggests that the SPLM in South Sudan has very little ambition in South Kordofan. You refer to the quote that the people in South Kordofan have no Government. This has little to do with the ambitions of the SPLM in Juba – which was the initial argument of your contribution – and a lot with the total lack of cooperation between the two parties in South Kordofan.

    I also have to disagree with you where you say that a lot of things are left undiscussed because they are so sensitive. At least within the Nuba community and even within the SPLM in South Kordofan, the alliance with the SPLM has never been undisputed. You pointed out the dilemma yourself. However, among the Nuba, the question was not whether they would have to face the ambition of the SPLM, but whether the SPLM would actually remain true to its ambition – the ambition of establishing a New Sudan where everyone has a place – rather than to settle for an independent South Sudan and abandon the allies that fought so hard alongside the South.

    This fundamental point has been discussed over and over again, from the moment Yousif Kuwa went to Ethiopia and joined the Movement. It has been the cause of many heated debates during many public conferences and meetings; it has been the cause of rifts within the Nuba communities – none of that was ever hidden. and unfortunately, none of it has been resolved.

  3. I am the author of the Losing Hope report and will offer a few points of clarification on the comments made thus far. I wouldn’t characterize the Southern Kordofan/Blue Nile issue as “taboo.” In 2007, NDI published a report on the Three Areas (entitled Lost in the Middle of Peace) that highlighted many of the same problems in the current report. But I agree that given the areas’ political complexity and strategic location, the areas issues’ should be a priority. I cannot speak to intent but agree that the vagueness of the protocol, and the lack of any widespread effort to education the public on it, has contributed to some of the problems in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. In the 2007 report, only one person had heard the term ‘popular consultation,’ and while that improved in the intervening two years, many people still cannot define it accurately and/or believe it is equivalent to a referendum.

    The research leads me to conclude that the Nuba in Southern Kordofan and the Funj in Blue Nile (understand that the term Funj is meant as an umbrella term and not as a specific ethnic designation) would prefer, above all, some type of self-rule. There is no agreement, though, on what that should look like: independence or some version of autonomy within the North or within the South. I do not doubt that the Nuba and Funj have some fear of Southern encroachment and have witnessed some occasionally disparaging comments of Dinka and other Southerners during my fieldwork. And, as noted in the current report, these populations would prefer that Sudan remain as one country. However, the data collected both in 2006 and in 2008 clearly demonstrates a preference among Nuba and Funj for joining the South (if that were a valid option) rather than remaining in the North without the South as part of the country. It is true also that the Nuba and the Funj question, as one commenter mentioned, whether the SPLM is fully committed to protecting their interests through a “New Sudan” or by other means, though that doesn’t translate to an abandonment of the party. NDI studies in the South have shown an overwhelming preference for separation among that population. What the political impact that has is not yet known.

  4. The latest NDI report is not explicit in defining the reasons Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile have diverged in implementation of the protocol because the studies are meant to provide a voice to the views of regular citizens. Obviously, citizens in one state would not normally have opinions on the experience of citizens in another state, especially in the Sudan context where information is limited. Piecing together some of what citizens in each state have said, however, I can make an educated guess for some of the reasons, but please take them for what they are, guesses, not findings based on the actual views of our participants. First, I would say that there may be some difference in the historical relationship between the ethnic groups in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. Anthropologists can speak to this better than I, but it appears from my data that beneficial interaction and inter-marriage are much greater in Blue Nile, and there are groups that function as “in-between” groups – meaning neither “black” nor “Arab” – perhaps easing tensions among all. Second, I do not know the actual number of pastoralists in either state, but the number of reported problems with nomads in our groups is much less in Blue Nile. Third, personalities likely come into play. There was great dissatisfaction with the first (SPLM) governor in Southern Kordofan, but Malik Agar has support among both Funj and Arab groups (note the same caveat about ethnic designation above applies to the term Arab here) in Blue Nile. There may also be some validity to differences in war experience contributing to different results in both states, but I do not have enough data to comment on that. In general, political will to forge a joint future appears much stronger in Blue Nile for the above reasons, and, I am sure, other reasons that are not obvious to regular citizens (and thus not available to me).

    One last note, when reading the report please keep in mind that our brief is to help give voice to the views of ordinary citizens. We do not regularly conduct research with government or local officials, except for holding a limited number of focus groups with traditional authorities. Ordinary citizens will not have information that many insiders have. For example, they are not likely to know about any political infighting in political parties (at least until long after it happen), but they will understand that the lack of cooperation between NCP and SPLM is adversely impacting their lives. All of NDI Sudan’s public opinion research reports, beginning with one that details fieldwork in 2004, can be viewed at

  5. Dear Traci,

    thanks a lot for that! I actually greatly appreciate the report for representing the voice of the ordinary people. In this regard I think it is very important to note that four years after the signing of the CPA, the people in these areas are still largely ignorant about the meaning of the Popular Consultation.

    The point you make about the overwhelming support among Nuba and Funj for the SPLM despite the doubt about its intentions is also very significant (and to be honest it did surprise me a little). However, I noticed later, from the data sheet, that the interviews in Nuba were conducten in April 2008 and do not cover the obvious internal disagreements that troubled the SPLM SK since then.

    By the way: Nuba is just as much an umbrella as Funj or Arabs: a name designated to indicate all the different peoples with their various cultures, their completely different languages and traditions, that happen to share this piece of Sudan called Nuba mountains.

    I appreciate your attempt to identify some points of difference between Blue Nile and South Kordofan – different population make-up; less tensions between the various groups; personalities of the Governors.

    In respect to the latter it is interesting to remember that during a brief period in July and august 2008, there was sudden progress in integration of security and administration, which made me optimistic about the possibility that things would change for the better after all. It happened while Daniel Kodi was in Europe for medical treatment and Malik Agar was acting as Deputy Governor or in some other way closely involved in the devlopments. Soon after Daniel Kodi had returned all cooperation was halted over the position of the Minister of Finance. Kodi however, was not neccessarily the one solely responsible for this stagnation. Eventually the SPLM SK dismissed him because he was willing to compromise on the issue, against the wish of the SPLM security council.

    And finally, you are very right to point out that the people may not know exactly what is going on, but they certainly know how it affects their daily lives…

  6. Dear Nanne,

    You are absolutely correct on the term “Nuba.” When I was first in the Nuba Mountains, someone handed me a classic anthropological text on the Nuba that made it very clear that “Nuba” are actually a collection of many smaller tribes. Plus, I met many of these people, who identified their various tribes, during the groups. So I knew this, but guess I assumed that others understood this well, since “Nuba” is a more generally accepted category than “Funj” or “Arabs” (when it may describe some people not technically of Arab lineage). I’ll be sure to include that note in future reports, though.

    We have conducted more recent focus groups in the Nuba Mountains than are included in the report. However, they are not yet published. When I have had time to review them, I will be able to determine if attitudes have changed because of the political situation in the state.

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