General Athor, the rebellious leader and former independent candidate for the gubernatorial post in Jonglei, expressed tentative willingness to engage in negotiations with the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS), a development that followed the confrontation between Athor’s forces and the SPLA last Monday.
It seems GoSS is on the road to foiling a potential wider rebellion through a combination of demonstration of force and negotiation. Hopefully SPLA/M leadership wills succeed in the endeavour and prevent an escalation that may pull a wider area into full-fledged warfare. Contrary to expectations, SPLM/A was more reconciliatory than confrontational, probably in recognition that the General was voicing discontent with local power arrangements rather than outright challenge of SPLA authority.
On Wednesday Athor’s forces and SPLA clashed again, probably in a step by the latter to lax the General’s negotiation position. General Athor’s forces responded somehow on Friday and killed 5 SPLA soldiers in northern Jonglei. One particular risk that GoSS is advised to avoid at all costs, is the conversion of Jongeli, and other areas where there are considerable oil concessions, into a territory contested by warlords heading minor armed factions. Jonglei is the site of a major unexplored oil concession that belongs to the French oil company TOTAL. Territorial breakdown of state authority would breed both armed factions and their financiers, possibly involving transnational corporate interests and adventures of all sorts and kinds.
Only informally has the SPLM hinted at possible NCP meddling, a scenario which also linked Lam Akol to the developments in the area in a wider context of pre-referendum political spoilage. Although plausible, satisfaction with the explanation of the ‘omnipresent’ NCP overlooks the inherent Southern concerns and that have contributed to the escalation of events in Jonglei, foremost the ethnicisation and militarisation of power, and the trajectories of SPLM transformation. If a competent political system is to emerge in the independent Southern Sudan, these questions must be thematised, debated, and adequately addressed. Otherwise the road post-independence may be as rocky and as blood-soiled as the road that promises to lead to independence. SPLM hegemony, phrased in ethnic space as the question of Dinka domination in Southern Sudan, has to justify itself other than by might of the gun and achievement of rule. The politics of exclusion/inclusion in the independent South require channels that feed into a common idea of ‘South Sudan’ rather than to complicity with Khartoum centre.