The BBC reported this Monday that some 14 000 Luo Nuer have been expelled from Upper Nile, and are on trek to neighbouring Jonglei. The massive population movement into Akobo county, reportedly the ‘hungriest place on earth’, is causing a humanitarian crisis of severe intensity. The area in question has been the site of fierce battles between competing pastoral groups. According to an April 2010 Small Arms Survey report the death toll in Jongeli and Upper Nile in 2009 was above 2000, featuring targeting of villages and killing of women and children in a series of blood-letting episodes between the Luo Nuer and the Murle, and the Luo Nuer and Jikany Nuer, among others.
The decision to expel the Luo Nuer from Upper Nile is a surgical solution devised by local officials lacking in imagination. However, it puts to the forefront the issue of tribal territoriality, a notion quite in contradiction with the quest for citizenship, so dear to all Sudanese, the Southern Sudanese in particular. Apparently local officials are acting on the grounds that the Luo Nuer have no right to reside where they are now following border re-drawing between the neighbouring states, Upper Nile and Jonglei. On extrapolation what will the consequences of border demarcation between North and South be if an internal Southern border results in disenfranchise of entire populations and their expulsion en masse from their places of dwelling. The post-conflict situation in Southern Sudan certainly presents local administrators with similar conundrums elsewhere, considering the large-scale population movements resulting from the 20 years North-South and South-South civil war. The precedent of an industrial solution to such an organic problem does not promise well, on the contrary it violates a basic tenet of liberation: citizenship.
Thinking ahead, what sort of industrial solutions will local administrators devise for the seasonal movement of Northern pastoral groups into Southern state territory; or for that matter the ongoing return of Southern Sudanese IDPs from the squatters of Khartoum and other Northern towns to the Promised Land? Along the South-North border from West to East entire communities move on seasonal basis in their annual quest for water and grazing: the Rizeigat, the Misseriya, the Habbaniya, the Hawazma, the Fellata, Awlad Salim and others. The closure of borders and their freeze on the basis of indigeneity is an explosive recipe that can only breed warfare.
Southern Sudan has the opportunity to groom citizenship unfolding from the imminent plebiscite on self-determination instead of dissolving it in the fissures of tribal territories. This promising act of liberation however is doomed if it does not invent a category of belonging beyond the ever divisive claims of autochtony. Well, let us hear Roger Winter’s take on this!