Days after Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir accepted the referendum
results granting southern Sudan its independence, more than 100 people
have died in clashes between the south’s army and a renegade general.
The fighting is the latest in a wave of violence that has all but
extinguished the party atmosphere in the south, while raising serious
questions over the future of the world’s newest nation.
South Sudan was already set to be one of the poorest countries in the
world, with little in the way of economy, infrastructure, health or
education services, or even government. Expecting to finally be able to tap into the oil revenues that the south will take with it when freedom is made official in July, southerners think things will start to change for the better. But if even basic peace can’t be achieved, will anything really change?
On Feb. 7, officials in Sudan’s capital Khartoum announced that
southerners had voted by 99% to separate from northern rule and form a
new country in a referendum held in January. The vote was
the centerpiece of a 2005 peace deal between the ethnic African
southern rebels and Sudan’s Arab-dominated government in the north.
After decades of war in which more than 2 million people died,
southerners could barely contain their jubilation when it became clear that independence was in reach, dancing and singing
in celebration. But by then there were already brewing signs of
Four days before the referendum result was announced, a group of former southern militiamen who are now part of the Sudanese army mutinied against
their bases in the south’s Upper Nile state after being ordered to
disarm. The skirmishes cost 60 lives before calm was restored. Then
Just after the outcome of the vote was declared, on Feb. 9, a low-level cabinet
minister was assassinated in his Juba office when a man with whom he
had a family dispute grabbed a gun left inside the minister’s car and
followed him upstairs. That same day fighting broke out in the southern
state of Jonglei between the south’s military, the Sudan People’s
Liberation Army , and the breakaway forces of George Athor, a
former commander who took up arms against Juba after losing a
gubernatorial bid for Jonglei in Sudan’s April 2010 elections. Athor
briefly captured the town of Fangak. The two-day battle left 105
people dead, 39 of them civilians, according to the SPLA.