South Sudan

New essay on Abyei

I have an essay out with Small Arms Survey on the situation in Abyei, which you can read here. As a taster:

The current situation is eminently productive for the GoS. The deferral of a political resolution to Abyei’s future allows it continue to reap the benefits of the oil revenue from Difra, which it is supposed to share with the Abyei area, while also placating the Missiriya, who graze unopposed in northern Abyei, without the consent of the Ngok Dinka. The United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) plays a role in GoS’ current strategy. In order to minimize tensions between the two communities, the peacekeepers have created a security cordon around the centre of Abyei, in order to protect the area in which the majority of the Ngok Dinka live, and allow the Missiriya pastoralists, who annually migrate to the north of Abyei during the dry season, to graze their herds without encroaching on Ngok Dinka agricultural land. The creation of this cordon has had several unintended consequences. Whereas previously the Missiriya would negotiate with the Ngok Dinka over the routes they took through Abyei, the northern pastoralists now graze freely in the north of the territory. This undermines relations between the two communities; annual grazing meetings used to be the time when debts for the thefts and killings of the previous year were addressed, and migratory routes agreed as part of a complex calculus of alliances, kinship, and shifting ecological conditions. For many Ngok Dinka, the Missiriya now graze at will, with UNISFA effectively functioning as their bodyguards.

Nobody Talks About The Weather

Over at the excellent Creative Time Reports, I have an essay out about the conflict in South Sudan, the United Nations, and the weather, with photographs by the wonderful Jérôme Tubiana. 

You can read it here. This is how the essay begins:

February 28, 2015. Chicago, U.S.A.

For months the park below my apartment was a white sheet, the trees pencil drawings on a blank canvas. Winter coats Chicago, and the cold contours everything. Whatever may separate me from the millions who live here, for the long months of winter, we are together, struggling against a wind that makes me feel like I am wading through water. Now though, the snow is beginning to melt, awaking angry patches of red earth. Spring has arrived, and no one is helping anyone else get a car out of the snow. Life is no longer a question of how to bear conditions beyond our control. People’s postures have changed. They walk upright; they can plan again. The city opens up, and with it comes the promise that we can move in space and not simply sit at home, stuck in time.

Sitting in front of this prelude to spring, my morning takes me to South Sudan, where I spend much of my life. The Sudan Tribune is running a story on the United Nations (UN), which is setting up a sanctions program to target the leaders of the groups involved in the civil war. The conflict, which began in December 2013, sets the government of Salva Kiir, the sitting president, against his former vice president, Riek Machar, and his rebel force. A leaked report on the conflict—of dubious authenticity—recommends excluding both men from a future transitional government, which the report proposes should be overseen by the AU and UN. Only four years after the international community congratulated itself on South Sudan’s secession from Sudan, it is having second thoughts. My inbox contains a litany of NGO reports demanding transitional courts and accountability for war crimes. Historians may no longer agree with Thomas Carlyle that “the history of the world is but the biography of great men,” but they certainly didn’t tell the journalists and politicians. Reading the news from afar, one would be forgiven for thinking that the fate of South Sudan depended on the actions of just a few men—21st-century Napoleons—and that life was simply a matter of their intentions, unconstrained by the world around them.

Skype sounds. It is a friend in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, saying hello. I have only one question: How is the weather?

The conflict in Unity state, South Sudan

The production site at Tor, Unity state, South Sudan--abandoned since an SPLA-IO attack last December, the empty offices are littered with the carbonized remnants of vacation requests and invoices for fuel.

I have a new piece out with Small Arms Survey, based on field research over the last two months, on the conflict in Unity state, South Sudan. You can read it here.

I also have another new piece, also out with Small Arms Survey, on the situation in Abyei, Sudan/South Sudan.