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Ethnic tensions could increase violence in Southern Sudan – MRG

14 June 2011

Ethnic tensions fueled by unequal access to resources and political influence in Southern Sudan could increase violence and threaten the stability of what will soon become Africa’s newest nation, says a new briefing by Minority Rights Group International.

Competition between ethnic groups over scarce resources continues to spark violence, often in the form of deadly cattle-raids. According to MRG research, some minority groups feel that their interests are not being represented within the political system, and that resources have been diverted to more populous ethnic groups.

‘The Government of South Sudan will need to focus on political representation for minorities and an equitable distribution of resources in order to alleviate ethnic tensions that threaten long-term stability,’ says Chris Chapman, Head of Conflict Prevention at MRG.

MRG research found that poverty is one of the main factors exacerbating existing tensions. In Boma, a diverse sub-district of Jonglei state, violent incidents spike during the dry season when cattle herding pastoralists must range far in order to water and graze their herds. Groups often clash as they are competing for the same water points and grasslands.

Many community leaders interviewed by MRG suggested that development is key to resolving ethnic tension. For example, building dams and drilling boreholes would create greater access for herders and cut down on competition, they said. Creating greater access to water, along with irrigation systems, would also allow the population in Boma to grow crops, which they are currently unable to do during the dry season.

‘If the people could feed themselves and even sell some vegetables in the market, they would not be so dependent on food aid or on raising cattle. This will cut down on the violence,’ says Paul Oloyo Longony of the Boma Development Initiative (BDI), an MRG partner organisation.

‘The government in Khartoum must also provide constructive support to the newly independent country. The current military intervention in Abyei is unacceptable and bodes ill for future good relations between the two countries,’ Chapman adds.

MRG has supported BDI in holding reconciliation meetings between tribal leaders, allowing them to air grievances and resolve their differences.

A referendum in January brought together Southern Sudan’s estimated 50 ethnic groups and almost 600 sub-groups in a common goal – to break from the north and form a separate country. Sudan was ranked second in MRG’s annual Peoples under Threat table for 2011.

The Government of South Sudan must capitalize on that spirit of unity that prevailed during the referendum to alleviate the threat of instability caused by tensions between ethnic groups, the briefing recommends. In order to do so, the government will need to create an inclusive political culture that brings development to all areas of the region, it adds.

Notes for editors

  • Click here to download the briefing ‘Southern Sudan: The role of Minority Rights in Building a New Nation’.
  • See interview with Paul Oloyo Longony discussing issues of rising ethnic tension in South Sudan (available on 16 June 2011).
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.
  • Interview opportunities are available with Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention.

For further information, embargoed copies of the briefing or to arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].