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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Africa > Horn of Africa > Sudan > Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?

Sudan’s Southern Kordofan Problem: The Next Darfur?

Africa Report N°145 21 Oct 2008


The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s generation-long North-South civil war in 2005 is at risk in Southern Kordofan state, where many of the same ingredients exist that produced the vicious Darfur conflict. Both parties to that agreement, the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), who together form the Government of National Unity in Khartoum, have been guilty of mistakes and misjudgements there as they manoeuvre for partisan advantage in advance of national elections scheduled for 2009. Any strategy for addressing the problems must recognise that time is short. Concrete progress on integration and reform is essential to address the prospect of what could be a devastating new conflict. Rapid interventions are needed, well before the national elections.

Southern Kordofan is a new state, created by the CPA, in the critical border area between North and South, a zone of ethnic interaction between Arab (mainly Misseriya and Hawazma) and indigenous African (mainly Nuba) tribes. Inadequate implementation of the CPA’s special protocol relating to the region has led to insecurity and growing dissatisfaction. Tribal reconciliation based on negotiation of a common agenda, establishment of an efficient state government administration and adherence to the CPA’s principles of power and wealth sharing have to be fostered from Khartoum and pushed forward by the international guarantors. There has been some limited recent progress, but much more is urgently needed.

The state’s inhabitants were mobilised by the opposing sides during the North/South war and despite the CPA remain deeply scarred by that conflict, polarised and fragmented along political and tribal lines. They are armed and organised and feel increasingly abandoned by their former patrons, who have not fulfilled their promises to provide peace dividends. Return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), development projects and creation of an integrated state government administration have all stalled. Hundreds of people have died in disputes over land and grazing rights, with no comprehensive or sustainable local or national response. Efforts by the NCP and SPLM to co-opt Arab and African tribes, respectively, prior to elections by politicising development policies are aggravating tensions.

Tribal and communal reconciliation to foster peaceful coexistence is a daunting but essential task. More is at stake than the prevention of a local conflict. The fate of peacebuilding in this front-line state will say much about the viability of Sudan’s entire peace process and in particular whether the CPA genuinely offers an effective framework for resolving the Darfur conflict and satisfying all those in the country who do not belong to core SPLM and NCP constituencies.

Moreover, if peacebuilding fails in the transitional areas of the 1956 North-South border, where the majority of the two armies’ troops are still concentrated, it is highly unlikely the secession option the CPA gives the South can be implemented peacefully. Though more than half the six-year transition period has already been lost, there is still time to implement key steps to calm the situation prior to national elections, which may have to be postponed to 2010. In addition to producing an integrated state administration, the NCP and the SPLM need to accelerate the integration of combatants within the Joint Integrated Units provided for by the CPA and otherwise pursue disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) programs, including for the many militias. They must also immediately release the accumulated 2 per cent share of oil revenue for Southern Kordofan so major development projects can be carried out, based on an inclusive consultative process involving tribal authorities.

The Nuba are bitter at their SPLM allies, believing they did not negotiate a better deal for them in the CPA because they prioritised getting Abyei territory and its oil and an independence referendum commitment for the South. But the special protocol provides for a public consultation to be held after the elections to consider revision of the peace agreement’s terms for the new state and address unresolved issues (for example, land ownership and use). Financial aid is needed for the organisation of inter-tribal dialogue aimed at fostering reconciliation and producing a common agenda for that consultation. Discussions should be held in particular on creation of a formal state mechanism dedicated to resolving tribal disputes over land use and livestock migration (transhumance) routes, such as the Southern Sudan Peace Commission created for the Southern states, and on identifying principles for the commission that is supposed to address the deep land grievances accumulated by the Nuba, in particular since the early 1970s.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and other members of the international community have vital roles to play in the stabilisation of the new state. UNMIS should not just observe and register violent incidents, but also follow the example of the Joint Military Commission (JMC) established in the Nuba Mountains after the 2002 ceasefire agreement and become an active partner in local conflict prevention, in cooperation with the tribal authorities. If its local leadership is incapable of this, it should be replaced. Simultaneously, the CPA’s international guarantors and Sudan’s bilateral partners should press the national unity government to pay more attention to peacebuilding in the state. It is not yet too late to show the front-line populations that a new war is not the way to address their grievances.


To the Government of National Unity and the NCP and SPLM leaderships:

1.  Give political support for full participation of African and Arab populations in the Southern Kordofan government.

2.  Accelerate the integration of ex-combatants into the police and the Joint Integrated Units.

3.  Establish a civil service committee to integrate the administrative systems in both zones of the new state and bring qualified Nuba into the civil service of the state government.

4.  Release immediately the accumulated 2 per cent share of oil revenues and funds from the Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Fund to the Misseriya people and to the Southern Kordofan state government to accelerate development.

5.  Establish an executive development committee, with strong representation from each locality in the state, to oversee equitable distribution of resources, establish priorities and a plan of action and monitor eventual implementation.

6.  Support a concerted effort by the state government, with help from UN agencies, to improve basic services, in particular in areas under SPLM control.

7.  Establish proper anti-corruption mechanisms to ensure an accountable disbursement of development funds in the state and otherwise discourage fraud.

To the Government of Southern Kordofan:

8.  Provide financial support to facilitate inter-tribal dialogues and to establish an institutional mechanism for achieving and sustaining tribal reconciliation between the Nuba and Misseriya tribes.

9.  Encourage a Southern Kordofan dialogue process between the representatives of all tribes to produce a common agenda, endorsed by the legislative council, that:

a) sets out the primary objectives of the post-elections public consultation process and identifies the principles to guide it;

b) identifies the shortcomings of the CPA protocol, as stipulated in its Article 3.6;

c) agrees on formal state mechanism(s) for the resolution of tribal disputes over land use and livestock migration routes; and

d) identifies key principles for the establishment of the land commission.


10.  Become an active partner in local conflict prevention, in cooperation with tribal authorities, following the example of the JMC established in the Nuba Mountains after the 2002 ceasefire agreement.

11.  Establish a conflict prevention early warning system with the national police and representatives of the native administrations.

12.  Provide immediate support for implementation of DDR activities in the state.

To Donors:

13.  Increase conflict-sensitive recovery and development funding to the state.

14.  Give immediate technical support for the administrative integration of former SPLM areas with the government of Southern Kordofan.

Khartoum/Nairobi/Brussels, 21 October 2008

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