There is a funny feeling in the air these days in Juba. Initially there was growing tension. The separation rallies were more frequent and more energetic, the mass-media was focused and still is only on the separation related issues and the negotiations on oil revenue, the consultations and negotiations on the future of the oil rich Abiey region and related to that, the Dinka – Mysereia tribal relations.
Then things started getting more serious: the North, the Sudanese Armed Forces deploys 70,000 troops along the North Sudan – Southern Sudan border and concentrates them around the oil rich and strategic region of Abyei. The SPLA moves an alleged 50,000 in response and an unknown number of armored units, anti aircraft units, etc.
Then the provocations start all over the spectrum: Warlike declarations by Al Bashir and his puppets and an intransigent position by GOSS President Salva Kiir, who in a very smart political move, pardons all armed rebel groups, who now are becoming integrated in the regular army or disbanded, freeing his back from a potential second front to be fueled by the North, according to an old and tried tradition.
Bashir offers to buy the Southerners with promises of wealth and development, in the 12th hour. Kiir calls all political forces in a three day marathon congress and makes them declare publicly full and total support for referendum and eventual war.
Some observers, me included, think that Al Bashir is fighting for his life here, or at least for his liberty. So he will never let the referendum, at least in Abiey, to take place, whatever it takes, but he will try the negotiation and political maneuvering first. However, at this game, unexpectedly, Salva Kiir seems to best him. The latest bombshell is the “defection” of one of the most popular and successful soldier of the Northern Sudanese Army, general Tanginya, a South Sudanese Dinka by birth, who arrived today from Khartoum to join the South.
But the most impressive fact is the casual, calm manner of the Abiey traditional leaders the chiefs of the various clans of the Dinka tribe. In a private interview, they confessed that in the past they were fooled with false promises by the Northern, Arab leaders to remain in an united Sudan. Now, no more. They are adamant they don’t need anybody to organize the referendum, they will organize it themselves and show the world they are part of the Southern Sudan. And if anybody will try to stop them, they will fight. In the past they have always fought the Arabs. For centuries. And since the independence in 56, for 40 years in two wars. It is a traditional past time, fighting a war is something expected of every man, it is as normal, more normal even than peace. In the past they used to fight with spears, now they have graduated to Kalashnikovs and whatever else the Government of Southern Sudan will provide.
UN peace keeping forces have made a timid show of bravery until now saying they will take positions in the hotspots to prevent conflicts and avoid civilian casualties. The Security Council has made all the right noises, but…I doubt the UN troops will move, if they move I doubt they will fight. It would be a first!
Making bets when the war will start has become a favorite topic here in Juba. Less and less people believe the South will get out of it without either giving away Abiey or fight for it.