Unity State, a territory of unique importance and complexity in the fragile new country of South Sudan, faces a perfect storm of political, social, economic, and security dilemmas.
South Sudan: Compounding Instability in Unity State , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines a series of inter-related pressures and a governance crisis – with a national subtext – which together threaten continued destabilisation in the state. Some challenges are specific to Unity, but others exemplify concerns across the republic that gained its independence from Sudan in July.
“Instability must be considered in light of the complicated history of this frontline state within the “old” Sudan, the strategic interests of national powers, and the complex web of relationships and shifting alliances among the state’s political and military actors”, says Zach Vertin, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “Some troubles have festered for years, while more recent developments – prompted by the partition of Sudan – have exacerbated instability and intensified resource pressure”.
Since 2005, the lion’s share of attention was focused on national issues such as the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the Sudan’s long civil war, volatile North-South politics, the referendum that brought about Southern independence and negotiations toward a constructive relationship with Khartoum beyond partition. Now this focus is shifting to the latent stabilisation agenda at home, and the challenges deferred are nowhere more evident than in Unity.
Recent rebel militia activity has drawn attention to the state, highlighting internal fractures, a familiar dilemma of army integration, and the need for reforms in both the political and military arenas. But the fault lines in Unity run deeper than the rebellions. Polarised politics, territorial disputes, cross-border migratory tensions, economic isolation and a still tenuous North-South relationship also fuel instability, each one compounding the next. The influx of tens of thousands of Southern returnees from the North and war across the new international border in neighbouring Southern Kordofan likewise complicate a rapidly evolving post-independence environment.
As new political realities emerge, many state constituents have high hopes for more stable, more accountable and more democratic administration of government. “Now that independence has been achieved, long-suppressed grievances will increasingly surface in an already tenuous political environment”, says EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Untangling Unity’s web of intersecting challenges will prove no easy task”.