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April 12, 2010

Security Concerns Remain as Southern Sudan Approaches 2011 Referendum

by Michael Onyiego

A recent report on disarmament indicates a security vacuum exists in parts of southern Sudan that could plague the region as it approaches the 2011 referendum. 

As voting draws to a close in Sudan's first multiparty elections in more than 24 years, the prospect of an independent southern Sudan draws closer.

The elections are the last major step in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement before a 2011 referendum in the south to determine whether it remains part of Sudan or forms its own state.

The peace agreement, which was signed in 2005, ended more than 20 years of fighting between Sudan's government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.  

Many hope that the south will be able to tap into its vast natural resources, which include oil, to drive development in the region.

But a recent Issue Brief released by the Geneva-based Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment project says that southern Sudan must continue to disarm and provide badly needed resources to its security forces if it is to ensure stability.

The Issue Brief is based on the results of a 2009 survey of 2,400 households in southeastern Sudan. 

Disarmament and securtiy

According to the brief, disarmament remains one of the south's most pressing concerns.  The government of southern Sudan has been attempting to disarm the region since the signing of the peace agreement, but the process has been difficult.

Almost 40 percent of the households surveyed admitted to owning firearms.  The survey indicated doubts about the government's ability to provide security have hampered the disarmament  initiative.

The survey found only 27 percent of the respondents relied on the police force for protection in the region.  The majority instead relied upon traditional leaders for safety.

Security consultant and author of the report Irina Mozel says this attitude stems from a lack of government support for the police of southern Sudan.  

"The preparation for elections has enhanced some of the means and resources available, especially for the police," said Mozel. "But there are huge challenges, which still remain with regard to the police.  Specifically because both donors and the government have not focused enough on building up a strong police force, which has led to the current security vacuum."

Much of the violence in the surveyed region stems from resource scarcity.  Cattle theft and the ensuing cycles of revenge are a constant cause of unrest in Eastern Equatoria.

The report urges the government of southern Sudan to address the causes of violence in the region through community engagement.  According to the Issue Brief, the cooperation of traditional community leaders with police can help to ensure peace in the region.

If the south achieves independence in 2011, more resources and attention can potentially be focused on security in states like Eastern Equatoria.  But Mozel says that international assistance will be needed in the interim as the buildup of an effective police force could take up to 10 years.