The ongoing rapprochement between Sudan and South Sudan manifested today in the ragged and tired forms of 3,000 soldiers of the South Sudan Liberation Army, crossing the border from Sudan and handing over their weapons. A South Sudanese official told the BBC that the SSLA rebels, like most others, had been pardoned by President Salva Kiir.
The nation of South Sudan is only two years old, but the Second Sudanese Civil War, which began in 1983, was officially terminated in 2005 by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Progress over the last eight years has been slow but steady: last month, the two Sudans came to an agreement on border security and localized demilitarization; last year, they completed negotiations on economic relations.
Economic interdependency is the stickiest part of this whole issue: unified Sudan was dependent on oil revenue, but the Sudanese split means that 75% of that oil is in the South. The South is landlocked, which means that it depends on its northern neighbor’s pipeline infrastructure as a means to profit off its reserves. Without its share of South Sudan’s oil revenues, Sudan is nothing but a war-riven kleptocracy with a war criminal as its leader.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is, of course, the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court. While the Court found insufficient evidence to put Bashir on trial for genocide, he is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. This is the same man who has, smilingly, shaken hands with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on multiple occasions, grimacing perhaps on the inside but advancing the cause of reconciliation with each successive agreement.
One imagines that Kiir himself grimaces inwardly to shake hands with such a man. But, justice notwithstanding, it does seem that both parties are doing what’s necessary to ensure at least some small measure of stability. The Sudanese model is worth attempting to replicate, even as it mirrors the Irish model. In many respects, the Sudanese situation is made inestimably more complicated by the presence of oil reserves, the fabulous corruptive opportunities of which have promiscuously hampered development all over Africa.
It all does seem to be working, to a point. Fighting last year forced thousands into refugee camps, and South Sudan has on more than one occasion threatened to suspend the flow of oil through the north as a punitive measure against Sudanese incivility. Obviously, this doesn’t work: the South needs that money as much as the north does– perhaps more, since it’s lacking a fundamental infrastructure of its own.
We’ll see what happens. The region has twice lapsed into civil war in the past half-century, and twice recovered. All we can do is hope that this time, it sticks.
The Economist this week mentions the recent excrescence of a group called Ansaru from the broader ranks of Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Already more than a year old, Ansaru broke from Boko Haram over what its leadership referred to as “inhuman” behavior toward Nigeria’s Muslim umma. In the year-and-a-half since its creation, Ansaru has abducted a French national, taken and killed hostages, attacked Nigerian soldiers, and staged an audacious prison break.
Ansaru has, in public communications, drawn a comparison between its relationship with Boko Haram and Al Qaeda’s relationship with the Taliban. This was perhaps a strategic PR decision– the group is now allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa.
While Ansaru does seem to have been formed as a reaction to Boko Haram’s haphazard killing of Muslim civilians, it’s probably best not to view them as principled devotees of a less explosive, more goal-oriented brand of Islamist insurgency (see above misbehavior). Where Boko Haram dedicates itself to the expulsion of un-Islamic elements from Nigeria, Ansaru has branded itself with AQIM’s jihadist cred and taken a more global tack. To the extent that a global jihad movement does exist, Ansaru is part of it.
There is something redolent here of the appearance of Syria’s Al-Nusra Front in the same month and year as Ansaru. Al-Nusra claims 5,000 full members, Sunni jihadists all, and maintains allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda. Before Al-Nusra appeared, we in the West were hearing reports of Sunni jihadists amidst the ranks of the Free Syrian Army. The group’s public debut verified those rumors. Since that debut, it has taken part in operations with the FSA, conducted suicide bombings, and imposed its very own no-fly zone over Aleppo. Al-Nusra fighters have gained a reputation on the ground in Syria as aggressive, disciplined warriors– and, oddly, as a fairly polite and conscientious group.
What’s interesting here is the way that more strictly Islamist organizations have emerged from a hodgepodge of violent grievances with vaguely Islamic themes. This is a pretty predictable process, and it’s one that we’ll probably see again as Islamic insurgencies continue to pop up in the unstable developing world. Consider the ongoing debate about the “roots” of extremism: do young men frustrated with their circumstances simply channel their violent impulses into Islamism as a convenient outlet? Or is it jihadism that finds these people and contaminates them with a savage ideology?
Al-Nusra and Ansaru offer a clue: while supposedly jihadist groups may spring up in unstable environments as a convenient mode of cohesion among men who share both religion and grievance, the truly fanatical are wont to form their own, yet more stringently dogmatic groups.