Southern Sudan: Conflict Born of Conflict

Sudan land

This photo was taken in an area where violence had broken out over local border disagreements. War scattered populations and caused confusion when returnees claimed land others settled on when they were chased from their own land. Photo by Karen Kasmauski for CRS

by John Lindner

Why is there so much tension among southern Sudanese?

Ever had a problem neighbor?

Earlier this year, we had three vehicles in various states of repair jacked up in my driveway. Family priorities meant we’d neglected the yard; weeds rose like ground fog. We have two fences in desperate need of repair and paint. The barn is missing a rather prominent board, making one whole wall look gap-toothed. The roof screams for new gutters. The list goes on.

At one point, I turned to my wife and said: “I’ve become the neighbor I’d always feared I’d live next to.”

While in Sudan and pondering the neighbor-on-neighbor conflicts that seem all too easily to lead to violence, I tried to put myself in their sandals. I wanted to understand why violence seems to boil up so easily. I came up with the following analogy:

Suppose my house burns down? I’m forced to live in a motel, then maybe an apartment for a few months. But when I return, three families are living in my yard. They’ve built little homes and have a good thing going. How would I feel?

Now suppose I didn’t have recourse to things like deeds, plats, lawyers, courts, government and bank records, police, etc. It’s pretty much me and them. How would I react? What choices would I have?

That’s the spot many southern Sudanese find themselves in. War forced them out of their homes. Some fled across national borders. Others fled from their ancestral land to somebody else’s land who earlier fled their land … and so on.

Upon returning home, tribe A finds tribe B living on tribe A’s traditional homeland. The new residents have established whatever homes and farming operations they could. They’ve been using the river, the only source of water for miles. The returnees present a problem to the new residents and vice versa. And they have no recourse to formal means of resolving the conflict.

If you can imagine what that might feel like, you’re getting a picture of life in southern Sudan.

Beyond that, frankly I don’t know how you effectively imagine what it’s like to face all that trouble on top of years in exile, violent loss of parents, children, spouses, neighbors, friends, whole villages…. The internal stress level in the average southern Sudanese must be something akin to the exhaustion of long torture.

So yes, I begin to understand the nature of violence internal to southern Sudan. Life ever at the breaking point. But then I wonder, how do you begin to put out all the potential fires?

The good news: These most delicate flashpoints in southern Sudan are the easiest to extinguish.

More on that in upcoming posts.

Learn more about CRS’ work to achieve peace in Sudan.

CRS web managing editor John Lindner traveled to southern Sudan to report on peacebuilding. This is the first of a set of posts on the work the Church and CRS are doing in southern Sudan.

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One Response to “Southern Sudan: Conflict Born of Conflict”

  1. Ted Larkin Says:

    Very helpful in trying to make sense of the past and coming conflict. Thank you. I have forwarded this blog to supporters who have taken an interest in Sudan. Thank you.

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