Interview: Expert In Armed Conflicts Aleksi Ylönen On South Sudan Issue


Ylönen Aleksi

Aleksi Ylönen

First of all, the main point is to introduce the person I have chosen for the interview: Dr. Ylönen. He is a researcher at the Center of International Studies, Lisbon (CEI-ISCTE/IUL), Doctor of Political Science and International Relations from Universidad Autónoma, Madrid (2011), International Master in Peace, Conflict and Development at Jaume I University and Bachelor in History at College of Charleston, United States. His research topics are politics, armed conflicts and separatism, and his countries of specialization are Sudan and South Sudan.

I have chosen him because of my huge interest in armed conflicts, and, of course, he is an expert in the “field”. The interview had to be located in the geographical area of sub-Saharan Africa, so I decided to find someone to interview related to this area and, if possible, specialized in armed conflicts.

The interview is about South Sudan and its neighbor Sudan, but there are also some historical questions to enhance the comprehension of the interview.

In 1953, United Kingdom and Egypt decided to give the independence to the whole territory, why did they reach to the First Sudanese Civil War? Dr. Ylönen argues there were both internal and external factors. Internal factors included sentiments of fear and mistrust towards northern Sudanese due to fear of resumed domination (slavery), loss of jobs and livelihoods, etc… External factors included decolonization and emerging Cold War climate. Who fought in that First Sudanese Civil War? He declares the Sudanese government fought various rebel formations in southern Sudan, mainly the Anyanya (Southern Sudan Liberation Movement/Front). Which was the outcome of that war? He mentions Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, which ended the war and gave southern Sudan self-governance and limited autonomy. This agreement also known as the Addis Ababa Accord, was a set of compromises within a 1972 treaty that ended the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972) fighting in Sudan. But this agreement ended the conflict only temporarily, and in the next decade widespread fighting resumed with the second civil war.

What caused the outbreak of the Second Sudanese Civil War? Our expert, Aleksi, talks about a mutiny in southern army troops provoked by a conspiracy among southern army officers which triggered the second period of civil war in southern Sudan. Which political organization born at that time? “Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which is a political party in South Sudan”, says Dr. Ylönen. It was initially founded as the political wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 1983. Who was their leader? Dr. Ylönen refers to John Garang de Mabior, who emerged as the supreme leader. He was a Sudanese rebel leader and politician who was appointed to the post of first vice president of The Sudan after having founded and led the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 22 years of war against the Sudanese government and then negotiating an end to that war.

What has been the problem of Sudan why, within the total of years of its independence, over 80% of it has been years of conflicts? The problem, from the point of view of our expert, was the domination of minority elite group imposing Arab-Muslim identity to a high heterogeneous state. Which is the context that defines the complex and multidimensional crisis between these two areas? “The context defining this crisis is a problem of exclusive governance and uneven resource distribution”, declares Aleksi.

What contemplated the signing of the 2005 Peace Agreement between north and south in Kenya? It contemplated the right of self-determination of southern Sudan, where only southerners would decide to continue or not in the Sudanese state, or creating their own state. What has been the result of lack of compliance with the terms of the agreement? “In the CPA there was an attempt to preserve the unity of Sudan by making concessions to the SPLM/A (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army). However, this did not materialize for various reasons and Southern Sudanese opted for independence”, said our armed conflicts expert.

Why did southerners see the independence agreement did not satisfy their national aspirations? Dr. Ylönen was very surprised about this question. “Did they?” he asked, “I don’t think so. Most were enthusiastic about getting independence”. Why, before having time to solve this problem, there was a military coup that wanted fix it by force? “Coup?” he asked, “There were several coups in Sudan more or less related to the southern problem”.

The issue of identity has always been at the heart of the problem between the north and the south, what is the difference in terms of identity between both areas? With the issue of identity I am referring to the fact that Sudan was at the same time an Arab country and an African country, a Muslim country and a Cristian country. The fact that Sudan was a multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious country resulted in lot of conflicts within the population. “The differences deepened due to exclusive and sometimes authoritarian governance which repressed the periphery and mostly southern Sudan. This galvanized further identity differences making them more confrontational. Although north and south Sudan are distinct in many ways, an adequate governance could have remedied such differences and perhaps allowed maintaining the state as one”, argues Dr. Ylönen.

Why does exist such a marked difference in development between north and south? Aleksi said that it was a result of governance and deliberate concentration of development in certain areas for political and economic benefit.

In late 2013, a year and a half after the formal entry of South Sudan in the international community, which was the result of the resurgence of internal conflicts and political disputes between their leaders?  “Power struggle for state leadership and crisis within the SPLM party leadership”, argue Dr. Ylönen. Why has it been so easy for the elites, both north and south, using the civilian population and sending them to the battlefield to sacrifice themselves to defend elites’ interests and privileges? “Extensive question”, said Aleksi, “Basically, loyalties to leaders and commanders. Some have fought because they had to, others indoctrinated, yet others for personal benefit…Motivations differ…”.

South Sudan retains the name of its neighbor Sudan, does this mean that a possible reunification is not ruled out? His response in this case was very firm: “No. South Sudanese leadership will not give up its independence”.

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