Residents in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, can be forgiven for thinking that everything is normal in the world’s newest country. The government is careful to restrict and careful to control the news on national radio and television and the population is none the wiser about the ‘declaration of war’ against the Juba government made by Riak Machar, the ousted Vice President who resides in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
Former newspaper journalist, Nhial Bol relaxed in his compound and told "Muslim Eye" that Juba is peaceful and had been so for some time but despite hearing rumours he said he had no way to verify reports that the rest of South Sudan, particularly in Western Bahr Ghazal and EquatorialStates have returned to a state of war. Bol has no idea either that leader of the Shilluk tribe Lam Akol, who resigned from the South Sudan government two months ago was also in Khartoum to meet Riak Machar and has formed an armed wing of a new political party called the Party for Democratic Change.
Hosting and protecting South Sudan’s most notorious politician, Riak Machar, means that the Sudanese government in Khartoum is playing a careful balancing act to appear neutral, while attempting to maintain some kind of dialogue between the two sides that might bring an end to what threatens to be another protracted period of violence between the Nuer tribesmen led by Riak Machar and the majority Dinka tribesmen led by President Silva Kirr.
Recent attempts by Machar to meet the Sudanese President apparently to thank him for the medical treatment that kept him alive and the hosting of his entourage appear to have been unsuccessful. Apart for the heavy presence of armed guards at an undisclosed address in the Riyadh district of the capital city Khartoum, the Sudanese government is keen to prevent Machar from using his 'guest' status to canvas the world's media and to draw support for his cause.
The events of the past few months have been somewhat 'bizarre' to say the least. The fugitive is himself a former Sudanese government minister having defected from the Sudan People Liberation Army and signed the Khartoum Peace in agreement in 1998 before re-joining the SPLM/A in the early 2000s. The comprehensive peace agreement signed in 2006 saw the vote for independence and the crowning of South Sudan as the world’s newest state in 2012. Machar was sworn in as Vice-President.
Machar is militarily trained by the America CIA and a veteran warlord, notorious for his 'wait and see' element of surprise tactics. He enjoyed an almost unshakeable loyalty from his tribes people - that was until Taban Deng, Machar erstwhile peace negotiator broke away and joined forces with the Juba government in August of this year.
Ordinary Sudanese are as bemused by the goings on in South Sudan as the displaced and domicile Southern Sudanese who have reoccupied the large open areas of Khartoum on the outskirts of the northern and southern districts of the city, Jebel Awlia, Omdurman and Soba. Once they were citizens of the same country, now the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has formally granted South Sudanese citizens refugee status and funding to the Khartoum government would seem to be in the pipeline.
Getting along with the Southern Sudanese has taken on a different picture for the average Sudanese in the North, once Muslim-controlled Sudan were told to share and to give power to their Christian and animist brothers and fellow citizens, now there’s a sense of foreboding and pity for the plight of citizens of the new nation. There is a realisation that the partition of Sudan has not brought prosperity to either Sudans.
Meanwhile, politicians in the ruling party in Khartoum have let it be known that government subsidies on wheat are going to disappear by the end of the year which will send the cost of bread through the roof. Reduction of fuel subsidies sent protestors in 2013 into the streets and for a time it seems that a popular uprising might usher in a 'Khartoum Spring'.
Talks of national dialogue continue to filter through the political discourse with the date set for the talking shop conference, 10 October 2016, but no-one is expecting any real changes to happen in Khartoum anytime soon. The U.S. dollar is 15 to 1 but prices have not fluctuated much, there continue to be extraordinarily high!
The two Sudans on both sides of the border are expecting the worse. Limited oil reserves flow through both nations, conflict and war continue on both sides and as Khartoum courts Saudi money to keep its economy afloat, Juba awaits the arrival of peacekeepers to stop the war from spreading and to rekindle its economy.
It is a tale of two cities – Juba and Khartoum both suffering the effects of the ‘divorce’, both trying to behave as though nothing has happened, both aiming to show the other, 'I am doing fine without you!'