BENTIU, Sudan—Gen. Gabriel Tanginye has a complicated relationship with his home region of south Sudan. Born and raised there, he has spent much of his life fighting for the country's north. And during a 21-year-long north-south civil war, that meant Tanginye was fighting against his own regional kin. It's a role he seemed to have no qualms in undertaking; in 2000, he hijacked a U.N. plane to show his displeasure with the international body's assistance to south Sudan's vice president. Today, he lives in the northern capital of Khartoum, supporting his southern-based family from afar.
Recently however, Tanginye has been back in south Sudan trying to make amends. With the looming January 2011 referendum, in which south Sudan is likely to vote for independence from the north, Tanginye realized that his future as a northern military commander may have a limited horizon. So when the men now leading the Southern Sudanese government came calling, Tanginye's calculation was simple: Take the hefty reward they offered him for switching camps, rejoin the south, bring his 44,000-strong ethnic militia with him, and express his solidarity with his former enemies ahead of the crucial independence vote. Then after the ballot, reconsider his options.
These days, South Sudan is full of men like Tanginye, strategically positioning themselves for key roles in a new, independent nation. In fact, a conference in the Southern capital of Juba earlier this month was meant to take advantage of exactly that, "reconciling" the various Southern minority tribe factions. At this point, there is little attention paid to how or why those reconciliations are made; it's a matter of patching things up long enough to ensure political and military support for independence from Khartoum. The simple message: United we stand, divided we fall.
But in a fractured country, whose divisions are usually drawn between north and south Sudan, or Khartoum and Darfur, it's easy to forget that there are other, internal fault lines. In the south, huge fissures separate the population along tribal, linguistic, and economic lines. Two decades of civil war have made matters worse; guns and money bought alliances that have sliced apart communities and families. In recent months, the international community has been warning of a war in Sudan around the referendum -- between the north and south. But even if a new independent Southern Sudan emerges without a shot being fired early next year, it may not be at peace. The convenient reconciliations taking place today look frighteningly ephemeral, which means that the coming war in Sudan might be within south Sudan.
Many of those reconciliations took place last week, when the south's ruling party brought together more than 20 registered opposition parties at a conference aimed at building consensus on issues essential to the future of the Southern Sudan. The most significant outcome of the five-day meeting was a clear expression by the parties of their strong commitment to the January 2011 self-determination vote. Lam Akol, the leader of the breakaway Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement-Democratic Change faction, for example, ran against Southern President Salva Kiir in the April elections, but he seemed as committed as the next opposition member to southern secession. The support of these key South Sudanese political players is critical for the region's government, because these men could prove to be spoilers if not appeased or convinced to get in line with the common agenda.