JUBA, Sudan—Southern Sudan’s ruling party is continuing its overtures to southern military and political forces whom it angered before and during the disputed April elections process, pursuing a simple but clever strategy that the party badly needs to succeed.

By attempting to shore up all potential political and military rivals before the southern referendum vote in January, the ruling SPLM is hoping to reduce the chances that the Khartoum government will adopt its tried-and-true “divide and conquer” strategy. Khartoum’s tactics are well known for their brutal effectiveness in Darfur, but they were also used during the most recent north-south civil war.

During that war, a divided south proved to be a great advantage to the north, who exploited internal rivalries and indirectly prolong the conflict by backing various militia leaders who split from the main branch of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army, the guerilla rebel movement who eventually morphed into today’s SPLM, which is the ruling party in the Government of Southern Sudan.

With the referendum fast approaching, the idea that the north stands to lose a lot from southern secession is not lost on anyone, from Khartoum’s finance minister to the U.S. Secretary of State. It is therefore not difficult to imagine that the National Congress Party may attempt to tamper—likely indirectly—with the referendum and its aftermath in multiple ways.

Enter the SPLM’s strategy: offer olive branches to dangerous former militia leaders, grant amnesty to senior southern army commanders who rebelled after the April elections, make promises to opposition politicians—all in the hopes of keeping the south united during the “final walk to freedom,” aka an on-time and peaceful self-determination vote on January 9.

One of these northern aligned southern militia leaders is Gabriel Tanginye, who traveled from Khartoum to Juba last Thursday to participate in talks with the SPLM and to consider the option of rejoining the southern army. Yesterday in Juba, at a traditional ceremony at Southern Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar’s house, Tanginye joined Machar in holding a sacred rod representing unity and strength among the Nuer tribe (see photo above—far left, northern Sudanese army major general Mabor Bhol, who accompanied Tanginye to Juba for reconciliation talks with the southern government, and far right, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the southern government’s representative in Washington).

… Stay tuned for more on two other dissident southern military figures—Lt. Gen George Athor of Jonglei state and Gatluak Gai of Unity— who launched post-elections rebellions against the south but who are now expressing interest in rejoining the army.

This post was cross-posted on Maggie Fick’s website. Photo credit: a friend in Juba who wished to remain anonymous.

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