Ed note: In February, U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair released the Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Tucked inside page 37 was a warning that “Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing…Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan.”   For the next six months, UN Dispatch is proud to feature the work of South Sudan based freelancer Maggie Fick, who will be writing periodic updates about the crisis and ongoing efforts to prevent the next genocide.    

JUBA, Sudan–It’s likely that, to the extent that you follow events in Sudan, you are more familiar with the issues at stake in Darfur than you are with events in other regions of Africa’s largest country.

International media coverage of Sudan in the past five years has largely focused on the conflict in Darfur, and if you’re a reader of this blog, you’re no doubt familiar with the grassroots American advocacy movement. This movement ratcheted up awareness stateside of a conflict that is emblematic of Sudan’s multiple post-independence wars: a repressive central government wreaking havoc on marginalized populations in Sudan’s vast, often ungovernable peripheral regions.

Today, media attention and international efforts Sudan are shifting southward in advance of a seminal political event—a referendum vote for the southern Sudanese—that is widely expected to lead to an entirely new reality in Sudan: the separation of southern Sudan from the North, in reality the creation of two new states instead of one given the impact of the likely secession on northerners as well as southerners.

For the past two years, I worked for the Enough Project, one of the advocacy groups involved in the “Darfur movement” in the U.S., and to be honest, it was not until I traveled to southern Sudan for the first time that I began to understand the dynamics at play in the South and how they relate to the conflicts throughout the country.

Too often policymakers and Sudan watchers “silo” Sudan’s conflicts by dividing North and South, Darfur and the East and then considering the issues in each area as distinct instead of interconnected. Now that I live in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, I can see the challenges firsthand of being immersed in following issues in one part of Sudan while trying to keep up to speed on politics in Khartoum or the U.N. Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). So, full disclosure, over the course of the past ten months I’ve spent living in the South, my perspective on Sudan has become southern-oriented.

I recently left the Enough Project to become a freelance journalist based in Juba, reporting for the Associated Press and other media outlets in the run-up to the South’s referendum on January 9, 2011. I am pleased to have the chance to also be guest blogging for UN Dispatch, where I’ll focus my efforts on keeping readers up to speed on how issues surrounding the holding of the referendum relate to the threat of a return to North-South war and the possibility of serious internal southern conflict following the referendum. I’ll try to include the perspectives and explain the roles of an array of stakeholders in Sudan, from southern Sudanese civil society leaders to the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, to local chiefs in remote villages and the $1 billion-a-year U.N. Mission in Sudan.

I hope you’ll enjoy these updates from Juba and I welcome your feedback at any time; I can be reached at maggie.fick [at] gmail.com.

Image: Wikipedia.

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