The emergence of a national border into a complex environment containing many groups with different histories and narratives has deeply affected all of the communities in the area. This working paper explores these dynamics through five case studies: the Northern Bahr el Ghazal-East Darfur border; Abyei; the Unity-South Kordofan border; the Upper Nile-South Kordofan border; and the Upper Nile-White Nile border.
This paper reviews the Sudan–South Sudan border primarily through the lens of the 2011-12 grazing season, the first since South Sudan’s independence. Seasonal pastoralist movements through the border region are one of the central tensions between the two states, and for border communities struggling to adapt to a newly nationalised boundary. This paper is based on fieldwork conducted in June and July 2012 in Central Equatoria, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, and Upper Nile, South Sudan, supplemented by key informant interviews conducted between August and December 2012.
The broad key findings include the following:
- Grazing agreements are no longer simply between two local communities. Instead, the primary guarantor of migrant safety is the SPLA, and Northern migrants coming to the South must now first interact with the relevant state administrations. This reorientation of grazing agreements towards state-level government and the army has tended to lessen the bonds of community coexistence; given that the SPLA is the main group from whom migrants need to be protected, it has also undermined the efficacy of grazing agreements.
- All along the border, there is confusion about which administrative levels should organize grazing routes. Maban county, in Upper Nile, organizes its own county-level courts to rule on disagreements between host communities and pastoralists; other counties want such courts to stay at the level of the host communities and the migrant groups. Taxation of migrant groups is similarly disaggregated between different actors, leading to confusion and anger between pastoralist groups and host communities.
- In some places along the border, relations between migrants and host communities have broken down to such an extent that only government intervention keeps grazing routes open. In other places, inter-community relations are relatively healthy, and it is government intervention that has militarised the border, and made trade and migration more difficult.
- Differences in cross-border relations largely correspond to the different relations during the second civil war between groups that are now on either side of the border.
- Prior to South Sudan’s secession, Northern pastoralist groups and their herds came south in the dry season, while Southern migrant labourers went north. There is now asymmetry along the border, as Northern pastoralists still seek to enter the South, but, due to harassment in Sudan, far fewer Southerners travel north for work.
- The border is highly militarised by a plethora of armed actors.
Unless all the parties involved are willing to accept that pastoralist grazing will be transformed by a national boundary, and unless they can think seriously about how that transformation should be managed, the livelihoods of the pastoralist groups will be threatened. They will continue to face militarisation, blocked grazing routes, increased nationalism, and both states’ steady undermining of the inter-community structures of negotiation that had previously allowed coexistence between different groups.