In the late 20th and early 21st century, the pressures of the conflict between Arab North and African South has imposed hardships upon the Dinka. Many have become involved in military and political resistance against Khartoum in the growing movement for southern Sudanese independence. John Garang de Mabior was a Dinka. Garang became leader of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 1983, leading an armed struggle against Khartoum. Another Dinka independence war leader was William Deng Nhial, founder of the Sudan African National Union (SANU).
On January 9th, 2005, a comprehensive peace accord (CPA) was signed between the Khartoum government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in the Nyayo Stadium, Nairobi, in front of 15 heads of state. That accord brought to an end a civil war that lasted 22 years and caused the death of two and half million people and the displacement of 4 million refugees. As set out by the peace accords, John Garang was sworn in as Vice President of the Sudan and President of Southern Sudan on July 9th, 2005.
Three weeks later, Garang was killed. On July 30th, the helicopter he was travelling on, as it was returning to Southern Sudan form Kampala, Uganda, on a visit to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, crashed, killing all 14 people aboard. A few hours later, he was replaced by his deputy, Salva Kiir, as both President of Southern Sudan and Vice President of the Sudan.
A popular referendum in February 2011 saw 98.83% of the population favouring independence from Khartoum. The new Republic of South Sudan was proclaimed on July 9th, 2011.
Two years later, on December 15th, 2013, an armed confrontation erupted at the centre of the South Sudanese governmental authority. Officers loyal to President Salva Kiir and disgruntled soldiers backing his ex-deputy Riek Machar engaged in a violent confrontation that left hundreds dead as thousands fled the capital city, Juba. According to Alex de Waal, Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation, the reason why a disagreement turned from a political crisis into a war was not because of ethnic divisions as such, but because the army was not a professional, institutionalized group, but rather a collection of militia, each of which organized on the basis of personal loyalty to its commander. In any case, the conflict soon turned ethnic-based, with the Dinka opposing the Nuer, while numerous other groups shifted alliance with one or the other camp.
One of the main concern of the Nuer, but also of other ethnic groups, is that the Dinka concentrate a lot of power in their hands. The Dinka control all the centres of power, from the army to the police, from ministerial posts to civil servant positions. South Sudan is a multi-ethnic society. No ethnic group constitutes a majority, but the Dinka (3.2 million) and the Nuer (1.6 million) make up 57% of the population. Stability and peace in the country pass through these two ethnic groups. There remains the question of how power should be shared, and how the natural resources of the country could be used for the development of South Sudan. At the moment, the conflict remains personalized in a confrontation between leaders. Citizens have little to say on the choices of their government and of the many militia ravaging the country. The dream of a independent and peaceful South Sudan is still far off.(J.K.S.)