Nigerian Army Major General Moses Bisong Obi, Force Commander of United Nations Mission (UNMISS) to South Sudan visited U.S. Africa Command Headquarters in Stuttgart Germany on 13 December 2011 as part of the AFRICOM Commander's Speakers Series to discuss the new United Nations (UN) mission to South Sudan.
United Nation forces closed the Sudan mission and started a new South Sudan mission after the two counties peacefully split through a public referendum on 9 July 2011. Obi shared details of the political and security challenges faced in the new mission, provided an overview of the UN's operations mandate, current operations and the UN's role in protecting civilians.
"We have come through the referendum, a new mission has been created and a new mission has been born," said Obi.
Obi explained that the public referendum was the result of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended two civil wars that spanned 39 years. The CPA provided for political and wealth sharing arrangements, mechanisms to resolve the future of disputed areas and a structural and democratic transformation.
"Sudan was in conflict with itself and the CPA addressed that," said Obi.
The CPA brought an end to the conflict within Sudan, but it didn't settle all the issues between the two countries. Obi explained that issues like border security and management, oil revenue sharing, trade restrictions, nationality, banking issues, citizenship, wealth sharing and responsibility for national debt led to political and security challenges for Obi's UN forces. Many of these issues are still being worked on today.
In addition to the political and security challenges, decades of civil war destroyed most of South Sudan's infrastructure. Few adequate roads and limited airports increase the logistical challenges Obi faces when deploying troops, equipment and supplies.
With few helicopter and few large airports, Obi had to use civilian contractors to transport his troops.
One of those trips involved Obi deploying forces in large numbers to the Western Equatorial border. Once in place he increased his troops operational tempo in response to Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army's (LRA) assaults on the local public. These assaults included abduction, murders, rape, looting and more. UN forces worked in conjunction with the Ugandan People's Defense Force, Sudan's People's Liberation Army and other regional and international efforts in order to protect the civilian population.
In addition to LRA threats, Obi's forces also intervened in tribal conflicts with intensified air surveillance, troop deployments, increased engagement with communities and local authorities and support of church led reconciliation efforts. The consequences from these tribal conflicts can be costly. One specific instance involved cattle rustling between two tribes and resulted in 600 casualties.
Obi increased troop presence in the area but was careful to ensure that his forces didn't take sides as they protected local civilians and stopped the violent cycle of retaliation.
Obi is optimistic that South Sudan is moving in the right direction despite its challenges.
"It has to grapple with the issue of ethnic tensions, the issue of cattle rustling, issue of access to revenue and resources, and an issue of inclusiveness, government reaching down the line to establish authority," said Obi. "I know that the recent cabinet formed by the government of South Sudan seems to be all inclusive and I think that is an effort to address the challenge of getting everybody on board."