July 31, 2009 — The Egyptian government has warned (Southern) Sudanese against the establishment of a new state in Southern Sudan saying it will lead to regional instability (Sudan Tribune July 27, 2009). Egypt according to its foreign minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, is preserving the unity of Sudan by building universities, power plants, medical centres and schools. He does not specify where these are being built but that and the fact that Egypt does not support using the River Nile to turn turbines to generate electricity in Southern Sudan is outside the scope of this article.
Secession is more than a university or hospital building. Living in peace in a united country has all to do with justice, equity and freedom. With regard to justice, the people of South Sudan were discriminated against in all spheres of political economic and religious life by successive governments since they took control over the territories of the region. Prior to granting independence to North Sudan, the then Labour government of Prime Minister Anthony Eden ended the “British Southern Sudan Policy” and adjoined South Sudan and North Sudan in 1947. This decision led to the longest civil war in the continent. Self determination is therefore a fitting description of the struggle of the people of southern Sudan.
On equity, even the most current power sharing agreement in terms of sharing important economic portfolios and the division of wealth is not being observed by the government with a spirit of reconciliation and unity rather its actions are of a take it all attitude. In fact following The Hague court ruling on the Heglig oilfields, the government of Sudan announced the South will not be entitled to receive any share from the oil exports from the two fields except the 2% to South Kordofan. If the ruling was a compromise that accommodated the Arab tribes in Abyei, then the government is not being sensitive to and answerable to the tribe that it claims to represent. The wealth sharing provisions of the CPA stipulate that fifty percent (50%) of net oil revenue derived from oil producing wells in Southern Sudan shall be allocated to the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) as of the beginning of the Pre-Interim Period and the remaining fifty percent (50%) to the National Government and States in Northern Sudan. This is contrary to the role of a central government in making sure that all the regions within its territories are fairly treated.
What ever the regional outlook of a settlement in the Sudanese question may be, it must not be a matter for the internally displaced person, a refugee, a lost boy or girl, to consider. What is more important in informing how Southern Sudanese will vote in 2011 is not which foreign powers will be building a university or hospital, but which political framework will best address issues of equity, justice, respect for human rights and will bring lasting peace. What would Egypt’s choice be on these fundamental issues? Do not get me wrong, building universities is a welcome development if its essence is defined by intellectual life, academic freedom and the challenge to promote the unfettered inquiry necessary for the pursuit of truth. On freedom, despite remarks of exemptions from the Sharia law, officials in Sudan have recently flogged several women including Christian women for wearing trousers. The faculty of law of a university that operates in the current political framework and environment is bound to produce lawyers and judges that discriminate against the fundamental rights of women and girls.
Many rightly point to the need for Africa to stop famine, civil war, and build institutions and infrastructure instead of secession and fragmentation. These are real continent wide problems that must be addressed by setting up strong institutions for (public and private) investing in agricultural innovation systems and building and facilitating efficient local and regional markets to support small and commercial farmers to produce food crops. It may be useful to note the Sudan is the largest country in Africa about one third of Europe. Governing such a large area even with the best of intentions is not easy. Imagine the Suede’s in the north of Europe ruling over the Germans, the French (Darfur is the size of France), Greeks, Italians, the Basks the Dutch etc. and then refusing to share wealth to develop the necessary institutions, invest in agriculture to fight famine etc. When you introduce religion into the equation you have the recipe for war such as the 80 Years’ War fought between Catholic Spain and the Protestant Netherland in 16th and 17th century. Introduce a tangle of political and economic alliances such as those that existed between the major nations of Europe then you have the recipe for war one. However this alliance system that Egypt may be referring to is not a threat in the region. Indeed the majority of countries in the continent would welcome Southern Sudan the country. Introduce the ethnic dimension and you get the recipes for the Second World War. These European countries are now independent countries united in a powerful economic and soon a political union after centuries of defining their heritage before forming a common one, defining their individual political and economic independence before joining in an economic union, creating tolerance for religious freedom before embracing secularism as a system to mention a few.
Egypt and Sudan were once united politically over several periods. But there is no evidence that the separation of Egypt from Sudan is the root cause of the current “national” instability. If that was the case, perhaps one should pursue a reunification process with the aim of building a new united “Bilad al Sudan” or “Kush State” with Egypt. But such a move will even turn the anti secessionists in Khartoum into secessionist.
It is also prudent to realise that when discussing separation in Africa, one cannot escape the tribal aspects of conflict. Some lessons include the painful experiences of – Rwanda, DRC, Burundi or Biafra in Nigeria). Nonetheless, one could safely say that the Sudan as a whole with its many ethnic groups also share these ethic or tribal dimension. Nonetheless, just as many African countries have come to recognise their artificially imposed national borders to become legitimate states, there has also been recognition in the Sudan by design and default of an existence of southern Sudan that is made up of several tribes. By choice because the political elite in the north identify and define its society as Islamic, it’s legal orientation as Islamic Sharia laws and its culture as an Arab one which is totally alien to that of the majority of Southern Sudanese.
Considering these and the long political history of the country and especially the undemocratic handing of power by the British to the North of the southern Sudan, if the people of the Southern Sudan opt to secede it would be just another African country opting for independence. It is therefore perfectly sensible to argue for secession or independence in the context of the Sudanese North-South relations on the one hand and absolutely against it in the context of resolving an eventual South-South dispute as experienced in other African countries that are mentioned above.
Yet it is legitimate to ask whether or not secession is a realistic goal for the people of the Southern Sudan? Before answering that question, one has to establish whether or not Southern Sudanese are justified in their struggles for self-determination and whether the outcome following secession will be any better than the status quo for the majority of Southern Sudanese current and future generations. The President of the southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, characterised the benchmark he would use to assess the benefits of unity as “secession that brings peace is better than unity that returns the country to war” (Sudantribune July 11, 2009).
By consistently and radically denying a large group of people their rights, by excluding them from the economic and political process is tantamount to advocating secession. This may sound odd. But remember it was Dr. John Garang’s policy to fight for a united new Sudan. Someone must have been separating the country when Mr Garang decided to fight for the unity of the country.
Secession is indeed not a universal answer. However there are many countries where secession has been a welcome solution. Since 1990, thirty three new countries have been created. Just compare a recent political map of the world with one-printed ten years ago (see a global decade of secession below). What you will see is the list of countries breaking away to become independent states. Most of them brought peace and development to the respective populations and not as Egypt claims, regional instability. At this very moment, the U.S. is pressing for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. No claims and warnings of dire consequences resulting from a negotiated new Palestinian state are being claimed. The experience of the last 50 years of countries seceding or becoming independent tells us that in the aftermath of celebrations of an eventual Palestinian state, thousands of Palestinians will still go to Israel where they work as they do now but as citizens of a state they call home. There will be economic and social problems but at least one important element would have been removed.
Perhaps the peaceful and friendly separation of Slovakia from the Czech Republic and vice-versa can serve as a model for the Sudan. Czechoslovakia was a country, which united the Czech people with the Slovaks from 1918 until 1992 when it gained it’s independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire at the end of World War I. From 1990-1992 it became the federal democratic republic of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic, following the Velvet Revolution, which put a non-violent end to the communist government. When nationalist tensions between the Czechs and the Slovaks intensified in the early 90s, a peaceful decision for both republics to become countries was reached. From 1st January 1993, two countries named Czech Republic and Slovakia emerged. After a transition period of about four years, the relations between Czechs and Slovaks are better than they have ever been.
Twenty seven years ago, in 1982 at a hotel in Khartoum, two hours after his release from Kobar prison in Khartoum, Joseph Oduho was interviewed by a number of Sudanese journalists. The question that interest most of the journalists was “are you a secessionist and if so why do you support the secession of the Southern Sudan? Mr. Oduho moved to the edge of his chair, slowly emptied his pipe, opened a a small box of tobacco to fill his pipe, and as he searched his pocket for a lighter, all the journalists and people around replicated the same movement, reaching out into their pockets and bags to find a lighter or box of matches. Half the people simultaneously offered him lighters and matchboxes. The late Oduho remarked saying, this gesture is testimony to the Sudanese people, the most generous people that I will turn to in the hour of need. The fact is “we Southerners and northerners too have been led by successive governments that have turned the North-South relationship into a kind of conservative traditional marriage, where one party considers itself the head and provider. The experience since 1972 has been disappointing. The limited rights that Southern Sudanese got from the Addis Ababa agreement has been systematically eroded and blatantly ignored and regional rule undermined by the imposition of Sharia law. The best advocate for secession is a partner or government that does not live up to its promise.
A few months after that interview, the war in the Southern Sudan intensified; millions of Southerners will not live to see the 21st century. The war erupted not because, there was corruption among the ruling elite in Southern Sudan nor because oil revenues were not properly managed, there were no oil revenues at the time to fight over, there were no SPLM achievements or shortcomings to debate about, just a group of people whose human rights and rightful place in a society of civilised nations is denied to them.
Twenty seven years later, after a bitter civil war the same generous spirit was recently shown by Deng Alor when he was commenting on the aftermath of the The Hague ruling, he said “We have no problem with the Arab Misseriya tribes. They will be allowed to pass through Abyei in search for water and grazing land and nobody will prevent them from doing so.” The question is therefore not about the people. Sudanese will always find a way to live together in peace, it’s just that time has run out for the current system of political governance in the Sudan.
To draw some comparisons of what this is about. In South Africa, the question of getting rid of Apartheid in South Africa was the fundamental issue. Arguments about the black majority not having the competence to govern become a non issue. In 1936 Jesse Owens made history at the height of Nazi rule in Germany and returned to the United States a national hero, but still a second-class citizen. Huge parades honoured his achievements and lucrative offers sought to take advantage of his fame. Yet he spoke about civil rights. In other words, if one thinks unity is an option because of the lack of capacity within the SPLM to govern and deal with corruption, It would be implying that the solution for many African countries that now have over 30 years of self rule would be to return them back to colonial rule as many African countries too face corruption and lack of capacity to effectively govern themselves and eradicate poverty
Almost thirty years ago, the Majority of Southern Sudanese once again obediently followed a leader, this time John Garang in pursuing a unified Sudan in yet another attempt to find peace. Almost thirty years later, many including Libya, the former US State Department special envoy to Sudan Mr. Roger Winter are sceptical. Not to mention a host of other Sub-Saharan Countries. “The democratic transformation” of Sudan had a chance to succeed according to Mr. Winter in his address to the United States Senate (Sudantribune 30 July 2009). But the ruling National Congress Party Sudan (NCP) have thrown away the faint chance to “make unity attractive” and so sustain a unified state of Sudan
President Salva Kiir has choosen peace as his main goal going forward. If this is the case, I predict based on the past history of the Sudan, the attitude of successive governments in the north and what the opinions of the majority of Southern Sudanese, that there is more probability to a return to war in a unified Sudan.
Reading the arguments for and against secession on a BBC Internet forum, two groups did emerge, the realists who talked about hunger, and the rights of the individuals and idealist who talked about unity of the African continent. The final vote on the question “is secession the answer to Africa’s minority struggles?” ended with 63% saying yes and 37 disagreeing. The realist won.
Now that the NCP is the best advocate for secession, Salva Kiir have chosen peace over an uncertain unity and the continent supports the will of the majority of the people, who in Southern Sudan is contemplating to lead yet another generation of southern Sudanese to their deaths in pursuit of a unified Sudan?
A global decade of secession:
Countries succeeding to become independent states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Former Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 1990s into five independent countries (Bosnia and Herzegovina, February 29, 1992: Croatia, June 25, 1991: Macedonia (officially The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) declared independence on September 8, 1991 but wasn’t recognized by the United Nations until 1993 and the United States and Russia in February of 1994; Serbia and Montenegro, (also known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), April 17, 1992 (see below for separate Serbia and Montenegro entries): Slovenia, June 25, 1991; Nine other countries became independent through a variety of causes. March 21, 1990 – Namibia became independent of South Africa. May 22, 1990 – North and South Yemen merged to form a unified Yemen. October 3, 1990 – East Germany and West Germany merged to form a unified Germany after the fall of the Iron Curtain. September 17, 1991 – The Marshall Islands was part of the Trust Territory of Pacific Islands (administered by the United States) and gained independence as a former colony. September 17, 1991 – Micronesia, previously known as the Caroline Islands, became independent from the United States. January 1, 1993 – The Czech Republic and Slovakia became independent nations when Czechoslovakia dissolved. May 25, 1993 – Eritrea was a part of Ethiopia but seceded and gained independence. October 1, 1994 – Palau was part of the Trust Territory of Pacific Islands (administered by the United States) and gained independence as a former colony. May 20, 2002 – East Timor (Timor-Leste) declared independence from Portugal in 1975 but did not become independent from Indonesia until 2002. June 3, 2006 – Montenegro was part of Serbia and Montenegro (also known as Yugoslavia) but gained independence after a referendum. June 5, 2006 – Serbia became its own entity after Montenegro split. February 17, 2008 – Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. Source: By Constantine Bartel