By Mohammad Ali Salih
Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an interview with Asharq Al Awsat, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, Southern Sudan envoy to the US, and a leader in the Sudan People’s Liberations Movement (SPLM), put forward three conditions for not voting for separation in the scheduled January referendum in Southern Sudan. First, an official and popular Northern apology for injustice they inflicted on Southern Sudanese throughout the decades. Second, monetary reparations to compensate for the killing, destruction and suffering of the Southerners. Third, a secular democratic constitution to end the rule of “Arab minority” and Islamic Shariaa laws.
He severely criticized the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), saying it was not honest in the current negotiations with the SPLM. For this reason, he added, the negotiations were but towards a “peaceful divorce.”
Q: In recent media interviews, you described the current talks between the NCP and the SPLM as a “peaceful divorce.” Why?
A: Many times, under President Salva Kiir Mayardit, repeated that we are ready and committed to honest negotiations with the NCP because, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 (CPA), certain issued must be finalized before the end of the agreement’s duration. Therefore, talks about post-referendum should be honest and transparent. But, we lost hope in the NCP. Honestly speaking, I think what we are entering into is negotiating peaceful divorce. Why? First, there is not enough time left before the referendum for the two parties to agree on all pending issues. Second, we are disappointed in the events since the singing of the CPA because the implementation of our goal to create a New Sudan seems now difficult if not impossible.
Q: What are the pending issues currently being discussed between the NCP and the SPLM?
A: What will be the situation of the Southerners in the North, if the South chooses independence? What do we do with the military Joint Integrated Unit (JIU)? How are we going to settle international obligations, treaties and legal issues that the government of Sudan has signed throughout the years? How about the issues of debt, assists, oil and water?
Q: Will the Southerners choose separation or stay in the united Sudan?
A: According to many international and local polls, if the referendum takes place today, 98 percent will vote for independence.
Q: Recently, Ali Karti, Sudan’s new Foreign Minister, said the separation of the South would lead to a war that is much worse than the war that ended in 2005?
A: The SPLM repeated many times that it wants peace, not war. By the way, I noticed that the new Foreign Minister has recently issued some extreme statements, and not only about the South. Those who talk about a new war don’t know what war is. We know. We have suffered form war throughout the decades, its killing, its bloods, the destruction, the widows, the orphans, the disperse of families, of villages and of a whole people.
Q: Didn’t a number of Southern leaders also issue extreme statements? How about those who hare talking about an independent South that would cooperate with the US in its “War on Terrorism”?
A: Under President Salva Kiir Mayardit, I represent the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) in the US. Ask me about this, not about statements issued by other people and other organizations. You have to know that the Southerners, since the CPA, have become free to say what they want to say; we cannot stop them.
Q: How about the slogan “New Sudan” that was criticized by many Northerners as a foreign-inspired plan to change Sudan’s Islamic and Arabic identity?
A: H.E. late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, the founder and former president of SPLA/SPLM, had a vision of a New Sudan. He didn’t want to just end the war. He, also, wanted to establish guarantees that the war would not start again, and that would be by establishing a New Sudan with the following characteristics: First, diversity of religions, cultures and ethnic groups. Second, sharing of power and wealth. Third, writing a secular constitution.
Q: Didn’t you just say the implementation of the “New Sudan” seems impossible? Has it failed?
A: Yes, for now, and for two reasons: First, the NCP which controls the North doesn’t want any changes towards secularism, diversity and democracy. They want to continue the Islamic military regime they established in 1989. Second, after the signing of the CPA in 2005, we called for “Wihda Jazaba” (Attractive Unity), and said the Northerners had a last chance to proof that they were serious and honest — by building in the South infrastructures, schools, hospitals, factories and others development projects. Now, five years have passed and we see nothing of that sort on the part of the Northerners.
Q: Will the Southerners vote for unity if the Northerners construct these projects?
A: This is an “if” question.
Q: What should the Northerners do for the Southerners to vote for unity?
A: First, official and popular, civilian and military apologies for the killing and destruction in the South during the war decades. Second, financial reparations for the physical and mental sufferings; also for the oil revenues that were not given to the Southerners duding the war. Third, free and fair elections to reflect the true powers and the diversity of the country – a step towards New Sudan.
Q: What would be the following step?
A: A secular constitution, like the American one. The US constitution doesn’t segregate people because of their religions and races; it separates state and religion. Also, it doesn’t describe the Whites, their color, culture and religion as superior, although they are the majority. Also, it doesn’t say Christianity is the official religion, although it is the religion of the majority. I am not an Arab and I am not a Muslim. Why do I have to feel I am a second-class citizen in Sudan? Why wouldn’t the Sudanese constitution be like the US one?
Q: Under the new constitution, could states in the North declare Islam as their official religion, and, maybe, implement the Shariaa, provided that the Southern states don’t have to do that?
A: In the US, there is no state that can mix between religion and government and discriminate because of race and culture. So, if a Northern state declared Islam as its official religion, what would be the situation of its non-Muslim citizens?
Q: Some Southern leaders have put impossible conditions on the Northerners. Like SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, who said that Northerners should stop calling Southerners “Abeed” (Slaves)?
A: I also said that because it reflects the Northerners superiority complex; it is an Islamic and Arabic superiority complex. Many African countries suffer from that, but in Sudan it is very clear and very direct. That is why I am not sure that, even if the Northerners apologized and paid reparations, they would change in the way they treat the Southerners. And that is why we want a Sudan that recognizes its African identity. 60 percent said they are Africans. So, why does an Arab minority controls the county?
Q: But the Northern Arabs and Muslims are also Africans?
A: If they are Africans, who do they look down to us? Why do they talk about the unstoppable Islamic and Arabic culture expansion in the South? This talk makes us feel unsure about the Northerners’ real intentions, and whether they would want to repeat the injustice that they inflicted on us in the past. Why can’t there be freedom and justice in Sudan as it is here, in the US?
Q: Despite US laws against discrimination, some Caucasians still use the N-Word when referring to Blacks. However, African-Americans have come a long way, and Black-White relations have improved to the extent that, right now, there is an African-American president, Barack Obama?
A: In the US, there is a secular constitution and laws against discrimination and an independent judiciary that the oppressed appeal to. To whom and to what can the oppressed in Sudan appeal?