Inconsolable pains beyond the passions for self-determination
El-tahir Adam E-faki
Sudan, a creation of British Colonialism in January 1956 is multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious. This wide diversity has incessantly become a source for racial tensions and political instability except for a very short period of tranquility1972-1983. The failure of Sudanese political leaders to strategically exploit the diversity positively raised a trend that southerners are a homogensous African community. And if given chance to form an aggregate of its own and away from the current geographic Sudan will progress into separate, stable and prosperous communities. This impression encouraged some southern elites to look for self-determination to decide their own fate as distinct ethnic group of black Africans. Whether abstract or actual history of passionate opinions endorsing the power of the homogensous community has proven that it will not always have a happy ending. The homogeneity of the Somali population in terms of ethnicity, language and culture complimented with religious affiliation has not saved the community from disintegration and descent into total collapse and chaos. The same community turned viciously against each other in spirals of unprecedented violence. Beyond the emotions and the celebrations after the demise of Somali leader Siad Bari in the 1993, the battle for stability and prosperity has been lost. It is very important that we highlight the possible challenges and the inconsolable pains aptly to face southern Sudan beyond the passionate emotions for independence and try to stimulate policy makers for advanced rational thinking.
The struggle of the Southern Sudanese people for self-determination has been and still a lengthy process. The call for separation was not explicitly raised in the Juba Conference in 1947 by southerners who realized that they did not have the same rights as their counterparts in the north and was suspicious of the Arab/Muslim domination. Since the tribal leaders were illiterates and some of the attendees of the conference were not fully cognitive of international definitions of self-determination there was no explicit consensus on north/south future? Implying that they be allowed decision of their own fate was not interpreted as quest for self-determination. But it was nevertheless later expressed in the ‘Round Table Conference’ in 1965 when Agri Jadain declared choice for separation which was not unanimously shared by members of the Southern Front SF, SANU, and Santino Deng who was staunch advocate for unity. A number of different scenarios were proposed at various times ever since and the call for federation was rejected as it was thought to be synonymous with separation. Opinions that southerners are believed to be distinct unmixed black African groups and the north are mixed Arabs/Muslim community failed to generate widespread desires for self-determination and Sudan remained united since 1956. However there are impressions among separatists that once a southern state has been established millions of people driven by passions for independence will cross over in mass exodus to their relative ethnic homogeneity, religious and cultural safety. Such ideas remain inspirational and difficult to substantiate. While we fully endorse and support the will of the people of southern Sudan for self-determination it is highly important to remind that the road will not be rosy as the euphoria for independence may entail. Endorsing the theory of the unmixed population may lead to replication of subgroups within the north/south that look at its future as another internally distinct homogeneous population defined by clan, color or religious affiliation. There are people on both sides of the borders who will be left with bitterness and are likely to exploit cultural, religious and tribal sentiments to secede in enclaves of their own creating a vicious circle. Regional hostilities and greed may play fowl and support some of the groups whose existence extends across the borders. Such situations are to create perfect environments for violent regional confrontations with unforeseen implications. The objective of secession is not a creation of an abstract line across administrative maps. It is the creation of a new homeland for the seceding ethnic, social and religious communities. The final and formal drawing of boundaries means that what were considered temporary migrations of population to avoid marginalization and ethno-religious suppressions have turned into permanent settlements of breeds of new states contrary to Pan-African ideals.
Now let us discuss in details the challenges and the expectations of the post-referendum period.
Firstly let us consider the expectations in regards to the completion of the referendum and foresee any complications up to and after the election. The referenda are the final provisions of the CPA which is a hard-won right in which SPLM managed to contract peacefully and get more than what it would have probably got by the bullet. The South has so far entertained relative stability and peace that the citizens are starting to feel and taste its fruits. It is vital, therefore, for the SPLM to see the referenda concluded. And their conclusion must not be at all costs that may adversely question the final results. The objectives for the referenda are based on the implementations of their clauses freely and transparently leaving no chances to suspect the authenticities of their outcomes. The NCP which had been bailed out by the same provisions of CPA which replenished its political life and gave it international recognition is also not keen to be seen as discredited partner that dishonor agreements. The legitimacy of the results of the referenda is part and parcel of the precise implementation of the CPA. Secession will emphatically be contested if the SPLM is seen to abrogate its provisions and not the NCP. On the other hand unity will be contested if the NCP managed to abrogate the CPA.
The referendum is not an election. It is a one-time opportunity that must be treated carefully. And since its utmost objective is to conclude a credible, free from manipulation and transparent mechanism of choice then the parties must not fight on the process and allow themselves to quarrel over rigid timetables. It must be in the interest of SPLM not to influence the Referendum Commission (RC) to rush for an immature process that will certainly end up with highly controversial results appropriate for future tensions between the two nations. The US administration and the International Community must also not be seen to intervene and expedite the process through. Such influence will be considered as cause for exploitation by either party. The game of war of words that January the 9th is a red line may be seen as tactical maneuver to extract concessions by the contending partners. It is inadvisable for the south to adopt Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). Critics allege that such move would lead to civil war and breakdown of law and order. Many citizens will die in riots, massacres or from hardships on their ways to safety. If UDI has been declared prior to credible referundum process it will be up to the GOSS to maintain public order and to safeguard minorities on both sides of the borders.
Because the demarcation of the boundaries is not considered essential to the conduct of the referenda the RC has been spared a challenging task for the moment. It is left to arrange for logistics to oversee the other issues through. However, granting separation or independence before defining the borders is a recipe for disputes and future conflicts. The war between Eritrea and Ethiopia over unsettled border is painful example and reminder of leaving critical issues outstanding for later negotiations.
The contested area of Abyei is the most critical part of the referenda. Since the CPA has not defined strictly which community has the right to vote it is extremely hard to see how one side compromises first? If the Misseireyia majorities in Abyei are allowed to vote then Abyei will certainly go north. If the right to vote is granted to the Dinka Ngok alone then it is also certain that the area would join the South. The Misseireyia Arabs who spend eight months annually of their seasonal migration southwards in search of pasture for their livestock will feel like a homeless community. Regarding their history as collaborators with northern regimes that committed grave atrocities against southerners it is not expected that indefinite Arab presence will be welcomed to settle in the South. It is equally not to expect massive emigration of the Misseirya to the North where their livelihoods and survival are subject to great risks. Either choice made in this connection may lead to another north/south war.
To leave this issue to sort itself out is not possible. Whether the south voted for separation or unity the existence of the communities side by side is unquestionably everlasting. The Misseireya were exploited for too long to fight wars for the center which in the end have proved detrimental to their existence. Now it is time to think of new arrangement for the communities across the divide to live in harmony and symbiosis. The newly beneficial relationship must be constitutionally protected to internationally accepted standards taking into consideration possible future socioeconomic changes. In our opinion Confederation strengthens the ties for both communities to unite by purpose and direction. The NCP which controls the north has so far failed to come up with a constitution which is not divisive to the Sudanese nations. The south must not allow itself to replicate the same political failure lest it decant those failures into its newly formed state.
Secondly what are the possible reactions from the north, if the south votes for independence (including the possibility of the north denying the referendum or claiming it undemocratic etc.)? We have to look at these questions relative to three periods; immediate, medium term and long-term reactions. It is reasonable to define the terms arbitrarily. Immediate means events happening in the wake of declaring the results of the vote up to the fist week after. The medium-term period is the period from the end of the first week after declaring the result of the vote and extending up to the end of the interim period ending by 9th July 2011? The long-term is the period long after the end of the interim-period.
Now, the immediate responses are divided into two; the official reaction by both governments and the public responses on both sides of the borders. As for the latter we have to look at it in two dimensions, spontaneous and organised public reactions. Based on widespread public opinion among southerners separation is inevitable. Bashir publicly declared that peace is better than unity. Therefore the NCP has already indicated that it will abide by the will of the southern people. And it made official statements in case of vote for separation is to be the first to acknowledge and to honour it. As we have indicated above the SPLM must be very careful not abrogate the agreed methods of conducting the referenda fairly and transparently lest it derail its legitimacy. The NCP will have no interest in contesting the result and confronting the international community if the process went transparent and smoothly. A manipulated outcome of the referenda by either side will create atmospheres of mutual hostility and suspicions that would plague their future relations forever. Thus the immediate official response is unlikely to generate violence. It is already pacified.
The immediate spontaneous public response is dependent on the reaction of the southern/northern people against communities residing across the divide. Violence may erupt as reflex reaction instigated by northern/southern racial extremists or religious fanatics. Rumours, counter rumours and gossips can easily trigger uncontrollable and bloody response in the capital Khartoum or Juba and other major cities which will generate reflex reactions of wide spread revenge inciting a vicious circle and recipe for civil war. This impulsive situation is not the desire of both North/South and it is out of their hands. The security services across the borders must be vigilant to contain such scenario by putting into action well rehearsed plans. There are serious indicators. NCP is advocating for unity while SPLM is gearing southerners for secession. In the event of vote for separation the north may wrongly blame all southerners residing in the north for being separatists and hold them accountable. The drive for spontaneous violence may emanate from this perception. It is also expected that massive migration and population exchange between the two states the burdens of which will be more drastic in the south. GOSS is obliged to accommodate the displaced into areas with poor resources and infrastructure. It is an outcome that is not farfetched and a task at which it should not fail at.
It is very difficult now to precisely contemplate what the post-election implications would immediately bring relative to responses across the divide. If violence exploded the losers are certainly the ordinary Sudanese people trying hard to fend for their families and whom both governments are responsible for their welfare in the first place.
As far as the immediate organised public response, some official members of the NCP disgruntled with the whole CPA process may wish to intimidate SPLM and steer it into a bloody confrontation by provoking violence. It is hard to see any reason why SPLM will trigger or incite discord which may escalate and lead to unwanted all out war. While there are no evidences to suggest that SPLM started the call for separation it is nonetheless incessantly portrayed to endorse it. The Southern Assembly did not pass a draft or resolution demanding separation. Five years of the CPA lifespan passed without southern communities realizing that northerners have tried to adopt or laid on the table formal constitutional changes to embrace them as equal citizens let alone implemented any. The southern population have had enough and made their choice for possible secession. As a democratically elected ruling party SPLM has responsibility to respond to public concerns. It is hard to argue for a united Sudan and sell it to the people. The NCP has consistently proved insensitive to non-Arab/non-Muslim interests. Given the realities in the South now, it is almost impossible to imagine how a vote for separation could be lost. The democratically elected SPLM is obliged to respect and respond to the will of its people. And since public opinion has overwhelmingly shown that secession is the ultimate out come it is expected that SPLM should not force the population for different course of action. Legitimate and moral as it may be SPLM has found itself to side with secession. If the vote for separation is lost its political stance will be tarnished as separatists in the cloaks of unity. Again its organized response is to call for peace and avoid public unrest.
The medium-term reactions are related to economic dependency of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) on the north. To shift the blame of secession the NCP will do all it can to make it difficult for the south to thrive. During the current economic crisis facing the international community the GOSS will not be given massive financial support to enable it to provide for public services and function properly as viable state. Accordingly full cooperation and coordination with the north remains vital for its survival. Leaders in the North/South are bound to develop means to stimulate their economies, create jobs and extend prosperity and not rely on oil as sole means of revenue. But failing to generate economic success and guard achievements both sides of the border will open doors for internal conflicts and possible uprisings especially when wealth and power are not equitably distributed. Tribal favouritism and nepotism must not be allowed to dictate the course of the post-referendum period. Failure of GOSS to make substantial improvements to people’s lives will entice supporters of the united Sudan to argue in favour of the NCP. There are compelling needs for GOSS to press for tough economic measures in search of specific anti-spending methods to cut expenditure on military budget and on weapons it doesn’t need. Money saved can be spent on projects that promote small businesses, farm subsidies and educate local societies that has little stimulus for agriculture.
A viable and stable North is mandatory for the success and prosperity of the South. The same applies to the north that is in need for good neighbourly hood with the South. The North/South relationship should not be seen as dependent on the survival of the ruling political parties. Sudan will be by far better off if the NCP is to go. On the contrary it is difficult to see how the South would not descend into chaos or anarchy if the SPLM as the stabilising factor so far is to fall. It is pertinent that the Northern people to emphatically support the SPLM.
Only one result will satisfy the majority of the electorates. And it is when secession has actually made the living standards of the individuals in the South better off. By then independence would have been achieved. And that is dependent on real freedom of the citizens to make choices and not be strained by political and socioeconomic difficulties and destitution.
While it is good to foster special relationship with the neighbouring countries it is vital not to forget to cement relation with the Arab world. Southern leaders need to tender proposals that advance common interest in ways that compel unionists and supporters of NCP to pay high prices for opposing them. The Southern economy needs far more support, and Silva Kiir should take up courageous decisions to gear up economic growth. It is very hard to see how the GOSS will maintain states large-scale assistance and prevent jobs layoffs and tax increases? This approach would not be welcomed by the majority of the poor communities that are dependent on salaries which the government is not in position to fight against. It is also of great interest to address the lack of infrastructure as prime cause of the backwardness of the South and should appeal to the rich Arab world to create an ‘Infrastructure Bank’. There is no better time for the South to start such a project especially when Arab sentiments for miraculous future re-unity or friendly neighbourly hood are high. The Arabs will be tested to prove that their main concern is not about Arabs in the North but about the wellbeing of Southern Sudanese as well irrespective of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.
For the ordinary man and woman in the South politicians have to divulge their wealth or income prior to taking any public office. By so doing the electorate understands that money was not simply a campaign ploy to cling to power and become source for corruption. The parliament should make full-disclosure law and should be the first to implement it among its members.
The medium-term period will witness huge immigration from neighbouring countries into the south. New policies need to be in place to organise entry and allow highly skilled migrants whose expertise are needed but not at the expense of locals. It is imperative for the government to reform bureaucracies in the ways it hires people, purchases things and responds to citizens needs.
Thirdly the two nations need to explore their main conflicts of interests. The south is extremely keen for secession while the north is keener for unity. Beyond the passions are the hidden realities. The two nations are too integrated for one side to permanently go its own way! While southerners constitute different ethnic entity compared with the north, homogeneity in terms of ethnic, linguistic and cultural harmony within the north is lacking. There are over one and half million people of southern origin residing in the north. Far less northerners dwell in the south. There are nearly six million inhabitants along the two thousand kilometres borders whose livelihoods are dependent across the divide. It is here that border demarcation will prove extremely difficult no matter what agreements between the governments have been arrived at. Social integration and relations are deep-rooted that movement to either side can not be dictated by laws. The two nations will have to come to a mutual agreement of how to preserve and to promote the interests of all Sudanese. The arrangement will be easier to pursue after fulfilling the emotions and passions for the independence. The realities of post secession will be felt by the majorities residing near to the borders, university students and unskilled labourers. Those dwelling remotely deeply in the south or high up in the north might not be aware of its immediate impact.
In summary the medium-term responses to separation of the south are relative to survival of the GOSS to fend for the needs of the population during the interim period.
Fourthly how do we think negotiations concerning resources (oil) and borders will be, if Sudan is divided into the North and South and what is our opinion on how these and other issues should be resolved between the two parts?
It is sleep walking to leave the issues of oil resources for future negotiations. The NCP negotiators are masters of delaying tactics. Since both sides of the border are dependent on oil then its flow would not be hampered at all costs lest both partners go bankrupt. The size of revenue from the sale of oil constitutes almost all the income for the GOSS. The NCP is aware of this situation and has prepared in advance for the worse. The north is expected to be adversely affected but not as much as the south which is doomed to find itself in unenviable condition and compelled to compromise. The initiative has been hijacked by the NCP for the moment. The international community is not in position to force solutions on NCP to pump money for the south or carry the burden and provide massive economic support like the Marshal Plan. If the NCP is to withhold money for GOSS we expect to see massive humanitarian disaster with unimaginable outcome. Once again externally displaced people will migrate north as previously proven place of safety. SPLM is also aware of the challenge that will question its authority and preparedness.
Fifthly we have to accept that Sudan cannot be assumed today to be constitutionally attractive for unity. Insisting on the Sharia Laws the NCP has created two nations in one country. The south has already decided and would eventually form its own independent secular state. We spoke in details of the possible challenges that will face it. Most of the Southern leaders are secularists and resolutely oppose division of Sudan on the lines of religion. There is no data available to indicate that southerners believe that Non-Muslim/Africans and Muslim/Arabs are divided by antagonistic cultures and doctrines and would not live in amity. The NCP failed to implement constitutional changes attractive to southerners to stay in the union. It is however greatly integrated with the north that it will enter into confederated union.
If the referendum is successful and we hope it will, and a new state is born then the post-referendum era will underscore and mark the beginning of the next round and not the end of the game. The biggest challenges after celebrations satisfying the emotions and sentiments for independence depend on how astute both sides focus on tackling their socioeconomic pains. Rhetoric that promoted debates, rallied support and advanced goals for secession is doomed to stand up to the test by the realities on the ground and implications on the ordinary citizens in the streets. The future destabilising factor for both side remains the meticulous execution of the agreement process relative to the outstanding issues not settled out prior to the referendum. Of course these are: oil resources and water, citizenship, border demarcation and Abyei. These are the long-term issues that are beyond our scope for the moment.
The author is Dr. El-tahir Adam El-faki. He is JEM/Speaker of Legislative Assembly. He can be reached at email@example.com