The roots of the splitting up of Sudan go deep, says Ismail Kushkush
19 - 25 January 2012
One year has passed since South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for separation
and independence from north Sudan. Ever since, Sudanese elites (northerners
that is) have exchanged blame for "losing the south".
Many in the opposition point fingers to the ruling National Congress Party
(NCP) and its policies and what they believe were the shortcomings of the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the civil war in 2005 and
gave South Sudanese the right of self-determination. NCP supporters on the
other hand, blame regional and international forces that have long sought to
"weaken" and "divide" Sudan and an opposition they argue places its
interests above collective national ones. But marginalised it seems are
recognition of the long historical process that led to South Sudanese's
decisive vote and the heavy and tough questions to be asked as a result.
The modern nation-state of Sudan, like many African and Arab states, was a
creation of a foreign colonial endeavour. Egypt's nineteenth century
Albanian ruler, Mohamed Ali Pasha, sought to create an empire that rivaled
European ones, secure the sources of the Nile River and find sources of gold
and slave soldiers. He and his descendants did so by conquering the lands
and kingdoms along the southern parts of the Nile Valley. The new entity
that came into being was collectively named "The Egyptian Sudan". Later, the
British along with the Egyptians, followed by Sudanese national governments,
were to inherit and rule "Sudan".
Since its inception, the governance of the vast territory of modern Sudan
was a challenge, often marred by mismanagement and exploitation. In the
nineteenth century, during Turkish-Egyptian rule, and the brief period of
independence following the Mahdi's revolt, South Sudan became a major source
of slaves, mostly for domestic and military purposes. While the majority of
northern Sudanese also suffered from the polices of Turkish rule, the
involvement of northern merchants, with others, in the slave-trade, left a
scar in the psyche of Southern Sudanese and a deep sense of mistrust to what
came from the north.
South Sudan's separation and independence therefore brings forward a serious
question: are African colonial borders to continue to be unchallenged, as
the fathers of African independence once advised? One thing at least is for
sure: Sudanese and African political elites cannot take their citizens'
sense of "nationhood" for granted.
The British colonial administration that followed was to initiate a
"Southern Policy" that administered north and south Sudan separately. The
policy barred northern Sudanese from entering the south and vice versa, to
"protect" and "develop" South Sudan's distinctiveness, but also to prevent
modern nationalism from creeping from the north. The policy would further
contribute to the alienation between north and south.
Just before independence in 1956, negotiations on the future of the south
between British colonial administrators and Sudanese nationalists did not
consider Southern Sudanese political views seriously that ranged from the
establishment of a federation with the north, to secession. This led to the
first civil war of 1955-1973. While the decades that followed independence
were to witness a brief period of peace between 1973-1983 in which self-rule
was granted to the south, the eventual abandonment of the 1973 peace
agreement ignited the second civil war in 1983, leading many Southern
Sudanese to believe that agreements with the north were always broken.
Unequal development between the capital Khartoum and the peripheral
provinces, which intersected with ethnic divisions, along with the decades
long debate over the nature of the Sudanese constitution and the role of
Islam in the state, further polarised sides. The civil war reached its
zenith in the 1990s when "ideology" became part of the political rhetoric of
the government and rebels; the Islamist led government of Sudan with its
"Civilisational Project" and the southern-led and Marxist-inspired Sudanese
People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its project of a "New Sudan".
Simultaneously, Sudan's internal contradictions were intensified when they
became part of larger global and regional conflicts including the Cold War,
the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the War on Terror. International and regional
interests, the rise of NGOs and grassroots movements as significant actors
in international affairs and the advancements in communication and media
technologies made sure that knowledge of what happened in Sudan did not stay
South Sudan's separation was also a product of widespread negative inherited
social attitudes marred by tribalism, racism, arrogant parentalism and a
seeming ambivalence to the civil war's large human costs; social attitudes
and ills that mostly stem from the legacy of slavery which were not
But above all, South Sudan's independence was the political choice of
Southern Sudanese. Many analysts argue that separation and independence from
the north was always the preferred choice of the majority of South Sudanese
despite the pro-unity vision of the South Sudanese leader John Garang whose
untimely death shortly after the signing of the CPA may have very well been
the practical nail in the coffin of Sudanese unity.
South Sudan has become independent, but many of the same reasons that led to
its separation remain a part of and a challenge to Sudan's stability. Was
the lesson learned? With unrest in other parts of Sudan such as Blue Nile
state, South Kordofan and Darfur, perhaps Sudanese elites in government,
opposition and civil society could all take a good look in their mirrors and
show greater efforts reflecting on and tackling "what" led to South Sudan's
separation rather than debating "who" was responsible.
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Received on Mon Jan 23 2012 - 18:01:22 EST