South Sudan Successful Self-Determination Vote is the Gateway to an Enduring and Stable United Sudan
People turn to benevolent rule as water flows downwards, and as beasts flee to wilderness.- Meng Tzu (372-289 BC)
The recent statement by South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit has concentrated the minds of all stakeholders, be they Sudanese, Sudan neigbhours, or friends of Sudan.
Mayardit in a recent church address in Juba told the congregation that:
“If South Sudanese want to remain as second class citizens, let them vote for unity in the referendum in 2011. And if they want to be free, they should vote for separation.”
In other words, as things stand, unity vote is to lock Southerners into servitude of the oppressive Sudanese state. Secession vote, on the other hand, will be the golden passport out of bondage. Nothing could be clearer. But is it all that straightforward black or white choice? Will we, the South Sudanese, really have the opportunity to express ourselves freely in the long awaited referendum, scheduled to take place in 15-month time? Or are we really chasing after the mirage, trying to get to an oasis through a blazing desert that we see in the horizon but never reach? Or gazing at the clouds in the sky that promise plenty of rain, but never in the end deliver a single drop? Or are we trying to catch a wall that is constantly moving away from us every time we approach closer? Which choice is the best amongst the two options on the card? What are the guarantees that our vote will be respected by the forces that have held us captives since the days immemorial? These are a few questions that stream to our minds.
What then, do we make of Mayardit statement?
Whole radio talk shows were devoted to debating the statement and gauging the reaction of the Sudanese citizens to Kiir’s statement across all political spectra. It has been the hot topic that engaged the Sudanese (and some international) press over the last few weeks. And by accidence or coincidence, a high profile symposium was organised shortly after the statement by Future Trends Foundation (an independent, albeit NCP funded, think-tank) in collaboration with UNIMISS, debated questions that must urgently be addressed regarding post-referendum Sudan – should it emerge as one united country, or as two sovereign states.
In addition to the most informed and constructive exchanges that took place between the participants of Future Trends Foundation/UNIMISS symposium, all sorts of explanations have been put forward in the press to analyse or try to come to terms with Mayardit’s statement. These range from condemnatory, to sympathetic, and through to bizarre if outright derogatory. Some said Kiir has only stated what Sudan constitution upholds. Others accused him of exposing his separatist credentials. Prof. Abdullah Ali Ibrahim in his column Nevertheless in the Citizen newspaper (November 5, 2009 Issue) likened Salva Kiir’s picking up of the reign after the untimely demise of chairman John Garan to Khallifa Abdullahi inheriting the power from Imam Mohamed Ahmed Almahadi: “Both of them replaced a leader that possessed a revolutionary charisma [who died too early] before managing to lay one brick to the state’s mansion.”
And as for the Sudani newspaper’s columnist, Al Haj Warag, during an exchange with this author last Wednesday (November, 11, 2009) at a discussion forum organised by another Khartoum-based think-tank, the idea that South Sudanese will even be allowed by the all-powerful NCP party to freely vote in a referendum is nothing short of simple-mindedness, naivety, and illusion. Mr. Warag, (believing that he was not speaking cheek-in tongue), and as a democrat did maintain that he had no problem with South Sudanese exercising the right to self-determination, but that he found it extremely hard to comprehend that South Sudanese, or the SPLM for that matter, should put their faith in the CPA, knowing that one of the two signatories to CPA is NCP: the masters of deception, and containment. For Warag, CPA is dead and buried, and that the ‘alleged peace” is non-existent.
That said, civility dictates to us to respect other people’s opinion. For what is truth, after all? It is neither here with us nor there with the other side, but somewhere in between and we must strive to catch it.
The bridge we the Sudanese must cross, or rather the bitter cup we must drink
It could be that SPLM (and South Sudanese behind it) were naïve when they agreed to put their destiny in the CPA, wherever that might lead. It takes an enormous courage and unshakeable belief in humanity itself to pin one’s hope on an agreement signed with such an illusive party as the NCP. Most of us would agree that CPA is not a comprehensive peace agreement as its name may suggests, but it is a great step forward in the direction of addressing the chronic political issues that have dodged Sudan since independence.
More than four years into the agreement, it is abundantly clear to all that old habits of the ruling clique will die hard, that age-old mistrust that exists between the parties to the agreement could not be eliminated over night, that it is not surprising for huge economic, social, and cultural differences between the “North” and the South to remain unclosed. That puts us in dilemma: should referendum be pushed back to give more time to build trust, close economic gap, achieve a real democratic transformation, and eventually sweeten up the unity option to the extent of guaranteeing a yes vote in the referendum? For this author, that would be tantamount to renegotiating the CPA, and a step into treacherous path fraught with incalculable risks. The way forward would be to honour the CPA referendum protocol in its entirety, despite the predictable outcome. Namely, more than 90 percent of South Sudanese will vote in favour of self determination. Yet paradoxically still, only after the South peacefully secedes will we have the hope to renegotiate a Sudanese union on new basis. We must let the sheep out of the fence, then persuade them later to re-enter the stable after having tasted the freedom of wandering the pastures alone with no one but good own self to guide through the treacherous valleys, try the beauties as well as the pains of self-reliance, miss the advantages of a shared-house where all have something different and unique to offer, no matter how small or how annoying the room mates may be - or look like. In other words, Southern session is a necessary prelude to voluntary reunion.
I am sure it must look presumptuous of me to put forward what may at first glance appear as lopsided proposition. But for once, all South Sudanese know that this is the only opportunity for them to exercise this right. Missing this opportunity through careless voting or allowing its exercise to be killed through endless procrastinations will be viewed by great majority of South Sudanese as a historical error that will be regretted down the generations. Equally true, any opposition to this right will leave the South with no option but to violently secede, with dire consequences for the whole Sudan.
Back to this proposition, once South is secure in self-determination, which in many ways will satisfy a deep-rooted psychological longing and restore a sense of dignity long lost, it will be possible for all to revisit the possibility of entering into economic union similar to EEC’s with the North or reach confederal arrangements with the rest of the country with a view to eventually reintegrate back in a phased out fashion. This argument applies also to Abyei, Nuba Mountains, and South Blue Nile. It also applies to Darfur to a varying degree.
The eventual fall of Abyei’s Walls [Our Berlin Walls]
Many ideas have been proposed by participants of FTF/UNIMISS symposium for making unity attractive and for creating an environment conducive to good neighbourliness between the two or more states that may emerge in post referendum Sudan. By implementing some of the ideas, such as those argued in Dr. Luka Biong Deng’s paper, the GOSS presidential affairs minister, for example; the Sudanese will not only succeed to create an atmosphere of friendly neigbhourlines in the likely secession of the South, but could also be the basis for building solid foundations on which the two entities could be propelled back into the path of a stable, voluntary, and more enduring union.
And in not too-distant future, the long awaited dream of New Sudan will come to be realized. In the words of a Sahafa newspaper columnist: “Abyei Walls will eventually tumble, as people pour across the divide to embrace each other and move freely across the artificial borders without hindrance or impediment from anyone.”
By the exercise of good leadership by the actors, and by the collective far-sightedness of all the Sudanese people, this vision will come to last. It will not happen by itself, it must be made to happen.