By ABDULKHALIG ALHASSAN
Despite the fears, voting in the referendum in Sudan went smoothly and, as expected, has led to the establishment of a new state in South Sudan. The overwhelming vote for separation (99%) was strong evidence that colonial Sudan was a burden rather than a home. Amazingly, even the majority of those South Sudanese who live in the North, and who had decided not to leave it, voted for separation – this despite threats from the government that they would be treated as foreigners. Although the referendum was conducted in a civilised and peaceful manner, the threats and challenges remain. The road to a peaceful future and sustainable development for both countries will be a rocky one. There are enormous challenges ahead for both countries. In the North, the situation is very gloomy and the break-up is going to haunt the country for a long time. The blame-game between the regime and opposition parties as to who is responsible for the separation vote is already taking place. The regime shows no sign of having learnt lessons from the result. It is like the House of Bourbon; it has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Turning a blind eye to reality is a norm for this regime.
The latest speech by the president Omer Albasheir is proof of his arrogance and one eyed mentality. Using very strong language, the president insisted that the separation of the South would be a turning point. Sudan would not compromise on the implementation of Sharia Law (Islamic law) anymore. There would be no more talk of ethnic diversity – Sudan would now be more monocultural than ever before. This irresponsible talk comes at a time when there are ongoing consultations in the Blue Nile region and Nuba mountains with people who are ethnically and culturally different from Northerners and who have the right to vote for self determination for their own territories. This rash and counterproductive attitude of the regime has put the North on the brink of disaster. Their attitude of ‘my way or the highway’ has kept pushing the rest of the Sudanese ethnic groups who live in the North, and don’t share the regime’s ideology, to look for security in tribal and ethnic identities rather than citizenship, and has provoked tensions in many parts of the country, as we have seen in Darfur and east of Sudan. This catastrophic situation has brought the worst outcome possible; the total break-up of Sudan. The determination of the regime to adopt a policy of ‘one ideology fits all’ has left no room for hope and has made confrontation a real threat. A mass uprising or civil strike to bring down the regime is possible, and may well be the best outcome.
In the South, despite the mood of celebration, the fact is that the new government has inherited an impoverished country that needs to be built from scratch. As has been reported by many international organisations, the country lacks qualified people to run the bureaucracy and other state institutions. Half-century of war has left the country in tatters. For ages, the people of the South experienced nothing but ethnic and racial strife, illiteracy, instability and Northern rule has meant that people have clung to their tribal and clan identity rather than to a national identity.
Regardless of the potential for strife and serious development and national problems, the secession itself could provide the momentum needed to overcome the current and foreseeable obstacles. This can only happen if the new government avoids the North-South policies of the regime in the North, policies that demolished the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 which gave the South a right to create its own government within a united Sudan. What was seen then as a big achievement for Southerners turned out to be a nightmare for those in the South who were not from the dominant Dinka tribes. They were treated by the ‘Dinka-state’ as second-class citizens. This legacy of prejudice and injustice will put pressure on the new government, which needs to assure minorities that the South is going to be for all Southerners, whatever their racial, tribal and ethnic backgrounds. To my knowledge, many of those who had been party to the 1972 agreement are involved in establishing the new government in the South. They should be aware of how the failures of the 1972 agreement came about and they should grasp the opportunity to avoid those failures now. The future of South Sudan depends on it.
The new government must “realise the ideals of good governance, constructive management of diversity on the basis of full equality for all ethnic groups, promotion of inclusive constitutional democracy, respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms”. So wrote Dr Frances Mading Deng recently, a prominent former Southern politician to the president of the government of South Sudan. It must pursue “a fair distribution of resources, public services and employment opportunities”. He wrote that it must provide accountable financial management and the consolidation of peace through equitable socio-economic development.
These are challenging times for all the people of Sudan. With goodwill, good management and the support of the international community, the people of Sudan may finally experience peace, democracy and economic development.
Postscript: Abdulkhalig Alhassan, Sudanese writer and translator. Abdulkhalig recently completed the journalism training program for Sudanese Australians run by the Centre for Advanced Journalism at The University of Melbourne.