For most people of Southern Sudan January 9th is awaited for with a mixture of excitement and fear. Excitement in the sense that a Yes win will be seen as a win for freedom for the people of Southern Sudan, apprehension in the likelihood of a third civil war should the South decide to secede.
For the rest of the world, all we hope for is peace and prosperity after the referendum.
But intrigues are what have been taking place since the signing of the agreement in Naivasha five years ago. Today, the SPLM/A are openly campaigning for separation, an act that the North says is against the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, which set the rules of engagement that extend even beyond the January 9th referendum. Just two weeks ago, Southern Sudan suspended the National inter-School Games that were to be held in the South, because the North, or rather the National Congress Party (NCP) which is the ruling party had for several days bombed the northern regions of Southern Sudan. These are just a few examples of negative schemes that are taking place from both sides.
But the issue of the referendum must be looked into critically, wholesomely, historically and with our eyes on the future.
Was the referendum the sole most important piece in the CPA agreement? After years of segregation and war, will cessation bring peace, justice, inclusivity, representation? And most importantly, will it bring food, housing, education, access to health care and general quality of life to the people who live in Southern Sudan?
Was the decision by IGAD and the donor countries to exclude other parties from the Sudan peace talks right? There are many interests in the Sudan, other than NCP and SPLM/A. Even the overally accepted, revolutionary and very strong leader, the late Dr. John Garang had some problems trying to contain some of the groups in the South itself(including the separatists within SPLM/A)
Some analysts claim that the war in Sudan is a Muslim vs Christian war, in fact, they will always mention the two regions as the Muslim North, and the Christian South. Others say that the problem is racial. The Arab North vs the Black South. And others just say that it is regional, the South vs the North.
But the facts are that most of the people in Southern Sudan follow Traditional religions and not Christianity as is claimed, and even those who follow these religions do not hold them so dearly that they can go to war over them. Most of the blacks in the North are Muslims.
On the racial issue, the South is almost entirely black, but the North is not as of the Arab/Semitic race as these analysts claim. Very many people in the North would be considered black by other Africans, even President Al Bashir would pass for an black person if he were to take a walk in the streets of Nairobi. It is said that in Khartoum, you will find many black people who say that they are Arab, just because somewhere in their lineage/culture there are traces of some Arabic origin. Even some of the people in the Janjaweed Militia are said to be as black as it can be, but in their minds they are not black, and because of that, they wouldn’t hesitate to participate in exterminating a whole black tribe when engaging in some racial aggression.
There have also been fears that over one million black Sudanese from the North have registered for the referendum in the South, with an intention of voting for Unity rather than separation, because they have invested quite a lot in the North, especially in Khartoum, and they fear being expelled from the North, should the Yes vote win.
As for those who say that the problem is a North-South issue, then regions in the east, and regions in the west, especially Darfur would put them in a tricky situation. Darfur cuts across from the North to the South, and stands at 493180 sqkms....(just a little less than the size of Kenya, 582650 sqkms)
During, and after the second civil war, most the civilians from the South ran for thousands of kilometers into refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and some even went into Egypt. But the majority could not make it to the camps and had to contend with the even harsher and more dangerous conditions in the IDP camps.
But there were others who took flight into foreign lands and have been leading normal (and at times better) lives. Whenever you speak of the Sudanese in Nairobi, most Kenyans will have the picture of the moneyed refugees.
In the North also, many of the so called Arabs live in extremely bad conditions, but unlike their Southern counterparts, they have a sense of “freedom,” and hence they do not complain as much as the Southerners have done.
The biggest problem in Sudan, like in most of Africa, is the presence those who exploit, and those who are exploited. The presence of those who oppress, and those who are oppressed…And some of the best conditions necessary for exploitation are found here in Africa. They include the colonial boundaries, the existence of numerous tribes, clear cut clans, regionalism, religion, among other identities.
In Sudan, the exploiters and the oppressors have continuously used regionalism, i.e. the North-South divide to advance their class agenda. In Darfur, they realized that regionalism was not enough to secure their agenda, so they brought in ethnicity, so as to counter Darfur, which is said to have a high concentration of valuable minerals and oil. It is good to note here that most people in Darfur are of the Muslim faith, and most of them communicate in Arabic.
If we now go back to the referendum issue, only two things are going to happen on January 9th, either the Yes vote (separation) will win, or the No vote (Unity) will take the day.
There are many questions that run in our minds, whichever way the elections go. Assuming that the yes vote take the day, will NCP accept the loss? Or will they follow the text book reaction where they will claim that there was massive rigging, claim victory (after giving out their parallel results), mobilize their Military and militias and instigate a war? Will the blacks in the North be expelled?
Assuming that the NCP accepts the outcome of the referendum, will it mean peace for the Sudan, or will it just open several other fronts in this expansive country? We should keep in mind that the talks that led to the CPA deal involved two parties only. The NCP and the SPLM/A. there are regions that are crying foul over this deal, and these are notably the regions of Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region. The people of Abyei also claim that they want autonomy; they do not want to choose between joining the South or the North.
We should also keep in mind that the west of Sudan, the Darfur region, with its SLM/A have had largely the same grievances as the South, so will we see escalation of war/interests in this region? And will they finally be asked to take the referendum route? Will the North and the South form some Condominia in the middle regions? What about the regions in the east? Does it mean further fragmentation in Africa is the only solution to the oppression issue?
What if the SPLM loses,
Will the leaders accept the loss? Or will the go to the classical methods that begin with claims of voter rigging and so on and so forth? Will they mobilize their army, this is keeping in mind that last year, Kenya helped them acquire some T-72 Battle tanks and probably many other weapons (also against the accord)
Will the oppressors continue with their oppressive ways? Will they assume victory to mean mandate to even exploit the South, East and West and oppressed Northerners even more? Will we see another India-Pakistan, Ethiopia-Eritrea or N.Korea-S.Korea scenario?
The international community has not put any checks with respect to openness, freeness and fairness in the forth coming referendum. This is just recipe for disaster, in that any loser will claim victory and justify themselves to cause trouble. This international community itself has numerous interests. There are many Kenyans, Ugandans, Somalis and Ethiopians who have invested in Juba and would love to see separation. Kenya for instance is bound to benefit largely by acting as a transit country for S. Sudanese Oil and exports, there are even jokes in the streets that S. Sudan will become one of the Kenyan Counties. The media is actively campaigning for separation, such that should the No vote win, it will come as a shocker to most Kenyans.
Unity is imperative if we are to see any meaningful development in Sudan. It will be sad if the Yes vote wins, and the South decides to cut ties with the North. It will be even sadder if the No wins and the Northern oppressors (rulers) continue with their oppressive ways in South. Whichever way the referendum goes, both sides must agree to work together with more love and trust than ever before.
But the biggest unity must come from the progressive people from both sides of the divide, so that they may consciously work together to remove the oppressors on both sides. It is only after the oppressor has been removed, and the rest of the people, the peasants, the small-scalers, and the workers take over the leadership of the state that we can see real development and truest democracy in the Sudan.
Should cessation happen peacefully, then the progressives will have even more work, so as prevent new wars in the South, since the most likely thing to happen is that the Southern oppressors and opportunists will create tribal tensions, and we might see more wars and more calls for cessations in the South, even before the January 9th dust settles down.
In the meantime, the African Union must ensure that there is peace in Sudan by whatever means. The AU must ensure that there is peace in Darfur at whatever cost. Common Darfur Africans must feel the presence of their AU brothers. They should not be living in IDP camps and in Chadian territories while all that the AU does is observe the situation. If President Al Bashir and his Janjaweed cannot understand that there must be peace in Darfur, then the other African countries must make him understand. In 1998, we saw how troops from Zimbabwe, Angola and other South African countries helped prevent the worsening of the situation in the DR Congo. It was their military intervention that shoved the Rwandese and the Ugandan forces and puppets away. It was the brotherly intervention from Cuba (largely considered as the 54th…soon to be 55th after 9th) that helped stop the war in Angola and subsequently end the apartheid regimes in Southern Africa. It was in Tanzania, under the visionary leadership of Julius Nyerere that other freedoms fighters organised themselves so as to liberate their countries. What Sudan needs is not seperation, no. Sudan needs Liberation. It must be clear to Al Bashir, and any other African office holders, that the African people will defend their land, and will not hesitate to offer African Solutions to “African problems.”
In as much as the conditions in Sudan may be different, Separation is not the way forward in Africa, it doesn’t solve anything, especially given that differences in Africa, just as in the rest of the world, can arise from anything. Should this separation idea take root, and then we could easily have north and south Ghana, resource-wise divided Nigeria, black and white South Africa, Muslim and Christian Egypt, Tribally divided Kenya, clan A and clan B Somalia, Outtara and Gbabo Ivory Coast etc. The whole of Africa should be moving towards African Unity, and not African separation.
The American government should also keep off the lead role in the issues of Sudan. This is because history has shown that the US governments only propagate their selfish interest in issues like this. The US government should know that their direct involvement might lead to the unwanted of African support to Al Bashir, since everyone will mobilize under the Anti-Imperialism banner, which Al Bashir will not hesitate to take advantage of (this is irrespective to the any good intentions-if any- that America might have) and hence further jeopardize the lives of innocent people.
31st January 2010,