By Jacob K. Lupai*
May 9, 2007 — New Sudan was a concept born out of a critical analysis of its opposite, the Old Sudan. The New Sudan concept became a vision with the honest desire to transform the Old Sudan into a secular nation of prosperity where race and religion will have no bearing on one’s citizenship. Arab racism, Islamic bigotry and discriminatory practices are the most divisive issues in the Sudan because they are the major factors in the marginalisation of the majority non-Arab Sudanese in the peripheries. Unfortunately the New Sudan vision was only and is championed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
In its manifesto of 31st July 1983 the SPLM pointed out that the so-called problem of Southern Sudan is really a general problem in the Sudan and it is generally a problem of backward areas in the whole country that is particularised and exacerbated in the South by successive oppressive minority clique regimes in Khartoum. This was the genesis of the New Sudan vision. The SPLM under its charismatic leader Dr John Garang de Mabior came to the conclusion that there was no viable alternative except to pursue the vision of a New Sudan through any means possible until it was realised based on the realities of the Sudan. The SPLM expressed its confidence that, “the various ethnic and religious groups in the Sudan can use the historic and contemporary diversity of the Sudan to forge and evolve a correct Sudanese identity and entity, which the SPLM has called the New Sudan, or otherwise, the Sudan would break up into at least two independent states”. The SPLM considers the Old Sudan a nation of racism, tribalism and religious intolerance as represented by the National Islamic Front (NIF) now split into two and renamed the National Congress Party (NCP) which is the ruling party and the People’s Congress Party (PCP) respectively led by ardent Islamcists and fanatical followers who may also be hypocrites.
In a meeting in Yei in Southern Sudan the SPLM reiterated its commitment to the vision of the New Sudan to transform Sudan into a free, just democratic and decentralised system of government based on the free will and popular participation of its entire people. In an interview the SPLM Secretary General said the New Sudan vision is the only political programme that can create a country enabling all Sudanese to feel the sense of belonging, and to create space for all the Sudanese. The Secretary General said the SPLM vision of New Sudan is the only way forward to maintain unity of the country. Of course this is easier said than done. Although it may not be impossible to realise the New Sudan vision it is going to be very difficult unless the Islamicists grip on power is weakened. How to do that is an open question.
The government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and the SPLM are bitterly complaining against the NCP for its deliberate attempt to torpedo the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and the South. The CPA covers a referendum for the South in 2011 to test the opinions of southerners either for unity or independence. It is most likely that unity may be identified with the Old Sudan that has caused so much suffering and deep wounds that independence may be the preferred option. However, fears have been expressed that a vote for independence may cause untold sufferings again, perhaps the fear of the unknown. The alternative it is said is the pursuance of the New Sudan vision. How far this is realistic in a religiously fanatic and racially biased society is again an open question.
All that being said the New Sudan vision is a dream within reach but only if the marginalised are not themselves embroiled in factionalism and sectarianism. However, it should be obvious that the New Sudan vision cannot be imposed on reluctant people by the barrel of the gun as the vision of an Arab Islamic state in the Sudan couldn’t be imposed on reluctant people. For the New Sudan vision one would have expected it to be embraced with open arms as perfect conditions for a paradise on earth would have been realised. Nonetheless what may appear a paradise to the visionaries may be a hell to others. The racists and Islamic bigots would find the New Sudan vision a hell on earth as they would have been deprived of their imagined first class citizenship and religious purity. This may explain why the Sudan has been at war with itself for the last half century. The racists and Islamic bigots, and the secularists have different visions for the Sudan which unfortunately have been always on a collusion course. Naturally racism and religious bigotry are not conducive pillars of a nation such as the Sudan with its multiplicity of ethnic and religious diversities. The Sudanese are aware of this but seem to be paralysed to do anything concrete to resolve the Sudanese identify crisis. What is now known of Sudan is that it is a country not at peace with itself and let’s hope this does not progress to make the Sudan the sick man of Africa. Somalia is already a failed state. One wonders whether our beloved Sudan will be the next.
The marginalised of the Sudan are the majority. Unfortunately although the marginalised enjoy a numerical superiority they are nowhere organised to cause a threat to the entrenched minority racist clique. In fact the marginalised majority appear to be the minority because some are used to destabilise their own. The marginalised find themselves hopelessly fragmented that the wise saying of the old “unity is strength” does not seem to be part of the marginalised strategy to confront racism and religious bigotry. For example in Southern Sudan although the wounds of marginalisation were deeper southerners were fragmented with others supporting the very government that was marginalising their fellow southerners.
The SPLM after articulating the New Sudan vision took it seriously and its military wing the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) went into full combat gear to realise the vision. Unfortunately the forces of darkness long hand engineered a split in the ranks of the SPLM/A. The split was obviously the work motivated by greed for power. After having miserably failed to accomplish their mission the conspirators ended up with the very racist government they had fled from to join the SPLM/A in the first place. The SPLM/A under its able leader persevered in the face of mounting odds but when the struggle was about to bear fruit the same conspirators hurriedly raced back probably with no regrets and are now in leadership positions in government representing the SPLM . This only goes to illustrate that the marginalised are at times a curse unto themselves. There is no guarantee that such characters will not race back to the racists at any opportune time for favours.
The arm of darkness did not stop in the South. In western Sudan in Darfur for example the marginalised are not any different from their brothers from the South. The government long hand encourages tension in the area by arming militias of the different ethnic groups to cause havoc on the other. Instead of unity to face the common adversary the ethnic groups in Darfur are locked in internal tensions against each other. In eastern Sudan the Beja who have been marginalised by the successive regimes in Khartoum rose up in arms to assert their legitimate right as equal citizens of the Sudan. However, in-fighting never spared the Beja. The Beja have suffered internal tensions, like most liberation movements in the Sudan, between radical leaderships supported by traditional groups interested in dominating eastern Sudan. The struggle of the Beja has been to rid themselves of marginalisation, poverty, ignorance and backwardness. The Beja claim they are struggling for a federal arrangement for the region in eastern Sudan where the people can govern themselves. They have complained of being marginalised and that their region has been left to poverty and neglect. People in Darfur in the west have similarly complained of marginalisation and neglect of their region. A similar complaint was echoed in the south.
The New Sudan vision as a dream within reach is not far fetched. It is based on the popular discontent of the majority of the population of the Sudan with the system of governance that is utterly discriminatory. The unity of the marginalised in the south, east and west could instantaneously make the New Sudan vision a reality not a dream. The main issue is how to bring the east and the west to share the New Sudan vision articulated by the south. The east and the west complained bitterly that they were marginalised as the south. However, they seemed to have become jealous of the south getting all the attention in Kenya during the tortuous negotiations that produced the CPA. In fact the Beja campaigned unsuccessively to take part in negotiations in Kenya between the government of Sudan and the SPLM, which were expected to lead to a peace agreement.
Like the people of Darfur the Beja also suffered when the NCP aggressively promoted its version of Islam in the region by launching army attacks on Beja mosques and religious schools. It can be seen that religion may have little to do with the marginalisation of the south but it is actually Arab racism to dehumanise the non-Arab majority of the Sudan. Understanding this as the case the New Sudan vision becomes imperative to realise. The racists in the Sudan played the religious card to marginalise the people of the south. However, they were caught with their pants down when their racism was exposed in broad day light as they desecrated mosques and religious schools of non-Arab who are supposed to be fellow Muslims in the east and the west. Truly the SPLM New Sudan vision of a non-racist and non-theocratic Sudan may guarantee stability, peace and unity. There is no short cut as the racists would like to deceive people by exploiting religious sentiments which are nothing but a camouflaged racism against the majority non-Arab population of the Sudan.
To be fair not all Sudanese Arabs are racists for the SPLM wouldn’t have them in its ranks. The racists are a minority but the reason they are so powerful is probably because they have usurped power through the manipulation of religious sentiments that they are acting in the name of Islam and God. Nonetheless the east and the west have known that their marginalisation and neglect have nothing to do with Islam but racism or “Awlad al Bailed” boastful manner as their mosques and Islamic schools have been desecrated. With this knowledge the marginalised should be able to mobilise to make the New Sudan vision a dream within reach.
The New Sudan vision can be realised when the east and the west stop being ethno-centric. They should take the example of the south in articulating the New Sudan vision. The east and west seem to concentrate too much on their marginalisation and very little on the New Sudan vision. The south was accused for concentrating on itself. Now the New Sudan vision is for the whole country. It shouldn’t only be the south to be fighting for the vision. One way forward is for the east, west and the south to come together in a historic move to share the New Sudan vision. This can be done through a conference. This may offer a hope for the Sudan to stay united. The coming together of the marginalised regions may accelerate the pace of the demise of the racists. With the strength of the SPLA, SLA and the Beja Congress the NCP will have its days numbered. For now the NCP, filled with religious fervour thinks it is invincible.
The Sudan does not have a secular army like the one in Turkey. It is the SPLA that seems to be a secular army. It does not subscribe to any religion but will protect any human rights abuse regardless of religion. The SPLA since its inception has been fighting for a vision that most prophets will approve. There is no prophet that sanctions the murder of innocent women, children and helpless old people. The destruction in the south, east and west in the name of a religion only shows the bankruptcy of using religion to subjugate others. To stop the marginalisation of any Sudanese there is a strong need for the SPLM, SLM and the Beja Congress to come together to elaborate on the New Sudan vision if the unity of Sudan is to be sustained. The NCP as a religious party tainted with racism is incapable of maintaining the unity of Sudan through the free will of the people except by the use of arms which has, however, proved unachievable.
There has been a fear expressed about independence to Southern Sudan because of the Abyei issue. First of all nobody other than the people of Abyei chose to be annexed to the north. Secondly the people of Abyei have always campaigned, led by their prominent son Dr Francis Deng, for the unity of Sudan with Abyei as the bridge between the south and the north. However, it is difficult to tell what influence Abyei as a bridge had when the north unleashed its fire power on the south. Nobody of course will doubt the tremendous contribution of the people of Abyei to the liberation struggle for the emancipation of the marginalised people of the Sudan. The question, however, is should Southern Sudan be held hostage by the Abyei issue? Shouldn’t southerners vote in the referendum even if the Abyei issue was not yet settled? These may be legitimate questions that need honest answers. Naturally the SPLM which negotiated the CPA may have the answers. Eventually the SPLM will have to make a decision as to what level the CPA has been implemented as acceptable for southerners to go for the referendum. The SPLM which has the best interest of the south will surely not let it down.
The body language between the President of the Republic of Sudan and the President of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) may speak volumes. A non-verbal communication expert may detect that the two presidents’ body language at times seems to show that all is not fine. Let’s hope that nothing serious flares up prematurely. The fear expressed may have a grain of truth to reckon with. However, nothing may happen because the other may try to play a waiting game for the other side to take the initiative to provoke a situation for an advantage to be taken of. This in a way may mean that nothing drastic will take place in the meantime. People may therefore get on with their lives without unnecessary fears.
For independence to Southern Sudan it seems it is inevitable. Southerners have suffered as much as the Eritreans or the East Timorese in their struggle for democracy, equality and justice that it is difficult to see how southerners will vote any different from the Eritreans or the East Timorese. The NCP has already failed miserably to make unity attractive. What is there left for unity to be attractive. What the NCP may be capable of is to torpedo the CPA. However, our trust is with the SPLM/A to uphold the CPA. The SPLM Secretary General’s statement that the SPLM was the only political force that could achieve independence to Southern Sudan was reassuring. Also, the fact that the USA was giving $30 million to upgrade the SPLA into a professional and defensive army suggested the south wouldn’t be left at the mercy of the NCP in the event of an all out war. The SPLA will be capable to defend itself and the people of the south.
It is unlikely that Abyei will be the Sudanese equivalent of Khasmir. The people of Abyei may be happier to live in the north than be part of the south. However, they have the right as stipulated in the CPA to exercise their democratic right to decide through the ballot box whether to remain in the north or join their brethren in the south. Obviously the SPLM has responsibility for Abyei. The people of Abyei have always been welcome in the south among their brethren. The south is also a home to them. During the Addis Ababa era the people of Abyei worked in then Southern Region administration some with ministerial portfolios. It is hoped that the issue of Abyei will be resolved peacefully.
If Sudanese are very serious about the unity of Sudan they may need to vote overwhelmingly for the SPLM to implement the New Sudan vision that will guarantee the unity of Sudan in diversity. If this does not happen in the expected elections in 2008 then the south may be heading for independence. By now people should have been aware of which factors are contributing to disunity in the Sudan. The factors are Arab racism, Islamic bigotry and discriminatory practices. In the final analysis the Sudan may need a secular army like the one in Turkey that is the guarantor of unity in diversity. However, time seems not to be on the side of unity. The NCP may have difficult decisions to make.
* The writer is a researcher on household food security with focus on smallholder agriculture. He can be reached at email@example.com