By Zechariah Manyok Biar
April 15, 2010 — The elections taking place in Sudan today and the upcoming referendum are exposing the real interest of some members in the international community in Sudan. Some people in the international community are trying to brand South Sudan as a failed state to scare South Sudanese away from voting for secession in 2011. There are disturbing articles that are published these days by great newspapers like New York Times that appear to play nothing more than planting fear in the people of South Sudan.
Alex Perry, in his article published by the New York Times on April 12, 2010, quoted David Gressly, the U.N.’s regional coordinator for southern Sudan; former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center promotes health and democracy in Sudan; and Major General Scott Gration, U.S. special envoy to Sudan as doubting the standing-alone of South Sudan if its people chose to secede from the North in 2011. Mr. Perry says in his article that many aid workers and development experts in Juba have now coined the term “pre-failed state” to refer to a potential state of South Sudan. Can South Sudanese agree with these views?
One cannot rule out the difficulties that South Sudanese will face when they voted for independence in 2011. There might be violence or even economic collapse. However, nobody in South Sudan will regret his or her choice for secession as some people in the international community would like South Sudanese to believe.
What standard of functional state in Sudan is the international community using to call South Sudan a potential failed state? Had there been a functional government in South Sudan under both the British and the Arab rules in Sudan? If functional economy and stability are among the criteria used to judge a functioning state or a failed state, then when did South Sudan have the functioning economy and the stability since the independence of Sudan in 1956?
I lost six siblings from late 1950s to early 1970s in their young ages to malaria that would have been treated if there were clinics in the area. I am the first to graduate with the college degree in my family since the creation of the world. I am now thirty-five years old and I have never voted in any election. Some people who are voting at the age of 90 today in South Sudan are voting for the first and the last time in their lives, but the voting process is still not free and fair. Many people in South Sudan tasted sugar for the first time in the history of their families in the 1980s from the rations provided by the United Nations.
Do we have any criterion of a functional state in the above examples to compare the potential South Sudan nation with? If staying under Khartoum rule is what makes South Sudan functional, then why did we face all the above conditions and more under the Khartoum rule from 1956 to the time we rebelled against the government in 1983? What evidence shows that Southerners cannot rule themselves?
The fact that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/A (SPLM/A) managed to control Southerners during the war would have been a good indicator on how South Sudanese can rule themselves. SPLM/A was undoubtedly one of the most organized rebel groups over the last two decades. SPLM/A even had better human rights records, compared to the government in Khartoum. SPLM/A was able to educate its soldiers during the liberation war not to kill the prisoners of war (POWs). After the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, SPLM/A set free thousands of the POWs of Sudanese army. Those freed POWs are still alive today. How many POWs from SPLA did the government in Khartoum release? None.
So, who between SPLM and the National Congress Party (NCP) can lead a functional state? If SPLM/A could control the people under its command during the war without paying them any salary, then why would one think that South Sudan under SPLM or any other Southern party would be a failed state after 2011 when it will be paying at least some kind of salary to its workers?
The international community does not seem to care about the freedom of choice of South Sudanese. Some groups in the media are hunting these days for people who are willing to say whatever the media would like them to say in order to give the impression that Southerners love to live in the united Sudan, even when opinion polls of Southerners indicate otherwise both internationally and locally.
The Voice of America (VOA), the Radio that I admire, published on April 12, 2010 an article that has so many errors that the well-known Radio like the VOA would have first crosschecked before publishing the article. The interviewee Mac Deng made false claims during the interview with the VOA for the reason known to him only.
First, Deng said, “I was driven out by war but the cause of war was not a meaningful thing that can divide us from being one people.” Is such a statement worth publishing? If the cause of war was not a meaningful thing that could divide Sudan, then why in the world was the section about the referendum put into the CPA with the sweat of negotiations?
Second, Mac distorted simple facts when he said: “Sudan is a rich country; it depends on oil. When that oil is cut in half it will become little for two nations. But not only that, there is a central part of Sudan called Abyei, which is geographically in the northern part. That part of the country is (inhabited by) Dinka people who are actually southern African people. If the country is divided they are going to be cut in the north and that’s where the oil lies. So the big percentage of the oil will be cut to the north and the smaller side will come to the south. And that would bring the economy down.”
Here, the logic of Mac’s argument is too naïve. A baby will even figure out that a food that will satisfy him or her when sharing in the same plate with another baby will still satisfy him or her when divided into two plates. If the oil satisfies Sudan when it is one, then why would it not satisfy it when it is divided into two? Mac may argue that the government-paid workers like ministers will increase when there are two governments, making oil revenues inadequate. That sounds great, but is it good to have a nation with many jobless people and call its economy a great economy?
The other obvious wrong information is Mac’s claim that a “big percentage of the oil will be cut to the north and the smaller side will come to the south” if Abyei became part of the North. Where did Mac get his data of oil’s locations from? Even if the Heglig oil fields in Unity States were given to North Sudan with Abyei, the oil in the South would still never be smaller than the oil in the North.
The laughing point that Mac made was this: “That part of the country [North Sudan] is (inhabited by) Dinka people who are actually southern African people.” Which book or article did Mac read to conclude that Dinka Ngok are from Southern Africa that even the renown scholar from Ngok area, Dr. Francis Mading Deng of Massachusetts Institutes of Technology (MIT), who is quoted by many researchers on Dinka history, has not read?
It does not take a second to find articles online that say that “The origin and history of the Nilotics, the group to which the Dinka belong, is widely contested.” No historian actually has ever mentioned that any Dinka group came from Southern Africa. The only indicator that historians are looking into about the origin of Dinka is cattle. Cattle similarities between the current Dinka cattle and ancient Egyptian cattle associate Dinka people with ancient Egyptians. Historians say that “pictographs in temples of ancient Egypt depict cattle with striking resemblances to cattle today.”
Mac may say that what he means by Dinka Ngok as southern African people is that they are African Southern Sudanese. That is a possibility. But it would still be wrong to make such an argument because Southern Sudan is not claiming Abyei because it is inhabited by Africans. Southern Sudan is claiming Abyei because it was annexed to Northern Sudan in 1905.
This distorted news is what some people in the international community base their decisions on, when it comes to what they believe to be the “best interest” of South Sudanese.
The message that the international community should get is that South Sudanese have the rights to determine their own political future without interference from those who think that it is more blessing to have a united Sudan than the divided one. A forced unity of Sudan would be more blessing to those who have their special interest in the united Sudan. But the same people must remember that what counts is the interest of Southerners not the interest of outsiders who enjoy freedom in their countries.
Zechariah Manyok Biar is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, Texas, USA. He just graduated with a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry and he is still pursuing a Master of Science in Social Work, specializing in Administration and Planning. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org