Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 16 April 2010

Will South Sudan be a failed state?


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 manyok34@gmail.com

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  • 16 April 2010 04:10, by maumau

    Zechariah Manyok

    These speculation by international community on South Sudan being a failed state is based on the recent insecurity, hunger, illiteracy, corruption and lack of service delivery to citizens. People especially the whites who make this speculation do not understand the reason behind a community lounching an attack on a neighbouring community killing them and taking their herds of cattle with children and the government does not make any arrest. This is rediculous. Why attack a neighbour, steal their cattle and children?, ok i hear even the whites steal children but not in an awkward way like what is happening here in South Sudan.

    From my point of view, South Sudan is not going to be a failed state because the government which is going to be formed will comprised of people who understand governance and politics. Kiir who has already won this election should be open to all competent leaders from different communities in order to get South Sudan out of the so-called failed state.

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    • 16 April 2010 04:25, by Time1

      I agree with you there have been failres on the part of GOSS but it does not amount to failure, its administrative weakness and mistakes which is now being corrected, also due to the lack of capacity and skilled manpower after GOSS was formed, so the goverment was still at an infant stage where it could not coup with everything at ones even though some events have been blown out of proportion sometimes, if those things happened after the GOSS capacity and capabilty was already upgade then it could be blames most, but it happened when GOSS was being formed, but am sure GOSS president, officials and its leadership have also learn alot from the mistakes of the past.

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      • 16 April 2010 04:40, by maumau


        We are not going to be a failed state as they speculate. I think the point is let us get children to schools so that they develop a hope in themslves because they are the ones who are easily manipulated by scrupulous people to cause chaos in the country. The government should set in place a system of monitoring its financial inlets and outlets so that corruption is burried once-and-for-all.

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  • 16 April 2010 05:43, by yazB

    Dear Zechariah,

    Congratulations on a fabioulous article! Very enriching indeed! You are absoultely right! A right is earned and not given. The referundum is a right and people in Southern Sudan will sure express their unreserved opinion on how they see the future of the Sudan be it united or split into mini states.

    However, you and me both live outside Sudan and tend to base alot of our accertion on eventualities that tend to have little to do with the actual state of affairs in that beloved country of ours.

    I would like us to consider some basic facts that would probably lead us to more pragmatic outlook as a nation responsible for th ewell being of generations to come and not gone!

    1- The modern Sudanese state was appearntly shaped by a common struggle of the Sudanese people [all Sudanese peopel] against the concquors from Turkey, Britain and France and not by the conquorors themselves. In another word the struggle to maintain freedom was a common goal by all the Sudanese since the early 1800s. HIstory tells that! Sudanese faught the braveist battle on earth (they were men from all over Sudan), lost some and won some but most importantly they won their indpendance! This is a massive achievement by todays’ standards an di am sure it makes you stand tall in that respect.

    2- In the Sudan there are no Arabs. Only a small part of the north-east has reminassance of Arabs from the 1600s, the majority fo the North Sudan inhabitants are Nilotic or Saharan. Hence, the advocacy by the American mainstream that there is a struggle between ’Muslim Arabs’ and ’Christian African’ is a media compartmentlisation if not inadequate simplification of the political struggle in Sudan. 90% of the poeple of Sudan have nothing to do with Arabs albiet the Arabic culture was forced by conquors on them during the Isalmic rule of Egypt similar to that in North Africa (Who also have nothing to do with Arabs, they are Berbers with origins from Ethiopia). So that doesn’t make any of us Arabs!

    3- In 1983, the Sudanese nation faced a common enemy [Ultra Extermist] who loobied the Numeiri regieme to split the Southin to 3 regions (whihc started t he SPLA/M revolt and later hijacked power in 1989 under the pretence that they [as Islamists] did not agree to giving in to the empowered mutiny [SPLA] by the [Christian Church].
    An avalanche of a religious (extermist ideological) divide was well into it’s course and was soon capitalised by (Jallaba / War lords). Since the demise fo the Ethiopian war all they needed was another, they didn’t really care where it took place! A weak, inexperienced and bewildered regime in Khartoum was an advantage to them. They fueled the ideological divide and brought in (Chruches in the US, Europe, Saudi Arabia [Sunni], Iran [Shiite]) i.e. funds for the war. Making the South a ripe battle ground for this ideological divide. They insured that the struggle was under tight blackout from the media so they can go on making huge profits from the war trading. The religous devide didn’t care they needed a battle ground and they were given one in South Sudan. Arms were pouring in and our youth was there to test it on each other. They even toyed with Chemical weapons had Alshifaa manager felt he was conspiring against his own people and blew the whistle to the US adminstration to perform a pre emptive strike!

    The CPA was actually brought about by the pragmatics in both sides which led to Alturabi splitting into the PCP from the mother body of the current NCP. He leads the main interests of the war lords.

    The distruction of the last 20 years war has now made the then conservatives ’ideologically’ (Umma Party) into a moderate party by today’s standard. When i say moderate because it was Sadiq Almahadi who refused to sign the Koka dam agreement because he thought that gave GArang (SPLM too much control over governance in the country) but now the SPLM has grown into a formidable school of thought, he will not have the same mentality he had when he was a sitting PM in 1989. A major achievement by Sudanese standards that now all the political parties has enough trust in the SPLM ability to establish good governance in the country’s largest region (4 million pple).

    The conclusion that is the secceation really is the easy route out? In my opinion NO! Becasue it would basically mean we are back to square one after 27 years of struggle to oust the Extremists from power. For they will have a stronger hold of the Norther parts of the country (which they still rule by brute force and not by choice of the peeple of the land), they will accumalate more wealth by enforcing unfair trade deals with the ’not so-indepednant’ Souther state to deny the Southern indpendant state access to prosperity and the internationa law will give them more ligitmacy and room to do so by the virtues of the free trade agreements. This would mean more debts on the shoulders of the peole of southern sudan and more reliance on the Jallabah! They get richer, have a stronger hold of the rule of the people and we [the peopel of the Sudan] all end up more poorer! This how the Afrikaanas conquored!

    The harder route but the more sustainable for our children to come is to continue to lead the struggle against them and uproot their fist grip on the army and bring about a geniune demogratic rule of the Sudanese state in which enough room and resources are there to bring about better proserity to us all!
    The SPLM has lead the way as the main [Armed]opposition and now partner in power. It’s only the SPLM that will be able to continue to lead this drive to uproot the [extremeists] in both sides of the country to bring about a secular law of the land in the entire Sudan. All the political and polular inertia is rallying behind the SPLM. The SPLM will grow stronger and along with the other political and popoular forces they will continue to push them out of absoulte power and grip over the army. This will give enough confidence to the army that their role in any internal poiltical struggle will only fuel more crisis. The Army will have more confidence in the political institutional system and will receede to hand over power to the House of Parliament. This will end the Islamist grip and bring about a genuine political reform and the thrive to have Darfur [which is by the way an ulter Islamist revolt against the army] crisis contained, hence less expenditure on security appartus and more funds for development and we would have better governance and sustained peace.

    However, if we split the country into two now all we create is a further recipe for disaster because then the SPLM drive will become an interference in another soverign state affairs and the security council will even shiled the Extermists juunta from the radiance of the SPLM ideology. They will ensure that the SPLM will have no time for governance by creating a continous state of tribal unrest and the struggle will change course and directions, international communit will take more control and will eventually the struggle and gains will dissipate! They 9ultra extremists will be looked at differently by the same US policy that categorised them as sponsors of terorism!

    As for a sustainability of an indpendant state in Southern Sudan, you only need look no further than the split of Ethiopia into the Federal republic of Ethiopia (a landlocked state) and Eriteria. The two new states went into war with each other soon after they were formed and the rulers were cousins!
    Tell me 25 yrs on is Eriteria a state with sustained resources? No! It lives on handouts and is a liability on the international community, the people of Eriteria continue to realise that their struggle for indpendace was a mere desire to set themselves loose for the grip of the Marxist regime of Haile Mungistu, they managed along with the Ethiopian Liberation front to liberate the Ethiopians from the rule of the Marxists, but, did they really [LIBERATE] tehir people. It was a mere cold war polarisation between the USA and USSR that led to the split of a very formidble and powerful Ethiopia. Powerful becasue it was sustained and independant. The country was split into two ’inpdendant states’ [again based on Religious divide]. The old Ethiopian Republic was a reminant of the Ethiopian Empire! the PEOPLE, remain the same but the NATION is gone! Who are the winners and loosers? Winners are the capaitalists and loosers are the PEOPLE! Because when you speak to the people in both Ethiopia nd Eriteria they woud tell you that during the Mungistu rule there were no ethnic or class divide and now it’s a different strory!

    What we need is to continue the struggle in the centre [KHARTOUM] and not split [polarise] the country because PEOPLE in the North, South, East, West all suffer from the grip of the EXTREMISTS, there ar eno ethnic or race issues in Sudan. People of the Sudna have been living in it fo rthe last 8000 years and built the foundations of the entire human civilization from there and it will remain a peaceful nation after once we rid ourselves from the cancer of the greed of the extremists and belive me our people will the ngaurd their democracy with their teeth because they have seen what loose convictions bring about the army into power and the yknow what that lead the country into!
    It’s our FAMILIES we are talking about we need to protect our CHILDREN form future wars and ensure that NO paid solider will come at night and scavege the power of the people!
    Long Live SUDAN the WORLD’s oldest COUNTRY! and will remain a COUNTRY only by our will, and not small liablity states! We should all sya it! STAY in Khartoum and CONQUOR until VICTORY. SPLM - NO BACK TRACKING-VICTORY IS AHEAD

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  • 19 April 2010 20:50, by Peter Puoch Ruot

    I think South Sudan will be the most prosperous nation in Africa.Look what we have achieved in five years which no other nationa or countries in Africa did in 40 or 50 plus years.We just had an election and our hope for the high quality of life in south sudan is very optimistic both locally and in the central government also.

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  • 24 April 2010 13:25, by American Missile.

    South sudan will not and can not be a failed State because Southerners has accepted to be a mature,that is why they have shown to the world that democracy is possilbe without North Sudan.
    South Sudan will be a wonderful country if it get independent,we are powerful people,unique according to our creature.we will be stable state the World ever had in the continent.
    After Referendum,people will settle down for development and constitutional rules.

    Thanks for the Debate.

    Majok Akotdit from Juba.

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