Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 21 May 2010

Making the separation of Southern Sudan thinkable


Dr. Amir Idris

May 20, 2010 — I have been reading recent commentaries and analyses written by Sudanese and non-Sudanese about the future of the Sudan. According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which was signed in 2005, the people of Southern Sudan are expected to vote in January 2011 either to remain in a united Sudan or to separate and create their own independent state. The exercise of the right of self-determination has been agreed upon regionally and internationally after two decades of civil war which cost the lives of more than 2 million people and the displacement of more than four million from Southern Sudan. Indeed, the CPA was a product of a long and painful struggle with, many sacrifices made by the people of Southern Sudan, rather than an offer made by the ruling National Congress Party (NCP).

I am struck by the lack of a sense of history and the absence of political memory in much of the current public discourse. Very little effort has been made to make the unthinkable thinkable. Without any consideration to the history and the politics of the Sudan’s crisis, much of the discussion seems to follow two lines of argument: opposition to the whole idea of separation or the casting of doubt over the viability of the South’s survival as an independent state.

The first line of argument advocates the importance of keeping the country united without providing any concrete and workable national strategy to make consensual unity a reality. Its core argument is colored by an emotional appeal that reproduces a set of invented glories about the Sudan’s history and culture which in reality cannot be sustained by an examination of the living experiences of Sudanese people. The proponents of this argument, from both the left and the right, do not acknowledge the underlying reasons why the people of Southern Sudan have reached this critical juncture of having to make a choice between unity and separation. It’s in fact a product of long historical and political processes shaped by particular forms of oppression, namely slavery, European colonialism, Arab-driven nationalism, and policies of Arabization and Islamization, among others.

These different forms of oppression not only shaped the relationships among Southern Sudanese people but they have also led Southern Sudanese to formulate views and visions about the rest of the country, in particular the North, the center of economic and political power in the Sudan. Whether we like it or not, the experiences of the people of Southern Sudan have shaped their political identities in opposition to the political reality of the North. After all, people must make choices based on their real circumstances rather than on an emotional appeal to an abstract idea of territorial unity.

The second line of argument claims that the people of Southern Sudan will not be able to run their own affairs in an independent state. This is not a new argument. It has been directly borrowed from European colonial text books about all colonized people, in particular Africans. This argument has two messages: one is a purely racist bias and the other is based on the denial of the existence of a rich institutional history in the region. The first message originates from a racist claim that states that there has been an absence of history and culture in Southern Sudan until recent times. It reproduces the idea that Southern Sudanese people have no history prior to the arrival of ‘Arabs’ and Europeans. The South is portrayed as an empty historical space which needed to be filled and shaped by Islam, Arab culture as well as Christianity and European cultural values and attitudes.

The second message of the argument questions the ability of Southern Sudanese to independently run their own affairs. The proponents of this position seem to believe that the history of Southern Sudan begins and ends with colonialism. The rich pre-colonial histories of the region have been written off as part of an imagined prehistorical era of darkness. In reality, however, the skills of constructing a new and independent state cannot be given or imposed by outsiders; it needs to be cultivated through a process of nation-building and state-building. The people of Southern Sudan have not been given the opportunity to do so in the past five decades. During the second half of the 20th century, many other colonized people in Africa and around the world struggled to liberate themselves from the shackles of colonialism and internal oppression and have successfully managed to overcome their own internal weaknesses, rebuilding their societies from the ashes of war and destruction. The people of Southern Sudan are not an exception.

Instead of wasting our intellectual energy on demonizing Southern Sudanese people by denying their history, culture, and resourcefulness in a way that makes both separation unmanageable and territorial unity undesirable, we urgently need to redirect our discussion to the question of how to make the processes of separation and unity a peaceful and a meaningful exercise for all Sudanese. After all, the separation of the South might not be the last time territorial unity is challenged if the same circumstances that are pushing the South to make the choice between unity and separation continue to exist in other parts of the country such as in Darfur.

Amir Idris is Associate Professor of African Studies and Associate Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies, Fordham University, New York City. He can be reached at idris@fordham.edu

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  • 21 May 2010 08:26, by Gatwech

    Professor Amir Idris,

    Thanks for the insight. I know we the South Sudanese have history going back to thousands of years.

    For example the Nuer had a king in Egypt more than 3000 years ago by the name Tut. He was the only black king but was murdered soon after assuming kingdom because of racism.

    We also have traditional political history before Sudan became independent. Our spiritual rode called dang of Prophet Ngundeng which is more than 150 years old is a living testimony.

    Unfortunately, there are those communities among us in the South who belittle the history of South Sudanese. They think it began yesterday and so others in the North pick it as if we didn’t have an ancient and pre-independence history.

    But we have and we will write it ourselves soon.......

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    • 21 May 2010 08:35, by Gatwech

      Yes, separation of the South and creation of independent state is inevitable.

      And besides, Darfur and other marginalized areas will also follow suit and create their independent states. Sudan is an unfortunate laboratory with different chemicals that should stay away from one another.

      Self-determination has become the best option for any region’s future in Sudan.

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      • 21 May 2010 09:27, by Abednego Majack Macharial

        Thank Prof. Amir Idriss for acknowledging the truth about Southern Sudan secession to formed an idependent country. It is good to tell the truth and the truth shall set you free as the Holy Bible says. We South Sudanese have culture and history that dated back to a period before the coming of Arabs to Sudan and it is known to all historians. If at all we don’t have culture and history, why are Arabs who have culture and history always after us instead of leaving us so that the continue with their advance culture and history?. As you said, these are just fears based on non examinable facts either scientifically or culturally. We have remained with with only seven months to end this long and troublesome unity with Arabs in the North.

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      • 21 May 2010 09:32, by DASODIKO

        great logic and rational work Doc, But I am sure if you were in Sudan you might have been blinded to see such magnificent truth you have seen when you came to light in America.
        I appllaud you keep up staying in light man!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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        • 21 May 2010 13:44, by Black tiger

          Thanks Prof. Idris, I want to give you a node for well defined virtue and right for Southerners to have an independent counrty.

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  • 21 May 2010 19:08, by Kur

    Dear Dr. Idris,
    I think you’ve highlighted the facts that are at the heart of the troubles in the Sudanese politics. No one wants to admit that the political system in the country is the source of all troubles. You cannot unite people under a segregated economic, social, education, and political culture. What will be my benefit in a Sudan that provides no education opportunities to my children, job for me to support my family, and health care? I think the people in Khartoum under estimate the level of hatred they planted in heart of people of South Sudan.You’re right, emotional appeal will not do anything at this time.


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  • 22 May 2010 04:38, by David Glenn

    Dear Dr.Amir
    No one is questioning the stipulations of the CPA and the referandum of January 2011,and therefore your harranguing is totally unnecessary.
    Secondly,it seems to me your are not really concerned about the South and it’s people,you are rather hinting at another objective and another region in the Sudan,and therefore you should come clear.
    At no point,did any one claim that the South has no culture and no history.You tend to forget the Northern Sudanese who fought in the ranks and files of the SPLM/A,and are still in it’s ranks.
    You clearly have to read or re-read Dr.Garang’s Book and may be others who wrote about this war,before jumping to such sweeping statements that do not become your academic stature.You dont seem to realize what North you are talking about.
    You want this secession not because you really care for the South and it’s people,you want it for your own causes.
    Sudanese of the highest integrity and calibre,have written about this issue,but objectively,and it seems you translated some of those writings and pulled them out of context altogether.
    At such crucial times in it’s history,the South must ask all questions and lay out all possible problems.na d there is no harm at all,if some raise whatever issues you consider unnecessary.Secession does not end at the vote and raising of the Flag.
    You also miss the point when you compare the South to a colony,the South has never been a colony.
    Where is the arabization and islamization you are talking about?We went to schools with our brothers from the South and for your information,it was the Moslems,who left the vlassrooms during the "Christian Religon Class" in Comboni School,and then the Moslem Students were taken to another Sudanese School altogether,to study Islam.
    Arabic,as Dr.Garang said,is an African Language,perhapsmif you read the OAU charter you would see that,not to mention the umbilical tie between the Africans and the Arabs as stated in the Old Testament,Genesis,16:15.
    I often thought that people in the South speak English or Kiswahili,till i visited there and Juba,was surprised that the lingua-franca,is arabic(a friend told me it’s called Juba-arabic0,Islam exists in Kenya,Tanzania,Mozambique ,was this also forced by the Arabs fromthe North?Perhaps you should address yourself to those in America who want the South to seccede for religeous reasons,or those like Musevini,who want the new State of South Sudan as an extension of the ambitions of the Hima.
    Whether the people in the South vote for unity or otherwise,it is important that people dont vote to simply condemn the past.
    We have already known the mistakes of the past,and the SPLM/A was founded to correct them and was about to,had it not withdrawn Yasser Arman from the Presidential elections.
    As for the history of the Sudan,it is sad that you dont see any history for the country,from Merowe,to the Bjarawiya to the Temple of Amon,to Taharqa,the only African mentioned in the Bible(the book of Kings and the book of Isaiah),to the kingdoms of the Nilotics,to the Mahdist Revolution,you tend to sum up the histroy of the Sudan to the 20 years or so of the NCP,because you want the South to secede.
    I am not a supporter of the NCP and I dont think the South should secede,because of the NCP.
    I wish to hear from you,at diqna8@yahoo.com
    Best regards.

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    • 22 May 2010 09:58, by Sudan virus

      David glenn, i would like to first of all thank DR.Idris for his briliant hint, a hint by a muslim which is not bias for the first time on the net.

      Question for you David,

      Are you happy of the ploitical,economic and social situation in Sudan since independent up to date? IF so tell me Why .

      What Dr.Garang wrote is what some doctors also read. In Dr. Garang’s speech during the signing of the CPA, he clearly said Unity would be made attractive and if unity fails to be attractive then the south will split and become an independent state. This is the fact.

      Is the secession of south Sudan going to be a first even in the world, if you real read history? I think you are one of the Arabized/islamized southern Sudanese in Khartoum who do not care about the problems of the marginalized Sudanese especially the most noon Muslim southerns.

      My friend let me tell you Islamic religion is as good or as bad as other religion,the bad thing in it is, a religion of dictatorship. It encourage tolerance in the name of faith-Islam, so when a muslim is oppressed,will just say its God’s(Allah’s) making ,as such the rich will become rich by oppressing the poor, the poor will become poor and poor because of faithfulness(islam) towards the rich-slave .

      Racism is the oder of Islam. The Christians oppressed black Africans and left us to rule our selves but the arabs want continue with the event/slavery till now in the Sudan.

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    • 22 May 2010 18:14, by Lokonga Soroba

      David, with this denial of the political, economical, cultural and so on reality in Sudan is what make’s the secession of south desirable. If you rationalize all the speeches of Dr. Gareng you will find out that the man was intrested in the south rather than the allusion of what so called Sudan. All the rulers of the Sudan during and after independence did not encourage peaceful coexistence among the Sudanese people especially southerners. Dr. Amir was right all the opposition to the question of south Sudan independence was either by people like you who choose not to live in the real world or by some African leaders like the Debi’s of Chad who are trying to cover their wrong doings in their countries with the pretext of south Sudan Independence. If you want people to coexist peacefully as citizen of one nation you should make the environment conducive for them to stay together otherwise some will be like a toothache until you remove that tooth in your mouth should you have peace in yourself.

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