27 February 2011
The people of South Sudan have voted overwhelmingly for secession. The referendum results show that 98.93 per cent of the region’s population has opted for an independent State.
Although the result of the plebiscite created a sense of gloom in the north in general and the capital, Khartoum, in particular, the sole option facing Sudan and the future southern State is to establish a peaceful and cooperative transition.
In a presentation at the Centre of Middle East Research at Ain-Shams University, Sayed Fleifel, chairman of the Institute of African Studies and Research at Cairo University, said that the secession of South Sudan was by no means surprising as the arrangements for the move began soon after Bashir took power in a military coup in 1989. As a first step, he the agreement reached by the civilian government of Sadeq al-Mahdi and John Garang, chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
Dr Fleifel spoke about the roots of the southern problem. “It was the British colonisers who sowed the seeds of separation through a host of measures: they reinforced tribal structures in the south, banned southerners from wearing the traditional gown jalabiya and the northern turban, and prevented southerners from studying at Khartoum University, which had been named after governor Charles Gordon,” he said. Instead, southerners had to study in Uganda and Egypt.
When Sudan won independence in 1956, the southern Sudanese realised they were being betrayed when the national government adopted a policy of discrimination in the south.
“In the beginning, a national language—Arabic—was declared, and southerners were defamed and insulted for nothing but the fact that they were not Muslims. For more than 16 centuries a climate of tolerance had prevailed over the southern region and Islam had never been forced on the populace. One of the most influential figures in the south had Muslim and Christian sons and daughters.” Ultimately, though, the outcome of the regime’s discriminative policy was an all-out war in the south that lasted from 1955 to 1972.
The Addis Ababa agreement—which stipulated an autonomous rule in the south—signed by the then Sudan president Jaafar Nimeiri and southern leaders ended the 17-year-long war. Although the agreement did not fully meet the aspirations of the southerners, who sought a federal system in their region, it created a climate of trust between the country’s two parties. Yet the decision by Nimeiri to apply Islamic Sharia law on the whole of Sudan, including the south, dealt a fatal blow to the unity and peace of Sudan. For its part, the Arab League made little effort to bring about peace.
Pouring oil on the fire, Nimeiri decided that Arabic would be the language of education under the pretext of preserving national identity. Throughout the following decades the situation worsened as the Sudanese regime pitted Arab tribes against non-Arab ones through the formation of tribal militias across the borders between the two regions.
Bashir’s military rule suppressed all forms of opposition and established a despotic regime based on an Islamic ideology. Dr Fleifel disagrees with those who claim that the future southern State will be poor and weak. “South Sudan possesses huge mineral and agricultural resources which can serve to create a wealthy nation,” he said. “The fact that South Sudan is a landlocked country is not an insurmountable obstacle, since Sudan could use Kenya as an outlet. They could even build their own port and I believe that many countries will offer assistance to make this project see the light.”
What should the Arabs do?
Fleifel went on to pose a focal question: what should the Arabs do? “The answer should take into account Israeli and American plans to divide the whole world—including Arab countries, Africa and even China—into smaller entities,” he said. If the Arabs decide, he said, to abandon the nascent State it will definitely fall prey to US and Israeli plans. “For instance, helping the southerners erect a dam on the Nile to provide them with power will be a positive step,” Dr Fleifel said. “It is understood that most probably the South will not join the Arab League, but cooperation with the Arab World will offer great benefits to both sides.
Dr Fleifel concluded by saying: “We stand before a process of managing independence rather than separation. Interdependence between the two States is a must, particularly with a host of outstanding issues waiting to be settled.
“These include how to divide Sudan’s debts, the flood water of the Blue Nile and the seasonal movement by Arab and southern tribes across the borders separating the two regions.”
Bak Goynang Atid, an administrative issues consultant in southern Sudan, expressed his respect for and appreciation of Egyptian people. He said Egypt was among the first to provide South Sudan with educational assistance following the Addis Ababa agreement. “More than 300 southerners were offered free education in Egypt,” he concluded.