Monday, January 31, 2011




It is almost inevitable that South Sudan will vote for independence and Africa will have another new state.
Provisional results will be out on February 1, 2011, while final results will be released on February 6.
The West and much of East Africa and the South Sudanese hope a split from the north is the ultimate solution to the Sudanese problems.

On the surface, that appears to be the solution, judging that both regions (North and South) have many differences. One is Arab and Muslim the other is African, Christian or Animist; One is fairly developed, the other, one of the poorest places on earth. The north has developed largely using resources from the South (Abyei oil) while the South has little to count from the its oil.

Some commentators have called the vote a divorce settlement even when there was no marriage at all.
The North and Bashir in particular, have been seen as the real cause of the Sudan and the South’s problems. What they forget is that Sudan is a victim of British colonial misjudgment whereby two different and distinct cultures were bundled together to suit the British interests.

Historical roots
History reminds us of how Northern Sudan has always wanted an Islamic state way back during colonial rule under Egypt and later the British. Egyptian efforts to conquer Sudan from the 1820s had won only an insecure hold over fertile lands along the Nile and towns such as Khartoum. Camel nomads resisted their authority.

The Muslims of the Northern Sudan found a leader in Muhammad Achmad, a religious figure known as the Mahdi, who proclaimed a jihad against the Egyptians and British that would return Islam to its original purity.

The Mahdi won control of the Sudan and an Islamist state under Khalifa Abdallahi was set up built on strict Islamic norms in the famous Mahdist revolt. The British ended this threat when General Kitchener crushed the Mahdist forces at Omdurman in 1896.

Though the Islamist state was killed, the spirit remained and it was not surprising that General Jaffery Nimery resurrected the idea in a coup in 1983, sparking off the war in the South.

That the South was largely Christian is not surprising since colonial rule worked in a way such that the Bible followed the governor or vice versa. It is possible that South Sudanese were used to suppress the Mahdist revolt since they were the main victims of slavery largely carried out by the northern Arabs.

The current scenario between Khartoum and Juba is simply a reflection of a failure of the British to accept reality. On independence in 1956, the British knew that the north and South could not live like one country but the situation suited their divide and rule policy.

A strong united Sudan was a threat to British interests in Egypt especially that the Mahdist revolt clearly showed where Sudan was likely to head - Islamist state.

Hence a split vote is a simple return to the original status. The South has never been part of the larger Sudan. These were two odd bedfellows. But separation will not solve the problems of the Sudan.

One thing the leaders in the South, the West and east Africa must realize is that much as they stand to benefit from a new South Sudan, the cooperation of the north is required and they must work hard for these benefits (See page 8).
On the face of it all, Bashir has sent out an olive branch though it is viewed with suspicion. In the run up to the poll he visited the South and hinted that Khartoum would be the first to recognize Juba if the South voted for independence.
This was followed by a pledge that Khartoum would shoulder the more that $38 billion foreign debt.
These gestures may be mere proclamations but they open a ventilator which the South, the West and east Africa could exploit to make Southern independence beneficial to the southerners, the region and the world at large.

The Abyei factor
A key question is oil in Abyei on the north /South border. Bashir has resigned to Southern secession but has made it clear that Abyei going to the south is unacceptable. And he has a point.

Oil is Sudan's key export (93% of Sudan's exports) since the north is largely a desert. Although Bashir is opposed to letting Abyei go, he has not ruled out sharing the resources. This is where both 'neighbours' have to agree.

Already there are divisions between the Abyei dominant tribe - the Misseriya and the Dinka dominating the South. But if Bashir and Salva Kiir worked out a realistic oil share agreement over a period of time, the tribal divisions could become insignificant.

None of the two protagonists can resolve this issue alone. They need to look at the major world conflicts and how they were resolved.

In the early 1990's at the end of the cold war both the west and Russia realized that there could be no united Germany unless both powers agreed to work together. The same applied to China and Britain when it came taking over Hong Kong. Britain allowed China assume control of Hong Kong under an agreement whereby the political and economic structures of Hong Kong would remain in place for 50 years after which China would completely take over.

This two in one state formation has maintained development in Hong Kong where capitalism reigns but under communist authority.

In the case of Sudan a similar economic arrangement could be worked out whereby trade and infrastructure development could jointly be carried out while both states remain independent of each other.

Of particular interest is the East African community which is likely to admit the newest member in South Sudan. It is imperative that a well worked out transition between the North and the South could be in the interest of the EAC and Sudan.
There are worries that a sudden split could simply result in both an unstable south and north.

The South has many tribal militia opposed to the dominant SPLA- Dinka administration. The north faces Muslim fundamentalists eager to exploit any opportunity to throw out Bashir. This is where both Khartoum and Juba must agree to work together. They need to ensure that whereas the South has seceded, it remains a stable and united south and the north remains a stable and united north.

Talking to Aljazeera Tv last week, opposition leader and Muslim fundamentalist Hassan al Tourabi warned of a popular uprising against Bashir.. It should be remembered that it is Tourabi who hosted Osama bin Laden for several years.
It should also be noted that for the South to develop they need a good neighbour whom they can trade with peacefully. Whereas oil is produced in Abyei in the south, it is exported through the north and as such it will take long before infrastructure is built to carry oil through the Kenyan port of Mombasa for export. Beside, transport cost could be higher.
It is therefore inevitable that trade guarantees be agreed between Khartoum and Juba to ensure that economic relations remain even when the vote results in a split. South Sudan is one of the world's poorest regions and the entire region has only 50km of paved roads.

However, most of Sudan's oil is in the south, while the pipelines to the sea run through the north, tying the two regions together economically.

It would also be unfair for Khartoum to wake up and discover that once an oil exporting country will need to import the precious liquid. Worse still, the infrastructure Khartoum has built to support this sector runs the risk of being redundant. Much as oil maybe a dividing commodity, when well handled it could become a uniting factor.

Khartoum and particularly Juba must realize that western pressure for a total split from Sudan would create more problems than it would seek to solve. If relations remain tense, it is the southerners to suffer. Two million have died in the last civil war and another two million displaced. Among these there were no Americans, Ugandans, Kenyans or Chinese dying, it were the Sudanese. So good relations between the North and South are vital for the future development of the two countries.

Good neigbourliness
Secession without smooth trade relations with all neighbours would be meaningless to the region and the west. A poor south always at war won't consume anything from the industries and farms in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, the US or UK. Rather a prosperous South would attract investment much to the benefit of all.

This is why Juba, East Africa and the West must work with Bashir to ensure that peace and development continue.
Already there is the challenge of the road and rail transport - key components of any economy. It won't make sense to build a railway or road to Juba or Abyei when there is no stability in the South. Much as the EAC is preparing to roll out a red carpet for its sixth member, east Africa must realise that the benefits of a larger community and common market will only come if there is stability in the entire Sudan.

One South Sudan newspaper comment clearly sounded the warning: "A Referendum in itself is not the end but the beginning of a painful journey to establish a viable state. The challenges the people of southern Sudan will face ahead after the independence are indeed mammoth." The Juba Post

Adding to this cooperation will be the need to demilitalirise the entire Sudan. The North remains largely a military government under Gen. Bashir. The South is a rebel government under the SPLA. But the military has never been a good administrator at least on the African continent. As much of east Africa is largely militant, save for Kenya and Tanzania, Sudan will need to work towards disengaging the military from politics.

For South Sudan, the case is different since unlike Uganda and Rwanda where a there are no militias, in Sudan there are many tribal militia which could become a nuisance.

Bashir will also need assurances that Darfur will not go the way of Juba at least in the near future. Whereas literally another split could further weaken Khartoum, it does not necessarily mean Juba will become stronger since it could also face threats of counter splits. These could have devastating consequences for regional security.

However, Bashir could use the South Sudan lesson to address the disparities of Darfur and ensure it remains part of Sudan. The worst would be if it sought to recognize Juba as the master to win support.

Such is the Sudan question currently puzzling all governments. The country at the crossroads must be careful which way to go. One sudden wrong turn could lead to severe consequences whereas stagnation would not be a wise choice. What is important whether a new Sudan is created, whether Abyei goes south or North, what matters is that peace remains. That should be the ultimate goal.

Additional information has been sourced from the Internet