Many people have been asking me how I feel about the imminent secession of Southern Sudan from the rest of the country. Over the next few days I will be blogging and doing some media work around this, and will share it with everyone. Here is my first blog entry on my thoughts on secession.
Tomorrow close to 4 million Southern Sudanese women and men will be voting to decide whether or not to separate from the north, in a referendum that was set six years earlier as part of a comprehensive peace agreement ending a 22 year civil war between north and south Sudan. The war was brutal and devastating, killing over 2 million people mostly Southern Sudanese and displacing over 4 million. Since the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, the liberation movement which fought the Northern regime during the war, the Southern People’s Liberation Movement/Army has been nominally sharing power with the National Congress Party (ruling regime in the north) while also setting up the Goverment of Southern Sudan which has been ruling over Southern Sudan as an autonomous region. For the referendum to be valid, 60% of all eligible voters must come out to the polls tomorrow. Lots of on the ground organizing work has been done to ensure that people registered on time, both in and out of country, and that barriers were removed to enable fair voting. The ballot for instance, is a simple drawing indicating separation or unity to accomodate people, who cannot read and write:
If the vote goes ahead as planned, then I will for the first time in a very long time, feel that there is hope for our people and country/countries, because I fully support the self-determination of all of our people: Southern Sudanese, Northern Sudanese and beyond. It is almost certain that the vast majority of Southern Sudanese voters will vote to separate and if that happens then for the first time in decades, people in my country will have exercised their right to vote and their right to determine their own future. The Southern Sudanese struggle for independence was born out of a desire to be free from successive Northern regimes which have marginalized and oppressed their people. Yes it was sparked by the need to fight the imposition of Sharia law on a mostly non-Muslim South, but more broadly speaking it was against the forced assimilation into an arabized, islamicized north in which their dignity and ability to live their lives freely had never been respected, since Sudan became independent in 1956. The struggle was also against the social and economic marginalization and exploitation of their people and lands.
The demands of this struggle are essentially what people in Darfur, Nubia and Eastern Sudan have been yearning for as well: their right to live lives free of exploitation and oppression, a more equal distribution of wealth, power and development in the country; an end to a forced process of Arabizing and Islamicizing a nation that is heterogenous and multi-ethnic; and the right to access food, land, water, education and healthcare for all. If we in the rest of Sudan, cannot support the self-determination of our sisters and brothers in the south, then in my opinion we are undermining our own liberation and self-determination. We cannot stand in their way of inching closer to an end to their liberation struggle, and simultaneously move forward towards our own liberation. This would be a deep contradiction. Yes unity would have been ideal, had the foundation for it been built.
I am generally against the balkanization of African states as it makes them more vulnerable to neo-colonial exploitation. But the reality is, that we continue to be ruled by an elite, which exploits and marginalizes the majority of our people, particularly members of indigenous groups, while strengthening its grasp on the country’s resource wealth and political power. And yes some would argue that that foundation for unity in the new South Sudan has not been built yet either, where wealth and power is also concentrated in the hands of a few. But as in most liberation struggles, political independence from the oppressor is the pre-condition to building the foundation for cultural, economic and political liberation. For now let us support this first step and challenge our own internal contradictions.
There are still many unresolved issues such as what will happen with oil-rich Abyei and what the repercussions of secession will be for North Sudan. I will discuss this in my next blog tomorrow.