As Southern Sudanese people turn out to the polls today to vote on whether they will remain united with Northern Sudan or become Africa’s newest independent nation, hope is on the horizon. The overwhelming voter turnout and jubilation at the polls, is a reflection of people’s strong desire to become first-class citizens of their own sovereign nation and to free themselves from decades of oppression and marginalization by successive Northern regimes. As a Northern Sudanese, I cannot help but feel hopeful and jubilant about the self-determination of a people, who are inching closer towards a dream for which millions of lives have been sacrificed. The fulfillment of their dream gives us as Northern Sudanese hope that we can continue carrying forward the demands of a liberation struggle that envisioned a Sudan in which wealth and power is more equitably distributed and where everyone regardless of ethnicity, faith or gender is treated with respect and dignity.
At the same time, I am wary of what an independent Southern Sudan may mean for the rest of Sudan, going forward. A referendum to determine the future of Abyei, a small disputed area between the north and south, was tabled partly because the Sudanese government is not quite ready to part with what lies underneath its soil. A vote for secession will give the south control of about 80 % of Sudan’s current oil production of 490,000 barrels a day. This will represent a drastic shift from the 50:50 share agreed upon during the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005, which ended the 22 year civil war between the north and south. Because much of the oil is along the border however, and northern Sudan controls both the pipelines and technology to transport and export the oil, the fate of Abyei remains unclear.
Sudan is currently sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil producer, behind Nigeria and Angola, providing China alone with 30% of the oil that fuels its factories. And yet very little of Sudan’s oil profits have benefited its people. Instead, oil companies primarily from China and Malaysia have been providing the technology and infrastructure to explore, exploit and export the oil while sharing the profits with the elites in power. Khartoum’s regime is said to have siphoned off as much as 40% of total oil revenue through various forms of mis-pricing, essentially lining its pockets, instead of taking on the task of developing vast regions of the country that have been neglected and underdeveloped for decades.
When a regime driven by such greed loses its grip on power, it tends to tighten its grip before fully losing control. President Omar Al-Bashir’s latest remarks on the eve of this referendum, demonstrate this tendency quite poignantly. In the days leading up to the vote, he announced that were the South to secede, he would change the constitution in the North to impose Sharia law and ensure that Islam and Arabic are the official religion and language, respectively. In addition, he declared that the 1.5 million Southern Sudanese living in the north would lose citizenship rights, and that those working in the public service sector, would be removed from their positions. These policies mirror the type of marginalization and exclusion Southern Sudanese people have been fighting against for decades. The people of Sudan belong to over 597 ethnic groups and speak over 200 languages and dialects. Of those ethnic groups over half identify as indigenous African, 39% identify as Afro-Arab, 70% are Muslim, 25% follow indigenous traditions and 5% are Christian. If the South secedes, these demographics will shift but the cultural diversity and religious pluralism of the country will remain intact. Africans, who do not speak Arabic as their first language will continue to constitute a majority in the north. And while most are muslim, many do not adhere to the practices and interpretation of Islam put forth by the ruling elite. Forcefully imposing a mono-cultural, national identity on a majority which is already marginalized is a dangerous project, which could potentially lead to future demands for secession.
As we witness our Southern Sudanese brothers and sisters cast their votes and exercise their right to self-determination, it is therefore, my hope that we in the north will take it upon ourselves to organize at the grassroots level and in the diaspora, around an alternative project which recognizes our people’s diversity as its strength. This historic referendum represents a failure on our government’s behalf to make unity a viable option. It also however, represents our own complicity and silence around a project that could ultimately lead to the fracturing of our nation, if left unchallenged. More importantly perhaps, we cannot rely on outsiders with a variety of motives and agendas, to challenge this project for us. It has to come from within, with the support and solidarity of those, who respect Sudanese sovereignity and leadership and have the best interest of all Sudanese people at heart.
To get up to date information on what is happening in Southern Sudan here are a few new sources:
Here is also a link to a documentary done by Al Jazeera English chronicling the modern history of Sudan as well as a variety of perspectives on the current situation.
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.
This was posted on a list serv I am on and I had to share because she really breaks things down in a language that is not even her own:
“If I was the president of Sudan”
By Salam Kamal Hidayatalla
(13yr old Sudanese girl)
Sudan is the largest country in Africa, its characteristic is a two way sword it’s a blessing to have all this diversity in culture and vast areas which can be regarded as a wealth but it also acted as a curse because it has been at war with itself for more than three-quarters of its modern existence. It also has many health problems like dirtiness of water, scarcity of food and lack of money. I came here to share with you my thoughts and ideas about the major issues and how I can improve them if I was the president of Sudan.
The first issue is Darfur, the suffering there is terrible and needs a cure, look how many children died from hunger and how many lost their families. After 2 months the southern people will decide if they want to continue in the united Sudan or they want to separate. Let’s say they decided to separate will you feel good and that you no longer have a south? I don’t think so.
The second is Human rights, the government ruling Sudan is selfish all they care about is money, and all the money they get from the citizens is used by them, yes they did some helpful things but they are not more helpful that what we really need. Whenever you want to say something or fight for something that’s yours you are either jailed or ignored.
The third is development, Sudan has a potential of being the world food basket just like Brazil nowadays, but because the government priorities agriculture was destroyed together with the industries that were supporting, e.g. the Jazziera Agriculture Scheme and so all the related industries suffered.
The forth is the improper distribution of power and wealth whereby its concentrated in the central part of Sudan and now it is in the hands of a very minute fraction of people, where the rest of the Sudanese people are seriously marginalized.
In conclusion I would say if I became the president of Sudan I would attentively listen to people to identify their needs and priorities then with the help of community representives and experts I will set a plan of action, for all this to work I will secure the right for people to express their thoughts and allow them to criticise my plans, so I can know if I am going on the right track or not. My purpose of all this is to make the Sudan appealing to all its citizens, they all feel equal they all have a say and they are all actively involved in its development. This would full-fill our ancestor’s aspiration for the country they sacrificed their lives for or a country which we will all be proud to belong to, a country that contributes to prove the legend of humanity. قال اللة تعالى: (ولقد كرمنا بنى ادم ) صدق اللة العظيم. Thank You.
October 1st, 2010
This is a Plea to People of South Sudan about the rally of Sudan Freedom Walk.
Our brother Simon Aban is currently, as I am writing this plea to all of my brothers and sisters from the South Sudan, is walking through heat and rain from New York to Washington DC to express the importance of the referendum that will take place in the coming few days.
Time is ticking away and it seems that we, Southerners, are sitting on the side walk with our arms folded, watching it passing as if it’s a good suspense movie. As we are calling around people to attend the rally and the welcome of brother Aban to District of Colombia on October 7th, 2010, we continually hear the voice and echo of reluctance of coming out because it’s a working day. People who are not Sudanese are taking that day off to show their support to us. If they can do it so can we. If we really want this referendum to take place on the time allotted with no delays or excuses, we must have the “Yes we can attitude”.
So come on my people, we cannot, and will not let others determine and decide things for us. Let us show Brother Simon that his sacrifice was not in vain. Let us go out in big numbers so that the world can see us, as people who are united and determine to decide our own destiny. One day out of your work will not harm your job or career, but abstaining will create an everlasting negative effect that will plague us for an eternity. It will only confirm that nasty propaganda that we cannot commit, or that we are people who cannot govern ourselves. Let us not add more spicy ingredients to an already cooked pot that will definitely spoil our appetite and surely give us unnecessary stomach ache.
One day only and we will deliver a strong message that will resonate around the world for centuries. This is a historical event that will affect generations and generations to come. Let us all play a role on it and be part of it instead of being a bystander and an observer.
Brother Aban cannot do it alone. He needs our support and our voice.
So let’s do it.
Southern Sudanese Community
“Yes we need freedom and justice in our country Mr. President, but on our own terms not on Western terms.” (anonymous)