Articles and Analysies
Destructive Unity and the Future of South Sudan: Reading Public Sentiments BY: John Moi Venus, SOUTH SUDAN
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Oct 17, 2009 - 12:33:45 AM

Destructive Unity and the Future of South Sudan : Reading Public Sentiments

BY: John Moi Venus , SOUTH SUDAN


The catchwords in the politics of South Sudan especially amongst Southerners nowadays are ‘secession’ and the popular idea of ‘new Sudan vision.’ The term 'secede' comes from the Latin word ‘secedere’ meaning to go apart, withdraw officially, and separate from a system or a state for that matter.


Arguments in favor of and against self-determination of any state through secession are in the open and quite handy. One scholar, An-Na’im, for instance, gives four criteria deemed taken seriously in any informed discourse about self-determination. One criterion considers the degree of internal cohesion and the self-identification of the group claiming self-determination; 2)- the nature and scope of their claim; 3)- the underlying reason for the claim; and 4)- the degree of deprivation of basic human rights for the people in question.


What can these criteria teach us with regard to the predicament of South Sudan under, what a few hardliners would dare to describe as “domestic colonialism”?

Of the four criteria, the degree of our internal cohesion is, no doubt, undermined by some intermittent, if not continual inter/intra-tribal conflicts to be objective enough, which have been often violent. Such a societal malaise though cannot, to a greater length, be construed to constitute an impediment to secession, the phenomenon is in fact a prize we must pay for a nation building in a region that has never been under any effective central government.

To be fair enough, with due understanding of the fallacy involved in the reasoning, one would in fact put South Sudan in a wider context of the African predicament; and that is, a majority of African countries, some with virtually consolidated political systems are still facing issues of internal cohesions. In as much as they exist as legitimate states, the South is no different.

On the question of identity, South Sudanese have strong sense of self-identification, although at times the local identity tends to undermine the corporal one. The Southerners attachment to local identities could still be turned round with didactic skills to cultivate South Sudan ’s civic identity.

Of recent, opinions about secession kept flying as informal debates get heated. In one of the informal exchange of views, someone I would call an ‘outsider’, who was on holidays to Khartoum from one of the western countries, expressed a reservation about any need for secession, which I think was too naïve to be serious. According to this person, our nemesis, the so-called Northerners are very friendly and fondly with them in that part of the world; ‘when they see them, they would, in no time, be all over them with the exclamation: ‘my brother, my sister.’


This, to say the least, is an unsophisticated way of thinking highlighting how ordinary people, especially when away from the heat of the moment, could give in to the lure of emotions. Would the South forget its history this early? A few serious persons would take an open mouth of a viper for a smile.


Another Southerner from inside however gave a different reason for unity. This guy is quite adamant and confident that the ball and the referee are in favor of the marginalized. For this person, come what may, the marginalized will rule this country and there is therefore no point to go apart. For this person, the conflicts in the South, the East and the West give assured air of corroboration enough to organize and synergize the poor for a democratic overhaul.


This view, again, is unsophisticated. First, it assumes that proper democracy is in place in Sudan which, with clear evidence, is a farce. Second, this person is in no hurry to consider the ability of the National Congress Party to influence events given their resource power. The Holy Bible is quite categorical about this: the poor are sold and bought for a pair of sandals. That is what somebody in position of power is capable of doing. Third, there is a lurking anger that drives this insider’s reason for unity. If this should be driven to its logical conclusion, it would clearly legitimize tyranny of the majority. This is not what proper democracy prescribes lest the oppressed become oppressors. What lovers of democracy should now seek IS to liberate both the oppressors and the oppressed even if the roads ahead must be traveled separately.


Further, down the isle, there is the SPLM/A vision of a New Sudan anchored on equality, social justice for all and democracy. Some Unitarians see the idea of new Sudan as the best option for the country’s ailments. For them if the idea can truly be realized, any case for separation need not arise. New Sudan after all promises secular Sudan where citizens enjoy equal rights and opportunities.


In relation to the cause of the marginalized the Sudan over, the vision has heuristic appeal. It has actually been a successful tool in its ability to lobby the support of all marginalized people of Sudan . However, in relation to the South’s political future in a secular united Sudan , I find this view idealistic, more of sappiness and sensational in its ability to lay traps for the South’s political destiny, for it is very unlikely that, in the long run, this vision will survive the onslaught of religious demagogues.


The view downplays two critical issues. Firstly, the idea of new Sudan is silent about the power of religion as a tool for social cohesion, which has always been the case in Sudan for time immemorial. Yes, Sudan can be secular, but the powers of religion to woo voters even in stable democracies are often overwhelming. With the South always in minority status, the region ought to avoid putting itself in an awkward political position. Something could be learnt from the lesson of Hamas and Fatah in Palestine . There is a strong sense of religious radicalism that brought Hamas to power through democratic channels. This religious radicalism is still at large in Sudan , and has the power to unite people with an unprecedented degree of rapidity once the divisive factors are eliminated and interests of Muslims, sounded from hilltops. There is little chance for South to think it can make its ways given its inferior position in terms of numbers.


Secondly, it fails to consider the powers of the Arab world inside Sudan quite set to promote pan-Arabism. After all, that has been the principles behind the complete cultural immersion of our brothers and sisters in the East and West Sudan . It would therefore be immature to believe that the cultural knots that tie these people to the Middle East would be untied with one mention of the concept of new Sudan , which most ordinary voters may not grasp anyway.


Notwithstanding, in the South, many are abreast with the fact that the future, to be precise, is still languishing in a grey area. Events on the ground are playing hard and uncompromising. The Lord’s Resistance Army factor, with effect moving towards Central African Republic and possibly to Western Darfur and later back to South Sudan chameleoned into Sudan Armed Forces for the sole purpose of causing havoc and the Sudan Armed Forces factor including the loose warlords in the South: all are bent to being potential saboteurs for any future hopefuls.


2011 referendum is as distant as the stars. Even then, nothing could be tantamount to seizing an historic opportunity than secession. There is little doubt secession of South Sudan would bring in a fresh breath ushering in an era in which religion as a political obstacle gets eliminated for good and would mark the first step of a very long process of creating a milieu for cultivating moral discipline necessary for conciliation.


William James says it all: “So far war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community”…“and until an equivalent discipline is organized, I believe that war must have its way. But I have no serious doubt that the ordinary prides and shames of social man, once developed to certain intensity, are capable of organizing such a moral equivalent…. It is but a question of time of skilful propagandism and of opinion making men seizing historic opportunities.”


To say the least, secession is the best viable and responsible historic opportunity on offer. The South has had already enough share of its moral discipline due to long years of war and there is reason to believe that secession would make any recourse to any major war unlikely. The North, on its part, with the engine of National Congress Party and fueled by religious belief, seems to have not learnt any lesson from the 21 years long war. It is still set to negotiate its way through firepower in a world where cohesion through use of physical strength towards reasonable citizens is increasingly becoming outdated and unnecessary.   The authorities have clearly failed to curb their prides and admit their shame even as dissenting voices knock on their doors and windows.


Sudan ’s unity has been destructive for South Sudan in every respect. In any event, 2011 referendum does offer a good opportunity for humbling diehard attitudes. If one morning, the North wakes up without the South, the effect will truly be politically liberating. This could usher in a paradigm shift in political thinking. The trend it takes is for future to judge, for if ours were a common planet, no hard sense can see why a section of people should fight for over 30 years just in return for something as basic yet noble as dignity, human rights and freedom. Loosing the integrity of the South might only happen as an oversight. The past should truly be decried and remembered with shame to avoid needless repetition of history.


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