Revisiting the vision of Dr. John Garang as his enemies try to hijack it for their own purposes
One of the persistent attacks against Southern Sudanese who have declared their break with the Unity of Sudan by endorsing the choice of separation on January 9th, 2011, is that they have actually broken with the tenets and vision promoted by our late Hero, Dr. John Garang DeMabior. The basic claim is that Dr. John was fundamentally a unionist who would not have opted to separate if he were alive today. Of course this argument has many holes, the biggest of which is that it is impossible to really divine what his choice would be. So I will not claim to actually have the ability to predict where he would have stood in this hour, but we can at least explore the history of his political actions and pronouncements to arrive at a refutation of the above explanation.
First of all, it is important to define the choice faced by the people of Southern Sudan under this referendum, and then ascertain from there who is really exhibiting real loyalty to the legacy of Dr. John Garang. The people of Southern Sudan will be asked on January 9th, 2011 to either endorse the unity of Sudan as it is on that day, or opt to secede as a region. They will be contemplating life under a central system of governance controlled by a theocratic party bent on imposing an Arab-Islamic identity on the whole country, or embarking on the challenge of establishing a constitutional democracy in the area known as South Sudan.
They will not be facing the prospect of a new constitutional regime in the whole country as a result of reforms accepted by the Center to usher in equal citizenship, nor will they have any reasonable expectation of any change from what has compelled them to raise up arms in the past. The optimists among the Southerners cannot even lean on the utility of the Two-systems-in-One country argument, because its implementation during the six years of the interim period proved that it is a mirage that the NCP could not even faithfully live with. So a real follower of Dr. John Garang will have to ask whether this is the unity that his or her hero struggled for, and whether he should therefore endorse it. The unequivocal answer is that it is not, and would not even begin to meet the most basic of the tenets of the New Sudan vision.
The late leader of the SPLM always reiterated his commitment to a conditional unity that has to replace the current system, and he exhibited that belief in no uncertain terms by leaving his comfortable position as a senior army officer and embarking on a long and bitter fight as a guerilla. He labored hard to let whoever wants to hear know that the unity he was fighting for fundamentally needs to confer equal citizenship on all the people of Sudan without favor. As a pragmatist, he said that the resolution of the fundamental causes of the war would require that one of several models of governance and relations between the North and the South win out. He never hid his preference for Model One, which is the New Sudan Model that he was fighting for, and that was a United Democrat Sudan that belongs to all its children. He said in Atlanta, Georgia, on the 20th of March 2002 during a speech at the Carter Center that a United Democratic Sudan with the South excepted from Sharia Law has never worked in all the attempts at settlements of the problem in 1972, and 1997. He would have also added the experience of the last six years under the CPA as another indictment of the concept of Unity that maintained the theocracy in the North, because it still denied the Southerners equal citizenship in the country, especially in the federal capital in Khartoum. He would therefore not be one of those endorsing the current unity, because it still falls completely short of the ideals he fought for, and is a unity that he would have worked to replace instead of endorse.
He would have essentially said that the struggle for a New Sudan has not reached its destination, and therefore the people of Southern Sudan can either wage another protracted war to ensure that it happens, or they could vote for secession and work to build a new state of equal citizenship in their territory. My hunch is that he would have endorsed the second option, informed as I am by his pragmatic negotiation of this clause of referendum during the Naivasha process with the clear implication that it could lead to separation.
It is therefore not accurate to say that he was an avowed unionist and all these other superficial labels peddled around by writers in Khartoum who were at some point the ardent purveyors of smears against him. He and his comrades were proposing radical reforms that would have removed the unearned privilege and dominance of the rulers in Khartoum over the people of Sudan, and those reforms were never pursued at the expense of the people of Southern Sudan. The Southerners can therefore proudly trumpet his name and vision, and not be deluded by anyone that they are betraying him by voting for emancipation from the yoke of this failed state.
This unity is anchored on deceit and ill intentions, and during the last six years, we have seen how written covenants can be trampled and dishonored by the powers in Khartoum. There would be a complete sea change in attitude from the NCP and even the rest of the Northern political establishment if the South votes for unity in 2011, and that change will not be pretty. The South will have no leverage to even compel the Northern rulers to pay any mind to any of the principles of shared power and wealth as promulgated by the CPA. The only reason the CPA stumbled but never completely collapsed through outright abrogation was because the referendum vote was the trump card that the South was waving and that they arrogantly thought they would eventually manage to their advantage. Now that the South has crawled and stumbled under our leadership to this point, it will be foolhardy to let this pass without an emphatic vote for separation. Our solidarity remains with our comrades and all the progressive forces fighting for justice and equality in Sudan, but this vote is an earned right that should not be squandered.