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The fallacy of "the New South of the North" by Amir Idris
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Apr 18, 2011 - 8:51:41 AM


The fallacy of "the New South of the North"

By Amir Idris

April 17, 2011 — The separation of northern and southern Sudan will mark the redrawing of a new political map in both the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan. The political elites in both states will have to redefine their political identities, rewrite their constitutions and frame new norms and principles of governance. The North and the South will face enormous political, economic and security challenges that might destabilize both states and threaten the entire region.

Too much discussion is focused on the future challenges of the South Sudan and very little on the emerging state to the North. South Sudan will become an independent state on July 9, 2011. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) will rule the new state. But the SPLM has a significant presence in North Sudan. The SPLM-Northern Sector (SPLM-N) will face the toughest political challenge of negotiating its identity. The SPLM-N urgently needs to articulate its position clearly on the core national issues such as the relationship between religion and the state, inclusive citizenship and the democratic transformation. This requires the construction of a vision and a political strategy that will make the economic and political transformations of the North feasible for and embraceable by different sectors of Northern Sudanese society.

The current leadership of SPLM-N, however, has opted for the reinvention of the conventional paradigm of North/South which was discredited intellectually by the late Dr. John Garang’s vision of New Sudan. The notion of New Sudan was articulated in 1980s to shift the discussion from race, region and religion to issues of nationality and citizenship. Instead of maintaining this mode of thinking, the current leadership of SPLM-N has invoked the notion of “The New South of the North” as a political strategy for transforming the existing political establishment in the North after the declaration of South Sudan as an independent state. “The New South” refers to populations in areas of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

There are three problems with the notion of “The New South of the North”. First, the New South of the North is invoked in response to the ruling National Congress Party’s vision of an Arab Islamic state in the North. It’s a reaction to the dominant discourse of the NCP instead of a vision articulated intellectually by the SPLM-N. It shows clearly how the NCP’s discourse of Arabism and Islamism determines and indirectly formulates the political reactions of other political parties in the North including the SPLM-N. Second, the notion of a New South creates the “Other” in opposition to those groups who live in other parts of the country. It reproduces the old perception of the North about peoples in Southern Sudan who were perceived as “Others” in racial and cultural terms. Third, it places the burden of transforming the North onto the shoulders of the peoples of the New South. Ironically, the victims of a long history of slavery, and colonialism will once again have to liberate themselves from the yoke of colonialism and oppression orchestrated under the NCP at both the local and national levels. The peoples of Southern Sudan did this before, and in the course of their struggle lost more than two million precious lives.

The political invention of “the New South” by the SPLM-N regrettably does not advance the cause of the New Sudan. Instead, it makes it harder for the forces of New Sudan to mobilize different sections of the populations irrespective of their race, ethnicity, religion and gender. The notion of the New South is politically unwise and intellectually dishonest. It’s true that these areas have shared a common history of oppression and political marginalization, but the burden of transforming the entire North should not be seen as the duty of those who have been the most subjected to past violence and injustice. Since Sudan gained its political independence in 1956, northern political elites have expected people in the southern regions to support them in political power and often to pay for it through bloody sacrifices. The responsibility of transforming the North politically and instituting the project of the New Sudan requires a national engagement – the cultivation of a national vision that can be embraced by all peoples of the North.

Amir Idris is a Professor of African Studies and Associate Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, New York City, USA. He can be reached at [email protected]










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