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DEBATING A SOUTHERNER (6): Author Steve Paterno
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Nov 8, 2010 - 9:16:27 PM

DEBATING A SOUTHERNER (6): Author Steve Paterno

Washington: Mohammad Ali Salih




1. Akol Liai Mager: SPLM, Queensland, Australia.

2. Ezekiel Gatkuoth: Head, South Sudan Mission, Washington, DC.

3. Dr. Jok Madut Jok: Professor, Loyola Marymount University, USA.

4. Luk Kuth Dak: Journalist, was in Sudan, now in USA.

5. Dr. Lual Deng, Minister of Petroleum.




1. Ali Karti, Minister of Foreign Affairs.

2. Ali Mahmoud Hassanein, Deputy Chairman, Nationalist Democratic Party (Opposition).

3. Ali Mahmoud, Minister of Finance.


Steve Paterno: Born in Juba, in 1980. Originally from Torit, Eastern Equatoria Sate.  Belongs to the Latuka tribe. Author of “The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure: A Roman Catholic Priest Turned Rebel.” (2007). Now, at Mercyhurst College in the United States.


Q: Let us start from the beginning. I would start by saying that there are few differences between the Northern and Southern Sudanese, when compared to differences between some groups in other countries. What do you think?


A: The differences between South and North Sudan are as clear as the sun in the summer sky. These differences are the source of a bitter relationship, and often the cause of endless conflicts. I wish these differences were not that many, so that we didn’t have to endure decades of war and mistrust.

Yet the differences are glaring, and we cannot ignore them, but rather we must face them head-on.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that was signed in 2005, attempted to resolve some of these major differences, particularly with regards to religion, power, and wealth. For decades, the North employed both Arabism and Islamism as a means of discrimination against the South.

During the negotiation stage of the CPA, the issue of Shariaa law became stumbling block, almost destroying the entire process of the peace talks. The agreement was only saved when a compromise was reached to allow South Sudan to operate as a Shariaa free zone, whilst the North strictly adhered to Islamic rules.

This is a clear testimony to the fact that the South and North are completely different entities, particularly because of the Islamic radicalism in the North.


Q: Why are you worried about Islam? The religion of Islam itself is not against the Southerners, Christians, pagans or anyone else. Also, there are Northerners who do not support Shariaa law, which was established by the Al-Bashir government.


A: Even before Al-Bashir, historically Sudan has endured many brutal powers, from Ottoman imperial greed, then British colonial rule, and then Arab-Islamic dictatorship. Throughout all these, the Southern Sudanese are the ones who suffered the most.


Q: Despite the past, after the CPA in 2005, the Southerners now rule themselves, and also participate in ruling the North. Is there a better situation for the Southerners?


A: I think you should ask yourself a series of questions before making such conclusions. For example: how has the South reached a point of self-governance, whilst sharing power with the Northerners in Khartoum? Why was it necessary for the Southerners to take up arms in order to be equals in their homeland? Do you really believe Southerners have power in the North under the current CPA power sharing arrangement?

I will not feel that the South is out of the North’s control until it has achieved full independence. Fortunately, we have the opportunity to vote to do so.


Q: It seems that the majority of Northerners want the Southerners to remain part of a united Sudan, and to work together to correct past mistakes. They also want to share power and wealth. What would you say to them?


A: Most of the potential wealth of Sudan is located in the South. Unfortunately, only a few are enjoying this wealth, whilst the majority, especially the Southerners, are languishing in abject poverty.


Q: Aren’t there many Northerners who also languish in poverty?


A: True, that there are many Northerners who also languish in poverty. However, the context and conditions are always different given the factors that differentiate between the South and North, which I mentioned earlier.

Have the Northerners noted that they, whether intentionally or unintentionally, share the Southern oil wealth with the Southerners, whilst they keep the wealth of the North to themselves?


Q: The Northerners say they want a free and democratic government, in the North and the South, which represents all Sudanese, and provides a just distribution of wealth. Do you support this?


A: In an ideal situation, which is what they are speaking about here, they are correct. However, realistically, this is not the case. Therefore, the practical solution is for the Southerners to go their separate way, and manage their wealth in the manner they see fit.


Q: Recently, the “The Economist,” the respectable British news magazine, said that a Southern Sudanese state would be “a disaster”, and criticized the Southern leaders.


A: I am not going to deny the lack of quality leadership in the South. Corruption and incompetence are serious problems that need to be addressed. However, these problems should not be an excuse for the regime in Khartoum to continually persecute the Southerners.

I believe the Southerners would prefer to be governed by incompetent Southern leaders rather than that. In the long run, the South will develop better leadership, as long as it is independent from the North.


Q: A recent London School of Economics’ report, “Southern Sudan at Odds with Itself,” warned of the threat of internal violence in the South, more than from the North. Do you agree?


A: Violence amongst Southerners is a fact that cannot be disputed. I actually believe that half of the problems in South Sudan are created by Southerners themselves. The other half are due to the North.

Thus, by achieving independence, the South will inherit only half of its overall problems. That is actually why the South must go its separate way and sort out its problems rather than it having problems imposed from outside.


Q: Why are you so angry?  Why is the hate of the Northerners?  It seems to me that you have become a prisoner of your anger and hate, of repeating past mistakes.  Why don’t you open a new page?  Most of the Northerners want to open a new page.


A: How do you “open a new page” when the same history of persecution against the Southerners still continues to this day? The real problem is not that the Southerners are angry with the Northerners. I think it is an oversight to say that anger is the driving force in the South. Also, it is an insult to the Southerners to depict them as angry people when they are simply demanding their basic rights.


Q. You live in America; will the Southerners be like the African Americans? They also fought for freedom and justice (with the help of some Whites). Then, the Whites apologized for past mistakes and asked to open a new page. Now, there is a Black President, Barack Obama.


A: I believe each and every oppressive situation is different in its own way. The case of South Sudan is unique, and cannot be compared to the African Americans. The freedom and justice that the Southerners are fighting for can only be achieved when they are free, in other words, when they attain independence.



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