Articles and Analysies
Confederation for Southern Sudan a Betrayal to Self-determination By James Okuk
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Jan 17, 2008 - 7:59:17 AM

Confederation for Southern Sudan a Betrayal to Self-determination


*By James Okuk


His Excellency, the deputy Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Malik Agar’s proposal and intention for the trial of ‘confederal’ system of rule in the whole Sudan for the sake of preserving the unity of the country, and the support of all Northern political forces (including the rebel movements of Darfur) for the implementation of that proposal, makes the constitutional right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan fragile to disappearance. Self-determination is a valuable right, which has been awaited with suffering and patience by most of the people of Southern Sudan for decades. Good enough, that right was granted to them in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) because of the long bloody struggle the people of Southern Sudan waged against the oppressive and the marginalizing centre in Khartoum . Nevertheless, the National Congress Party (NCP) under the leadership of Mr. President Al-Bashir was the first party in the history of the Sudan to acknowledge the need for the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan . This made the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) to accept partnership with the NCP in order to prepare the ground for the people of Southern Sudan to practice that right sincerely in 2011 without obstacles.

1. Without Self-determination SPLM is Nil

The right of Self-determination is what has made the SPLM popular and strong in Southern Sudan and not the ‘shadow-chasing’ ideology of ‘New Sudan’ as it is claimed by the SPLM pro-unionists. The pursuance for the right of self-determination is what has made Southerners to join the SPLM massively (including the Other Armed Forces) rather than joining the NCP or any political party headed and controlled by Northerners (Jallaba). Without the hope for the realization of the right of Self-determination SPLM is and will be valueless for Southerners; it will be meaningless to call its current leader Joshua who will lead southerners to their independent promised land of oil, water, fertility, clear sky, etc. For the sake of that right millions of Southerners became martyrs, widows, widowers, orphans, wounded and disabled. For the fight for that right, millions Southerners became displaced internally and others forced to take refuge or become asylum seekers in other countries. Not only that, but, many people from Northern Sudan have also been affected by the violent struggle for that internationally accepted right. Therefore, it is not and it will not be cheap to sell out the valuable right of Self-determination for any alternative or for any attempt of maintaining the unattractive unity of the Sudan !

2. Erasing Self-determination is a betrayal to People of Southern Sudan

Any attempt to erase the right of Self-determination from CPA document and from the interim national constitution is a total betrayal against that valuable right for the people of Southern Sudan , which should not be tempered with by any northerner except Southerners alone in the referendum ballots. Militarily, any proposal to erase that right is provocation of trouble and instigation of third civil war in Southern Sudan against the centre in the capital city of the Sudan . Politically, it might lead to democratic Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) within the Southern Sudan Assembly in Juba (whose members are all Southerners). The UDI will mean bad neighbourhood with the Country of North Sudan like the current case of Eritrea and Ethiopia , when it is not good for Africa to add more bad examples to its profile. To avoid all those possible bad consequences, Southern Sudan should not be pushed so early to the option of confederation before its possible independence in 2011.

3. Confederation is irrelevant to Southerners before Self-determination

Confederation might only be possible between the country of North Sudan and South Sudan if the people of Southern Sudan decided to establish legitimately an independent and sovereign State of South Sudan, first and foremost. Therefore, northern Sudanese (including Darfurian rebel movements) should not panic when the time is approaching for that tough choice of secession of the Sudan into two sovereign and independent neighbouring states. As Southerners have been waiting sacrificially to realize their independence from the North after the longest civil war in Africa, Northerners should also learn to wait and be patient for the possible confederation they are yearning for in the unified confederal Sudan in generations of peace who were born in 2005 and after, but not with the generation who were born in 1955 - 2004. It is better to stay apart as good neighbours than live together discontentedly as troublesome dubious nation. Let the time alone heal the historical painful and bitter wounds of staying unified in the Sudan ! Peaceful Separation through an authentic referendum for Self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan might help a lot in that healing process with the generation of peace in future.

4. What is Confederation?

Confederation, in political terminology, is a union of sovereign states each of which is free to act independently. It is distinguished from a federation, in which the individual states are subordinate to the central government. Confederations existed in ancient times, notably the Delian League, formed under Athenian leadership in the 5th century bc to resist Persian aggression, and the Achaean and Aetolian leagues of the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd centuries bc, which were prominent in the Hellenistic world.

In modern times the term confederation is applied to a joining together of formerly independent states to create a single political unit. The New England Confederation, formed in 1643 and lasting for more than 40 years, is the earliest example of confederation in America . During the American Revolution, the former colonies set up a confederation and stated its purposes in the Articles of Confederation. After experience had demonstrated that this form of organization was too weak, the position of the Federalists, who argued that the former colonies should form a federation, was embodied in the U.S. Constitution. The southern states that seceded in 1861, believing that the federal union impinged on the sovereignty of the several states, formed themselves into a confederation, the Confederate States of America . The so-called Confederation of the Canadian colonies occurred in 1867, although technically the Canadian form of government is a federation. Several short-lived attempts at confederation appeared in 19th-century Europe, such as the German Confederation established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the downfall of Napoleon, and the North German Confederation of 1866-70, a transitional organization preceding the establishment of the German Empire.

5. What is Self-determination?

Self-determination is the ability to make a decision for oneself without influence from outside. Politically, it is the right of a nation or people to determine its own form of government. It is a right which can only be achieved through democratic system of rule; it cannot be achieved within dictatorial rule. National Self-determination is a principle which became widely accepted in the early twentieth centaury. It represented the practical application of the ideas of nationalism and the fully legitimate state. The emergence of national states in the nineteenth century occurred largely by force of circumstance, but after the First War there was a widely held belief that the war’s principle cause had been frustrated nationalism in South-Eastern Europe and other parts of the globe. That belief was underpinned by a determination to create new national states as a matter of deliberate policy. This was partly the result of the prior collapse of the German, Russian and Hapsburg Empires and the consequent need to create replacements, and partly the consequences of American distaste for what were perceived to be anachronistic structures. Given that the separate large ethnic groups were not naturally arranged in sizes suitable for supporting a state, this outcome was inevitable, and its consequences were to provide much of the agenda of international politics in Europe between the two world wars. The new states of 1919 – 1923 were Poland , Baltic States , Finland , Czechoslovakia , Hungary , Yugoslavia , Romania (as increased by the addition of Trabsylvania) and Turkey , etc. After this period, demands for national self-determination essentially became those first for Indian Independence from colonial rule, and then in the 1950s and 1960s, the general independence from colonial rule.

In the case of the Sudan , the right of national self-determination was granted to the people of the South after their long destructive struggle with the central government in Khartoum . Southerners qualified for that right because they managed to struggle as one people of Southern Sudan (although they were multi-tribes) against the Jallaba and their stooges in the Centre and the provinces (or later the states) of Southern Sudan . They started as Anya-nya (poisonous snakes) guerrilla liberation fighters who ended up with the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement (AAPA) and semi-autonomous regional government for Southern Sudan in Juba from1972 – 1984. Though it was said to be decentralized, that regional government was still ‘puppeteered’ from Khartoum by Mr. Numeir’s socialalist regime. It did not go beyond a decade before that agreement was violated and another intensive civil war broke out under the name of SPLM/A till it ended with the CPA deal between the SPLM/A and Mr. Al-Bashir’s National Islamic Front (NIF) regime in 2005. The CPA deal added some new realities into the politics of the Sudan – the separation of State and religion, the democratic transformation based on the respect for the bill of rights and civil liberties, the decentralized system of government, equitable distribution of power and wealth, Two separate standing armies – the Sudan Armed Force (SAF) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – who are connected only though the Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) from both sides, and the right of the people of Southern Sudan for self-determination in an internationally monitored referendum. In that referendum, the resident of Abyei Area shall also decide whether to become Southerners or remain as Northerners. The resident of Southern Blue Nile state and Southern Kordofan State will only practice popular consultation within their Assemblies but not Self-determination nor confederation; they are in the North and shall remain in the North when South Sudan is divorced totally from the North Sudan. The people of Western Sudan have still a long way to go with their current struggle with the centre in Khartoum . If they ended up with confederation deal, then it will be their good luck and efforts. So let the politicians of Northern Sudan – whether from SPLM, NCP, JEM, UMMA, COMMUNISTS, etc. not attempt to play around with the nucleus hope of the people of Southern Sudan , the untouchable Self-determination!

6. Decentralization, Self-determination and Independence

What kind of rule are the people of Southern Sudan supposed to practice before and after they take their right of self-determination in the internationally monitored sincere referendum? It is autonomous decentralization according to the CPA provisions. It is never a confederation. Confederation may only be relevant if the people of Southern decided to separate the South from the North and make it an independent country first, and then later agree with the North as a neighbouring country or any other state in North Sudan or any neighbouring African country to form a confederation.

The CPA has ushered in the decentralization system of government of the Sudan by dividing it into the following levels of governance:

1)       National level with twenty Six States both in Southern and Northern Sudan , rule on the top by Government of National Unity in Khartoum (The Presidency, the Cabinet, the National Assembly, the National Judiciary the National Commissions, etc.)

2)       Regional Level in the form of Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, which rule the Ten States of the South (The President of GoSS, the Cabinet, Southern Sudan Assembly, Southern Sudan Judiciary, and Southern Sudan Commissions, etc.).

3)       States level of Southern Sudan under the supervision of the GoSS, and States level of Northern Sudan under the Supervision of GoNU.

4)       The Local levels of Counties within the Southern Sudan States and Localities within the Northern Sudan States, all under the Supervision of the Government of the States.

What is the meaning of Self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan and the resident of Abyei Area in the CPA document?

1) It is for the people of Southern Sudan to decide whether to remain in Unity with the North in the Arab world or to Separate Southern Sudan as an independent state to join the African world.

2) It is for the residents of Abyie Area to decide whether to remain in the North as part of Southern Kordofan State or to attach itself to Northern Bahr el-Ghazal as part of Southern Sudan (whether independent or unified with other parts of the Sudan ).

It is the decentralized system of government which has been put on trial for the six-year interim period (2005 – 2011) of the CPA. Any other alternative system of government like confederation, especially for Southern Sudan will have to be halted until the current practice has been proven a failure after 2011(but not before 2011). If the current democratic system of federal rule is maintained honourably by the political forces of the Sudan then the South shall not be betrayed again in the history of its struggle. Southern political and military forces shall surely unite and stand together to prevent any hazardous treachery by the Northern Forces (and their external allies) on the right of Self-determination for the People of Southern Sudan .


*James Okuk is a Southern Sudanese and a PhD student in the University of Nairobi in the area of political philosophy. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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