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Articles and Analysies الصفحة العربية Last Updated: Feb 13, 2011 - 7:24:29 AM

Secession or No Secession? by mahamat ousman

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Secession or No Secession?

         There is not one single iota of doubt in my mind that the Southerners will choose secession for a number of reasons: 1. my personal experience with and understanding of the plight of the Southerners during the years leading up to the civil war, 2. the intense preparation at nation building in the South now, and 3. what some leaders of the South as well as opinion writers say in the mass media about secession/unity.

         Because I was born in Southern Kordofan and went to Rijl Al-Foula Intermediate School back in the seventies, I had hands-on experience with the plight of Southern Sudanese and the cultural subjugation they used to undergo. Back then, our Southern classmates were put under intense pressure to adopt Muslim (Arab) names. They were forced somehow to change their African names, so it is not unusual to find someone by the name Deng, for example, to be called by a Muslim name, say Saleh. A case in point is that of one of my best teachers, Deng Alor, the renowned former Minister of Foreign Affairs. He taught me English, and at that time, his name was Ahmad. So why on this green earth should this happen to anyone? With a change of the name, presumably, should also go some process of acculturation, or so it was hoped it seems. What is wrong with being a Deng or Kuwal? More importantly, why shouldn’t every ethnic group in the Sudan be left alone to preserve its culture and beliefs? Actually, the myriad of cultures, languages, beliefs, etc… is what makes the Sudan what it is. To my mind, what was happening to the Southerners in Al-Foulah smacks of cultural supremacy, and as such Islam does not condone it. 

          It is an open secret now that the Southern Sudanese leaders have been busy laying the foundation of a state. International airports, a central bank, postal code, a satellite channel, an army, demarcation of the borders etc…. The infrastructure for a functioning state is almost in place now. Look, for example, at how meticulous the experts are at demarcating the borders. You don’t usually demarcate borders of regions within the same country this meticulously. Now we know that there are thorny issues regarding the demarcation that need to be addressed, and the two partners of the Government of National Unity (GoNU) have not been able to agree on where to draw the boarders on a couple of points.

                I am also of the opinion that if the Southerners choose unity of their own accord, that in actual reality is the same as voting themselves into bondage. Why am I saying this? The President of the autonomous region of Southern Sudan and the Vice President of the Republic of Sudan, Salva Kiir, has let the cat out of the bag. The Vice President put it differently (more diplomatically) when he said that if the Southerners choose unity, this means they agree to becoming second-class citizens. One of the facts that the Sudanese would rather not talk about is that it is impossible to convince the Arabs (and maybe some of the Africans) in northern Sudan that the Southerners are not “slaves”. It is in their culture. Once I got into a conversation with such a northerner who tried in vain to reason with me that they just “say” the Southerners are “slaves”, but they don’t actually mean it. I reminded him of what the second Caliph, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, literally said once, “How dare you enslave people, and their mothers have begotten them free?” I told him that it was disdainful enough just to say it even if they do not mean it, so I asked him for reasons why the people in the South should choose unity against this backdrop. We know in the Sudan that most Southerners, if not all, know what these Arabs in the north think. I am absolutely certain that ALL the leaders in the South know this fact.

          After the Vice President had made that "second-class citizen" comment, the Sudan ambassador in the United States, who is also a Southerner, echoed the same views in a Voice of America interview. I think the ambassador diagnosed ethnic relations correctly in the Sudan when he said that if the Southerners choose unity, that means rendering themselves fourth-class citizens. How is that? Come to think of it, I really found what he said insightful. He said the “social” pecking order in the Sudan is that male, Arab northerners come first, next are female, Arab northerners, then Muslim Africans, and last Southerners. What the ambassador did not say, however, is that in the eyes of those Arab northerners, Muslim African are also “slaves”. So one of the facts people would rather not talk about out in the open is this last bit of information because Islam puts it in no uncertain terms that Muslims are equal. Therefore, if you happened to be a non-Arab in the Sudan, it is a big embarrassment to be asked about your ethnic background, particularly if you are living in the north. Therefore, President Kiir and the Ambassador are right, and I believe if the Southerners choose unity, they will be in fact voting themselves into becoming minions unless and until the body politic in the Sudan is overhauled.

         Opinion writers in the North also seem to be of the same opinions as SPLA/M leaders. I looked at what Al-Rayalaam, a Sudanese Arabic daily, published toward the end of June 2010. Here is a summary of what some of these writers say. Quoting Al-Sileik, Umm Zein says that Salva Kiir’s official stance is for unity, but an orchestrated propaganda ploy is going on in the streets of Juba and Torit making a case for secession, with SPLA/M consent. In addition, Kamal Bakheet says with apparent dejection that it is really weird to appoint Pagan Amom a minister for peace. Then he asks, “What kind of peace can one of the staunchest secession hawks bring about?”  And today (28/6/2010) Dr. Mustafa Ismail who is in charge of the NCP external relations said “anyone who thinks that Pagan Amom is propagating secession singlehandedly is under a delusion”, and his (Pagan’s) appointment as a minister of peace was to give him a chance to sell the idea of secession at the regional and international levels. Furthermore, Dr. Ismail, like Umm Zein above, thinks that Pagan’s efforts are “coordinated and orchestrated” by the highest echelons of SPLA/M leaders. It is clear that these writers are very quizzical about the intentions of the leaders in the South. However, I believe that they have every right to plan for secession if that is what they are doing since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) stipulates that they have the right to do so.

        An important tool of cultural subjugation has always been language policy in many parts of the world, and the Sudan is no exception. So far as language policy goes, it is an open secret that preference goes to Arabic, a long-time official language in the Sudan. (English has also been made official recently.) During my elementary school days, it was the rule of the day that if you used any other language than Arabic at school, the teachers would make sure that you were made to toe the line. That is, it was absolutely forbidden to speak any other language than Arabic, particularly in the classroom. And for someone like me who had been brought up a monolingual speaker of Mabang, it was a harrowing experience, a nightmare. To make it at school, and by extension in life, we speakers of Mabang (and all African languages) had to learn Arabic, the lingua franca in the Sudan. For us Muslim Africans, however, learning/speaking Arabic was not much of a problem because Arabic is the language of the Scripture we believe in. But why should someone who is not a Muslim accept what he thinks is cultural servility? To be a Muslim, learning Arabic is not necessary, so you can be a good Muslim without learning Arabic.  Although such language policy has done irrevocable damage to many cultures and languages of African Muslims in the Sudan, it is improbable that these Africans will wage any wars to regain their lost cultural territories. In other words, the promotion accorded the Arabic language is not justified, but it is here to stay. It is even worse when we know that the other African languages of the Sudan were demoted and relegated to vernaculars, i.e., no plans or funds for developing the languages, looking down upon the speakers of these languages, etc…. If and when you talk to any Sudanese who has gone through the educational system, you will be surprised to discover that he/she will have a grave misunderstanding over telling what the difference is between language and dialect. The educated in the Sudan do not consider the means of communication African Sudanese use languages. Consistently, they refer to them as "dialects" as a sign of demotion. When you try to explain what the difference is between these two terms, they would readily agree with you, but the mass media and column writers would continue to refer to these African languages as dialects. That makes me think that such a reference is not coincidental. These African Sudanese have the right to preserve their cultures and languages if they wish. Any loss of any of the languages spoken in the Sudan today is going to be a shame on humanity, not on the Sudanese only.


          As has been stated repeatedly in this article, there are “shameful” facts all of us Sudanese know, but we would rather keep them hush hush. I believe it is high time we in the Sudan spoke about those issues out in the open so that a workable solution can be found for them. Such issues include, inter alia, ethnic relations, culture preference, language policy, etc…. Let me just cite one case in point for the sour ethnic relations. Just yesterday (June 27, 2010), Al-Rayalaam published a piece of news that the Hausa in North Kordofan had organized themselves and elected a leader. Anywhere in Africa, this piece of news does not raise any tensions among ethnic groups, but not in the Sudan. Two readers commented on the article. Both of them said clearly that the Hausa are not Sudanese; one of them went so far as to sarcastically ask the following question, “Is it in Northern Kordofan or Northern Nigeria?”  I chipped in and commented on their comments. The point I made was that these Hausa are Africans who have every single right to be citizens of the Sudan. Then I asked, ”Who has a stronger legal claim for citizenship in the Sudan: those who came across oceans and seas to the Sudan as invaders, or those who came (possibly on foot) to their African cousins next door?”. A few minutes later, neither my comment nor the two comments appeared.  Apparently, the censer has realized the lopsidedness of the newspaper policy, or why should those two comments be published, but not mine? If these issues are not addressed properly, the whole of Sudan will ultimately disintegrate because they are the issues that are going to propel the South towards secession.

        In conclusion, it seems that the Southerners as well the Northerners have reached the conviction to call it quits, and I believe it is in everyone’s benefit to stop the bloodshed, and if it takes secession to achieve that, then be it. That does not mean that secession does not have its own problems, but it is the lesser of two evils. Dr. Mohamed Al-Shush (Al-Rayalaam, 27/6/2010) believes that unity of the Sudan is actually a necessity, and if it were left for the Southerners to decide for themselves, they would choose unity because, he believes, they have already voted with their feet when they took refuge in the North during the war years. But because of “foreign influence and internal [Northern] heavy-handed subjugation”  Al-Shush goes on to say, the Southerners will choose secession, so much for making unity attractive. They have apparently chosen secession because the Northern subjugation is nothing new to the Southerners. And since the Northerners think that the Southerners will have to have “foreign influence” to manage their affairs, these latter ones will go it alone. Ahmad Saleh (Al-Rayalaam, 27/6/2010) said, quoting bishop Gabriel Roreige, that to achieve unity all the states in the Sudan must be represented in the Central Government. If that does not come to pass, then the Sudan will disintegrate. Actually I did not like the tone of these Northern writers that the Southerners don’t decide anything independently without external influence. It is such insinuations that drive intelligent people like Pagan Amon crazy and catapult them towards secession. How can you agree to unite with someone who thinks you are an inferior and incapable of taking decisions on your own? So far as this mentality or rather this superiority complex pertains, unity is an impossibility.


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