Sudan Needs Unity
Hodari Abdul | 11/10/2010, 12:21 p.m.
Contrary to "popular opinion", we at the Give Peace A Chance Coalition (GPAC) believe it is in the best interest of Sudan, and indeed, all of Africa, for the southern Sudanese to vote for unity in the upcoming referendum scheduled for next January. Why?
Sudan, like most countries in Africa, is multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious. In some ways it is a microcosm of Africa. Just like the United States found a way to resolve enough of its issues to remain one country, and later become a great power, Sudan has a greater chance of realizing its potential if, even at this late date, it can resolve enough of its problems to stay united.
Howard University professor Dr. Mae King gave the analogy recently that if a "Gallop Poll" were taken in 1865 at the end of the Civil War in the confederacy, there is no doubt that the majority would have voted for succession. This is the case with southern Sudanese. Many have suffered a lifetime of war and poverty.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) effectively ended the war in 2005 between the north and the south, and for the most part, it has held up and been implemented. It contained a "poison pill" of a vote next year allowing southern Sudanese to vote to keep the country together or to separate.
Because most southern Sudanese have yet to benefit from a peace dividend, they are understandably bitter and anxious to have their own country. Top officials of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) have indeed benefited, and there have been serious charges of nepotism and corruption leveled by many NGOs concerning the whereabouts of the oil revenue they do control. The average southerner literally lives in a mud hut, and faces a life of poverty and disease.
"Make Unity Attractive" is a phrase familiar to all Sudan watchers and stakeholders. Those intent on facilitating the breakup of the country are quick to point out the government's failure to do so.
What is not commonly known, however, is that the CPA, signed by the National Congress Party (NPC), which controls the government in Khartoum, and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which has been the junior partner in the national government and controls the GOSS, mandates that they BOTH campaign and work for unity! Dr. John Garang, the long-time leader of the SPLM who died mysteriously soon after the signing of the CPA, was an advocate for the unity of Sudan.
What is also not commonly discussed is that the United States promised to normalize relations, end economic sanctions and remove Sudan from the list of "state sponsors of terrorism" once it signed the CPA. The U.S. reneged on those promises, citing the newly erupting conflict in Darfur. Khartoum was disappointed that the U.S. just renewed sanctions even though the Sudanese are cooperating and negotiating with the U.S. and the GOSS to hold the referendum.
In terms of "making unity attractive", Khartoum probably could have and should have done more. While the United States has expended resources to benefit displaced persons in Sudan, it as well as several donor countries in Europe failed to deliver the bulk of promised aid that could have helped to improve the infrastructure of the south since 2005. Thus it had the effect of raising, then squashing the hope of many that may have been inclined to vote for unity.
I've been to Sudan 5 times since 1994, most recently as an observer to their national elections held in April 2010. I visited both Khartoum and Juba, capital of the GOSS. I've traveled to over two dozen countries around the world, and the gateway to the south, the airport in Juba, was the most disheartening one I've ever been to. And this is the capital!
Southern Sudanese have animosity towards many of their northern countrymen, as a result of war and neglectful policies on the part of Khartoum. If history is any guide, however, they may awake a few years from now and find that those folks they THINK are their friends may end up causing them worst problems.
In fact, they may find out that many weren't really friends at all, but only wanted to proselytize or get at the vast oil and agricultural resources that the south has to offer. Does anyone think that the U.S. invaded Iraq to "restore democracy"?
Often overlooked in discussions about Sudan is that the 53-member African Union (AU) has spoken out strongly for the unity of Sudan. Recent comments trend towards accepting the outcome of the referendum, likely to be separation, but clearly the sentiment is for unity. The AU also spoke out strongly in support of Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir against the International Criminal Court indictment, but this too received scant attention in the national media.
The United States publicly states its willingness to follow the lead of the AU, but in fact, has been working for years to help the south break away. Here in Washington, DC, there is an Embassy of the Sudan, who's Charge 'D-Affairs is actually from the South, and a de facto Embassy of southern Sudan that has functioned for years. It is almost unbelievable!
The whole trend in the world is for unity. The European Union is an example of this. Africa needs a strong African Union or indeed, a United States of Africa. The last thing it needs is another country!
Let's encourage the Sudanese to resolve enough of their problems to stay together. At minimum, let's encourage those aiding the referendum to ensure that safeguards are in place for those who want to vote for unity.
The author is the GPAC Executive Director. He can be reached at email@example.com