The time reaches 11:00 AM and I am standing some distance to a make-shift flagpole on 20th street in Washington D.C. outside the temporary embassy of South Sudan. As the time reaches 11:00 the flag of the new nation of South Sudan is raised up, and the people gathered, mostly South Sudanese, begin to cheer and cry, including me.
This was in United States but the real heart of the celebrations was in the capital of South Sudan, Juba, where there were thousands of people massed in the John Garang mausoleum for the independence ceremony. There was a military parade looked on by leaders, guests, dignitaries and high above them the flag of once united Sudan. The flag of Sudan with its Islamic and Arab symbolic colors was brought down and replaced with the brightly colored flag of South Sudan finally marking the separation of South Sudan. Afterwards Salvir Kiir was sworn in as President of the new Republic and speeches followed. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice stated, ‘Independence is not a gift you were given but a prize you have won,” and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said that independence was, ‘the culmination of a long struggle … that destroyed so many lives for so many years.” Finally, the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir praised the people of South, ‘We congratulate our brothers in the south for the establishment of their new state’. He also stated ‘Despite our belief that Sudan’s unity would have been better … the gains achieved over the last years from the shared conviction of the feasibility of peace … must be protected,” He also reminded President Obama “to meet his promise and lift the sanctions imposed on Sudan.” Joy and jubilation filled the air of Juba as a day that an entire people dreamed of finally became reality.
On the 13th of July the United Nations will vote to make South Sudan a member of the UN. Though it’s easy for a child to be born it’s a greater challenge to raise it and South Sudan faces a long and rough road to have the most basic aspects of a state never mind a developing one. According to the United Nations 84% of women are illiterate, more than half of children between 6 and 13 have no education and according to the International Rescue Committee only 20% of South Sudanese have access to healthcare, the rest being provided by aid organizations. There are less than 40kms of paved road, not all borders have been demarcated, there is inter-tribal conflict brewing between tribes such as the Dinka and Nuer, the Lord’s Resistance Army is still active along its border and border of Uganda and has been responsible for attacks on South Sudanese. Then there is the issue of the Nile basin agreement and oil sharing with the North and of course Abyei, which the Sudanese Armed Forces controlled on the 19th of May, and concerns of bombing in South Kordufan & the Nuba Mountains. But its not only South Sudan that faces challenges but Sudan as well, inflation sky-rocketed in the country, and the government In January cut subsidies for food and oil, the North will lose 36% of the 50% share of oil it received under the CPA. On top of that Sudan has to deal with 38 billion dollars of debt. Arab Spring influenced demonstrations were seen on the 28th of January but minimal crowds appeared, one student was killed, but none the less an active group was formed called ‘Garifna’ meaning ‘fed up’ it intends to remove the government though peaceful protest. On 21st of February, President Omar Bashir announced he will step down in 2015, this was according to him not as a result of the Arab spring but to open the way for future democratic elections. Omar Bashir knows he will go down in Sudanese history as the man who lost the South thus he will face greater criticism from the opposition. Still many North Sudanese are uncertain about their future.
South Sudan is facing David verses Goliath tasks and it may seem it should have never separated, but both North & South were never destined to be one. For 39 years Sudan suffered civil war the first episode began in 1955 until 1972 then reignited again in 1983 until 2005. In the second Sudanese Civil war some 2 million people were killed and further 4 million displaced. The causes and history of the Sudanese civil war are long and complex (see previous article) but it is essential to understand the causes in order to know why it came to independence on 9th of July.
Sudan’s history is one of the oldest in the world dating back 200,000 years; Islam gradually assimilated into Sudan in the 14th century, during its Islamic period a slave trade developed between North & South seizing what is today South Sudan, hence marking the first cord of hatred between the two. In 1820 it was invaded by Muhammed Ali Pasha of Egypt and later colonized by the British Empire and ruled in condominium with Egypt in 1899 after ending the Mahdist rule of Muhammed Ahmed. During British rule South Sudan was ruled separately; most development of social, political and economic sectors was done in the North, in 1921 the British created the Closed Administrations Law which made it illegal for Northern Sudanese to enter into South Sudan under the pretext of diseases but allowed Christian missionaries to roam free. Thus when coming to independence in 1956, South Sudan was an extremely economically and socially divided country, with only two administrative posts run by Southerners as the rest of the Southern population were unfortunately uneducated. The rebellion began one year before Sudanese independence, in the rebellion some 800 Northern Sudanese, mostly teachers and doctors were killed, South Sudanese feared being ruled by an Arab Muslim government and thus started the Anyaya (meaning snake poison) rebellion, it would last until a 1972, ended by the Addis Abba peace agreement brokered by President Ja’far Numeiri which gave South Sudan its own parliament and protected its cultural difference.
Peace would be short lived and reignited after the same President Numeiri declared Sharia law across all Sudan and disbanded the Southern Parliament in 1983. In South Sudan a battalion of 500 soldiers refused to suppress the growing rebellion in South, these men would later form the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army lead by John Garang (who was originally serving in the Northern Army to suppress them). This was the most bloody, long, gruesome episode of the war made worse by famine and two droughts. The civil wars were a result not of ethnic or religious division, but due to economic, social and political disenfranchisement of South Sudan, some Sudanese also argue it was due to racist feelings toward Southerners but this is not a major factor. The landscape of Sudanese politics was constantly changing three military governments and three democratically elected governments during the war. All the while the Sudanese economy was degrading, what made matters worse for the North was when after the bloodless coup of Omar Al-Bashir in 1989 put the Islamic National Front in power, he later issued a jihad hoping to repair the morale of the military. The same government gave entry to Islamic terrorist groups and Osama Bin Laden and Carlos the Jackal, which further alienated and isolated the North. At the same time South Sudan was receiving world wide support and aid particularly from the US, neighboring African nations, Europe and Israel. With the Sudanese economy at all-time low and Sudan being almost a pariah state, the Sudanese government knew it had to make peace. Negotiations started in 2002, under the Machokos protocols in 2002 (part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement) it stated a six year interim period would be made to allow the people of South Sudan to choose whether they wanted to remain united with Sudan or become an independent nation. The end of negotiations created the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which was signed in Kenya in 2005.
The referendum took place between 9th and 15th of January in South Sudan and unsurprisingly 98% voted for independence, hence the date for independence was set for 9th of July. The peace process brought the hopes of economic growth for Sudan with its oil revenues and removal of US sanctions, (which President George Bush originally promised to Bashir if he signed the CPA). The six year interim period between 2005 and 2011 was supposed to give a chance for Omar Bashir to make unity an attractive goal but alas his government did not do enough.
During the second Sudanese Civil war, and up to now, the media oversimplified the civil war and portrayed the narrative that the Christian, Animist African south were being oppressed by the Arab Muslim north, further narratives included by Christian aid organizations and Israeli lobby groups that Southern children were being enslaved and genocide was committed. The misguided views along with wars have made South Sudanese feel independence was necessary not just for peace but to become free. That’s why its common to hear from South Sudanese, ‘We are free at last’, ‘free from the north’. The media have failed to take into account the long complex history and context of Sudan after its independence, they have in fact placed one group ‘the North’ as the evil doer and one side ‘the South’ the victim. Many people are to blame including North Sudan, it was the North Sudanese government’s failure to include South Sudan as part of the nation and failure to respect its cultural diversity. North Sudan was suffering from what Usamah Ali calls ‘the Sudanese identity crisis, are we Arabs or Africans?’. The generalized view also extends to the Darfur conflict. Celebrities such as George Clooney and Mia Farrow also got involved in the South Sudan referendum spreading the same ignorant, generalized view about the civil war as ethnic and religious. It forces us to question the risk celebrities cause when getting involved in international affairs, what mandate does George Clooney, a college dropout, have to discuss about the situation with South Sudan is beyond me.
It Is indeed truly a great shame, Sudan was once regarded as Africa’s ‘sleeping giant’ due to its great size, resources and the potential it had, it was also called the ‘breadbasket of the world’. Sudan could have been a great, economic and political influence in Africa and Arab world and an example of how a nation with much great ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity could still remain as one. However instead it spent almost all its time as an independent nation at war with itself. Despite the past horrors and many challenges and uncertainness the Sudan and South face there is no denying the great tremendous strength and sacrifice it took for both the leadership of North and South to make peace. Both people have no intention of going to war even with the current situation in South Kordufan, and both are hopeful of continued future cooperation. Even though Sudan and South Sudan are divided physically and politically the people still remain as one in their hearts.
‘..nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.’ – Isaiah 2:4
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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