Southern Sudan: Much has been achieved but the job is not yet done

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Wednesday, 11 August 2010 04:04
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(London, UK) - As we approach the last steps in the implementation of the CPA the two ruling partners and architects of this important agreement must double their efforts in order to overcome the remaining obstacles.  They succeeded in the past in navigating the treacherous terrain of peace talks and there is no reason to doubt that they will succeed again this time.

The secret for their success lies in the fact that both the NCP and the SPLM are ideology based political movements.  Each led by passionate leaders who wanted to push the country forward towards progress and glory but in diametrically opposing directions.  The other political parties which had been dominant in the past have been dwarfed and sidelined.  Some blame political manipulation or forceful intimidation but it is clear from the results of the recent elections that the SPLM and the NCP are by a big margin the most popular parties in the Sudan.

The NCP, rooted in the traditions of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood movement, has been battling to establish a modern state ruled according Sharia Law.  Sudanese society was encouraged to return to clean Islamic living, economic progress made a priority and non-Muslims accommodated as dictated by Sharia.  Peace with the SPLM was to be attained by offering development, power and wealth sharing as well as exempting the south from Sharia.   Although most northerners were not fond of the NCP, they supported its military campaign against the south-based SPLM.

The SPLM on the other hand, which was borne out of the first Anya-nya war and Marxist leaning ideals, has been struggling to establish a united, secular, multi-cultural and democratic Sudan.  Although many southerners disliked SPLM’s unionist ideology, they supported it in its fight against the north-based NCP government.

Despite being unionists to the bone, the SPLM leadership found NCP’s adherence to the Sharia Laws grossly offensive.  They argued that it makes southerners subjects of the north, therefore rendering them second class citizens in their own country.  Conversely, the word ‘secular’ in SPLM’s dictum was abhorrent in NCP’s view.  They felt that the majority Muslim people of Sudan had the right to seek God’s path as demanded by their faith.

As though the differences were not intractable enough, in came oil and other resource.  This is the elephant in the room, the subject everyone knows but dreads to mention.

Despite these colossal obstacles the NCP and the SPLM succeeded in reaching peace.  The triumph in Naivasha in 2005 has transformed the country beyond recognition.  A semblance of freedom and democracy has returned, opposition parties have been re-accommodated, and elections have been conducted.  Moreover, the new structures of government have been established at federal, southern region and state levels.  We have a functioning one-country-two-systems formula as drawn up in the CPA.   Many north-based businesses are investing in the south and are profiting healthily, development is advancing steadily and investors and diplomats are flocking to both Juba and Khartoum.  This is the win-win solution the late SPLM chairman Dr John Garang de Mabior used to talk about.  Who in their right mind would want to return the country to war and reverse these tangible gains?

Some would like for the ship to stop here but the sails are still up even if the shores are visible. The final chapter in the CPA is the conducting of the referenda in the south and Abyeie as well as the popular consultations in southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states.  The NCP and the SPLM must complete them peacefully and credibly.

As the end draws closer, feelings are running high.  Multitudes are marching in southern cities calling for separation.  Predictably, in the north politicians and the media are calling for unity.

This polarisation is extremely dangerous; the message being sent to the people of the north and the south - who, to be frank, have been political foes for generations - is that the talks are stalling.  The situation could become explosive.  In fairness, though, President Bashir himself has spoken truthfully and candidly about ‘voluntary unity’ on numerous public occasions.  This certainly helped to defuse the tension a little.  What is needed is for this honest approach to filter down the party hierarchy and to the government owned media.

The SPLM and NCP must now wrap up the post-referendum arrangement talks as quickly as possible.  What is needed of our leaders is boldness?  They must grasp the mantel and walk to the end of the line.  The fact that southerners are likely to vote for independence is well documented?  It serves no purpose to pretend otherwise, or to shield our brothers and sisters in the north from the truth.  They all know the facts anyway!

The NCP stands to gain enormously from the peaceful conclusion of the CPA – irrespective of whether the south breaks away or not.  They will be seen internally as the party that brought lasting peace and could rule for a long time to come in a manner akin to Japan’s LDP which reined for 44 years. The northern state will be a unique country.  A country that is united by religion, culture and language, blessed with a vast rich agricultural land, technical know-how, business acumen, high literacy rate, a highly educated elite, strong industrial output and lasting peace.  Although much of the current oil reserves will go to the southern state the NCP could negotiate - with its partner - lucrative terms for servicing and exporting the oil.  The possible future northern Sudan state will be the biggest investor in the south and stands to benefit immeasurably from all of the south’s resources which are unlikely to be exploited fully unless peace prevails.

The northern public have a deeply rooted love for the south and separation is psychologically unacceptable to them.  Regretfully, this love has not always been translated into south friendly policies by the successive northern-based governments.

This heightened anti-separation sentiment is the real reason the referendum is not being discussed rationally in the northern media.  But the referendum is here with us and it has two possible outcomes both of which were agreed to in advance.  So rather than allowing itself to be hung out to dry for letting the south go, the NCS should allow an open media debate and defend the referendum that they signed up to with courage and conviction, pointing out the costs and benefits of each outcome.

The SPLM too faces enormous problems.  It is being accused by its followers in the north of retreating to the south and abandoning its national agenda.  The southern popular voice condemns them for not speaking out for separation.  While at the same time, the NCP accuses them of separatism. The southern opposition charges them of hijacking the south, of repression, tribalism, violence and corruption.

The SPLM must now go on the offensive.  To answer the charge for separatism, they should invite the unionists in the north to go to the south to meet, mingle and debate with the separatists in the southern media.  It should ensure that they are safe, listened to and treated with respect.

To those who dislike their silence on separation the SPLM should point out the fact that this was agreed to in the CPA and that in any case unity can be an attractive option for the southern voter if certain terms were met by the NCP.

As for the uttering of the southern opposition, it is very important for the SPLM to take them seriously.  Not only because those in opposition are fellow citizens entitled to their opinions, or that unity amongst southerners furthers their interest, but also because the SPLM – like any other grouping – can learn a lot from its opponents.

The SPLM must address these claims where they are credible.  Where no evidence exists, the SPLM must refute the allegations while allowing neutral outside voices to verify the facts on the ground.  Where the antagonism is motivated by personal grievances the SPLM must use all peaceful means possible to reach a settlement with these individuals.

In negotiating the last hurdles with the NCP, the SPLM should remain committed to a peaceful and legal conclusion of the CPA by leaving many items open to negotiation while remaining steadfast on issues it cannot sell to its own constituency.

*Mawan Muortat is a UK-based IT professional and a contributor to the New Sudan Vision. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.