South Sudan: Remember the past as you decide the future

Over the next two years, and especially on the day when they cast their vote during the 2011 referendum on self-determination, the people of South Sudan need to remember the past while deciding the future.

They need to remember that Sudan as a political entity in its present borders is a very recent creation. The colonial powers drew the boundaries of Sudan in the late nineteenth century without considering the religious, tribal, and ethnic diversity or the interests of the people in the region thus, intentionally or not, preparing the ground for future conflicts.

The people of South Sudan need to remember that they have been deliberately marginalized politically, socially, and economically for over a century and treated as lesser human beings first by the British and Egyptian colonial administrations and later by the successive Arab regimes in Khartoum.

Southerners should remember that for the most part of their history, people of Sudan had never had a common language, identity, customs, or culture.

After independence, various regimes and military dictatorships in Khartoum had tried to change this. They attempted to create a common religion in Sudan through the spread of Islam and conversion of animists and Christians in the south by gun.

They had also attempted to create a common language through forced imposition of Arabic in the south.

Southerners need to remember the ruthless terror and persecution committed by their northern countrymen and their allied militias from the west and south. They need to remember the millions that have been brutally murdered in the genocidal campaigns organized by Sudan’s Islamist regimes since 1956.

They should also remember the slavery promoted by the current government in Khartoum, which in the 1980s and 1990s encouraged its allied militias to raid the south and take captured civilians and children with them as slaves and do with them as they like.

People in South Sudan need to ask themselves if they can ever again trust the current or any future government in the north. At the same time when the Khartoum regime was negotiating peace with the south, it began a vicious campaign of murder, rape, and scorched earth policy in Darfur.

The southerners need to realize the absurdity of the calls by northern politicians to "make unity attractive" in Sudan. They need to ask how can the same people who have organized the horrendous war crimes and crimes against humanity first in the south and recently in Darfur talk about unity of Sudan and peace, prosperity, and inclusiveness for all and be taken seriously.

This would be like having Adolph Hitler and the Nazis promote peace and unity in Europe and prosperity of Jewish people and Israel after World War II and Holocaust.

Southerners need to ask themselves are there any guarantees that things will be different from now on in Sudan. Are there any guarantees that the future elected or military regimes in Khartoum will be truly reformed?

Are there any guarantees that the future regimes will protect and respect all Sudanese citizens regardless of their religion, ethnicity, color, or geographical origin? Are there any guarantees that the northern regimes will not start yet another jihad against the south and kill, rape, enslave, or force out of the country the southerners left alive after the last war?

Some people argue that, if the south becomes independent in 2011, the other marginalized people in Sudan – in Darfur, east, and north – will be left alone without any hope and support.

This is an important and valid argument but after so many decades of unthinkable marginalization, death, and destruction, the people of South Sudan need to think about themselves and their future and not sacrifice their wellbeing for the sake of others - especially if those "others" – such as many Darfurians – had taken part in the killings of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in the south in the jihad against Christian and animist "infidels."

Now many people in Darfur say they were used by Khartoum, that they did not know what was really going on in the 1980s and 1990s in the south. This is very hard to believe.

If the people of South Sudan consider all the above before they go out to exercise their democratic right and vote in the 2011 referendum, they will very likely realize that a peaceful separation may be the best solution.

As the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, rightly pointed out recently, if "you want to vote for unity so that you will become second class citizens in your own country, that is your choice. If you would want to vote for independence so that you are a free person in your independent state, that will be your own choice" too.


Savo Heleta holds an M.Phil degree in Conflict Transformation and Management from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He is the author of "Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia" (March 2008, AMACOM Books, New York). He can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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