Analysis - The narrative against Southern Sudan independence


Victory to the marginalised people of the Sudan:Celebrating the passing of the South Sudan Referendum bill.[©Larco Lomayat]

(Victoria BC NSV) - Many southern Sudanese speak of independence for the region as both a forgone conclusion and an inalienable right. Yet a growing chorus of cynics is advancing a narrative that tells us to ‘rethink’ our optimism and warns of a ‘failed state.’

Since the parliament passed the Southern Sudan Referendum Act in December—an act that enshrined into law the right of southerners to determine their fate in January 2011 --the region has been garnering considerable international media coverage.

At last, southerners might be relieved to witness their cause making headlines around the world after years of being overshadowed by the ongoing conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur. Behind all the extra attention, however, an unflattering narrative about southern Sudan appears to be gathering steam.

Those who caution against an independent south point to a number of factors as evidence that the autonomous region is fast becoming a failed state ahead of independence.

On top of the list are the recurring ethnic clashes, which have claimed more than 2,500 lives to date. Skeptics also cite bad governance, illiteracy, corruption and tribal animosities as precursors for a failed nation.

These factors caused the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to ask in a matter-of-fact tone last month, “Can South Sudan be a viable state?”

“People worldwide are writing our obituary,” says NSV contributor Joseph Deng Garang.

In fairness, many of these analysts-- both domestic and international-- raise critical issues that southerners ought to weigh as they contemplate their future.

Zachary Vertin, an analyst from the think tank International Crisis Group, warned in a January interview with Reuters that “the post-independence period -- when the common denominator of self-determination is gone -- could be marked by significant infighting and increased conflict on tribal lines.”

The fallacies of the narrative against Southern Sudan independence

Although the commentary against southern Sudan independence is not entirely misplaced, it’s both assumptive and paternalistic. “It implies that the South has been doing great under the union with the North when this has been the opposite,” writes NSV contributor Nhial Tiitmamer in a discussion on the topic.

The unintended consequence of these outside reminders about what issues we ought to consider prior to independence is that their words mistakenly feed into the all-too-common propaganda emanating from Khartoum that posits that southerners are incapable of ruling themselves.

Indeed, those who say the south is a pre-failed state assume that we have not thought long and hard about our destiny, which misses the mark.

“They [northern governments] have tried unsuccessfully to kill off Southern Sudanese for half a century,” Jok Gai, a NSV contributor questioned in a discussion of the topic. “Why are they worried that if South Sudan becomes independent, we will kill ourselves? Shouldn't they be happy that we will be doing the killing on their behalf?”

It’s the southern view that the narrative, which casts a dark shadow over independence, is being championed by Khartoum, which is arming tribal militias that destabilize the south. The south believes Khartoum encourages ethnic feuds to destabilize the region. The south also believes Khartoum portrays it as ungovernable with the objective of galvanizing international opinion in an attempt to deny the legitimate aspirations of the people of the south for a dignified country of their own.

What's more, some of the narrative displays historical amnesia. Some commentators, including SPLM-DC chairman Lam Akol, eloquently highlight the shortcomings of the autonomous Government of Southern Sudan. For instance, Akol says the southern government has failed to deliver services to the people, curb corruption and rein in rampant insecurity in the region.

To date, the infrastructure in the south is negligible. The Southern Sudan Government—in power for five years—has weak institutions and struggles to exert its control over a restive population. It also works to repair a society that has been devastated by civil wars for much of its history.

If the south has failed as the chorus of cynics wants us to believe,  then Sudan as a whole has failed and we should equally be examining the fate of northern Sudan-- long before the south is gone.      

The correct reply to the BBC should be: what if southern Sudan doesn’t become a viable state in 2011? What if it doesn’t stand alone? Should the international community deny its people the right of self-determination and force it to live under the northern Islamic government that has oppressed the people for half a century in the name of unity?   

“People want separation because it is the only option for the south’s survival, unless someone thinks demise under the north is better than demise of the south on its own,” continues Nhial.  

“I am optimistic that the South will not only survive on its own, it will emerge even stronger than the North since we have more resources than the north. What we need is a good leadership to prioritize how to efficiently use resources for equitable and sustainable development.”

Long and difficult road ahead

For its part the Government of Southern Sudan—while its leader Salva Kiir assures southerners of the right of self-determination—forecasts a range of challenges this year.

“These last remaining 12 months [before] the referendum are the most difficult and the longest,” says Michael Makuei, minister of legal affairs and constitutional development.“They are longer than the five years we have passed, and they are the most difficult and most dangerous.”

Although we are well aware of the obstacles that stand on our way to our long overdue freedom in 2011, the naysayers can be rest -assured that our independence is our destiny.

*Mading Ngor is a Canadian-based Sudanese journalist. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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