Sudan: can there be unity after secession? A report on ‘Sudan at the Brink: Self-determination and National Unity’

Category: Diaspora
Published on Thursday, 23 December 2010 10:24
Written by Mading Ngor, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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(Calgary AB NSV) – Just as the possibility of ‘unity’ has been written off in Sudan—Dr. Francis Mading Deng—one of Sudan’s most prolific scholars—is challenging conventional wisdom on the debate on the country’s future.

“It is not too late to debate the merits of unity and whether self-determination is reconcilable with the preservation of national unity,” writes Dr. Deng in his latest book, where he argues that relations between the north and the south could improve after separation to the point of reunification.

A staggering claim, perhaps--but an aspiration he embraces conditionally.

There is no illusion that unity has been Dr. Deng’s lifelong objective “but on the basis of full equality and a shared sense of belonging to the nation, with pride and dignity for all citizens,” as he would quickly note.

 In other words, he is probably the biggest advocate of the SPLM’s vision of New Sudan since Dr. John Garang, the late architect of the vision, which calls for unity of the country on an equal footing without discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion. He also supports self-determination for the south to “motivate national leadership” in the north to make unity attractive for the south in a referendum.

In order for Sudan to achieve a credible stab at unity, says Dr. Deng, the north must not view the inevitable separation of southern Sudan with ‘hostility’ and it should implement the CPA fully. In addition, he writes, the north and the south must strive towards a friendly partition, by adopting an equitable formula which allows for sharing of oil, water, cross border trade, free movement, and choice of citizenship and build on those pillars to prepare the ground for future merger of the would-be two independent nations.   

Dr. Deng’s book, released this year, is a timely commentary on the pending 2011 referendum on southern Sudan, which observers and analysts predict will lead to the split of Africa’s biggest country. 

‘Sudan at the Brink: Self-determination and National Unity’ builds mainly on two keynote addresses –one was given in 1989 in Khartoum, at a conference themed ‘Dialogue on Peace Issues’ and organized by the then nascent regime of Field Marshall Omar El Bashir. The other chapter was presented at a 2009 conference organized under the auspices of the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) on unity and separation. 

‘An ongoing goal’

Deng, who serves as UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide--although he wrote the book in his personal capacity--  says he hopes his book will contribute to keeping unity in the loop “to remain an ongoing goal, whatever the outcome of the 2011 unity or secession.”

Although the scholar, who has authored and edited more than 30 books, acknowledges that “in all probability the south will vote for secession,” he maintains it is in the long term interest of the country to continue to insist on a more representative and democratic Sudan, and not to slam the door on reunification. 

“The two parts of the country will remain in the same geographical proximity, will continue to interact, and, in varying ways, will become even more interdependent than they have been.”

A native of Abyei, Deng sees his legacy in the context of his prominent family’s historical role, which he says has been to serve as the ‘needle and thread’ that binds the north and south together.  While his tone remains largely optimistic about the future, Deng predicts separation of southern Sudan would remain vulnerable without “resolving the national identity crisis in the north and establishing an equitable governance in the south.”

Fuelling the crisis of identity in northern Sudan, as Deng explains, is the fact that the National Congress Party, formerly the National Islamic Front, has tightened its stranglehold on power and rules the country as a Muslim and Arabic country, even when much of the region’s peoples are non Arab, leading to the Nuba, Darfurians and Ingassana being ‘disgruntled in the Old Sudan.’ 

He adds: “the struggle for equality in a New Sudan will continue and the Northern regional liberation movements will look to the south for support.”

If the south lends a hand to northern groups, according to Deng, the north might react by manipulating southern tribal differences to weaken its stability and independence. 

“Hence, even though the two nations would be separated politically, the reach that each would maintain into the other would persist, perhaps leading to even greater instability than under the current status quo.”

Friendly partition

Deng declares for unity to be a viable option in the long run, “North and south should work out arrangements that will reconcile partition with ongoing challenges of unity.”

For instance, “In the Old Sudan,” he writes, “divisive issues include ‘power sharing, sharing of resources or national wealth, the nature of government and the state, the relationship between religion and the state, problems of national identity, and issues pertaining to foreign policy.

“Unity, desirable as it is, can only be achieved and sustained in a Sudan that accommodates its diversities within a framework of equality, without discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, culture, and gender. That’s the New Sudan vision.”

However, Deng states that it would take enormous sacrifices for the south to reach the elusive vision of New Sudan as the NCP would vigorously resist such a sea change in its ideological gridlock. Even so, he says, unity should still be pursued even if the 2011 referendum ends in separation. 

“Unity and separation are varying degrees of relationships that could be strengthened or weakened by the qualitative factors involved,” he says.

“The possibility of reunification should not be dismissed and perhaps be explicitly provided in the articles of friendly partition.”

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