As I begin to explore, in this series, the impact of the Referendum to be held in 2011 on whether South Sudan should secede or remain in a united Sudan, I must acknowledge upfront that my ideas may overlap with those of Sindani Sebit who is also exploring the same topic here at the New Sudan Vision. John Akec once commented in his blog (http://johnakecsouthsudan.blogspot.com/) that Eric Reeves, Douglas Johnson, etcetera, are considered experts on Sudan today because they have spent considerable amount of time researching and writing about the Sudan. In deed, they are valuable resources today. I took Akec’s assertion as an intellectual cry. While some people may pass off our writings today as ‘just personal opinion’, we are convinced that at some point in time, these opinions will matter a great deal.
When discussing the principle of self-determination for South Sudan, some people like James Okuk get very reckless as to offend the innocent people of the Nuba Mountains, Abyei and the Blue Nile. It is difficult to ignore James Okuk’s comments unless going to school and getting a PhD counts for nothing. The Interim National Constitution is very clear on the status of these three regions. We stood together in difficult times; there is no reason why we can’t stand together now. It is true their destiny depends on ours as our vote for secession is a calling shot. I therefore think we ought to explore our options with genuine concerns not with uncalled for arrogance.
Declaration of Independence
Many South Sudanese have suggested that the Government of South Sudan Legislative Assembly in Juba declares independence before or during 2011. But many others have cited legal challenges should this option be taken. I am not a lawyer but I know the united spirit of a people is far more superior to any established law. We all agree that Sudan has never been a nation and there are no signs that it might become one any time soon. In any case the INC is a loosely held constitution that Khartoum is not honoring and may discard it altogether at will.
The easiest example to cite is that of United States Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776. Those men and women in Congress didn’t declare their independence because the law allowed them to do so. They declared independence because it was necessary and the only way to their liberty.
There are many Thomas Jeffersons in South Sudan who can summarize the aspirations of our people into a Declaration, if need be. Our case is self-evident and well known to the world. If expressed well, it shall find unanimous support in Africa and the world over.
Keeping the enemy guessing is one surest way to win. The GoSS Assembly does not have to declare independence but it can and should plan for this eventuality. There is no harm for Khartoum to know you have it as an option. After all, what can they do? They will be the last to choose the path of war – Not when the mighty SPLA is showing a menacing presence! The GoSS ought to put hardworking and intelligent South Sudanese to work to come out with a document that captures our collective will with no lingering doubt.
Intensive political orientation
The second option will be for GoSS to play along until the Referendum, if at all it will be carried out. You may be surprised but it is a fact that it is easier to fight in a war than to vote. This is true even in countries where citizens are well-informed about their rights. It becomes a greater challenge in South Sudan where an average citizen worries about his cow or cassava. It is an insurmountable task to explain to them the concept of a Nation State. The citizens in South Sudan are very stubborn – they cannot vote for this Nation State if they don’t understand it.
The Government of South Sudan should not therefore sit back and engage in wishful thinking that the citizens are patriotic enough to know what they want. They may know what they want yes, but getting them to the voting booths come 2011 requires extensive planning and coordination. The SPLM, as the leading party in GoSS, should lay this foundation right now. They shall have to race with time – it is already too late. The only time the SPLM showed some organization was last year when they were preparing for the 2nd National Convention. After the convention, they were satisfied; nobody seems to be doing any more organizing.
It is in South Sudan’s interest to keep her people alert and ready for all sorts of scenarios so that there are no surprises. I do not fancy any illusive talk of unity without moral and political orientation. Unity is only a by-product of a well crafted policy of orientation towards a particular goal – in this case, an Independent South Sudan.
Chiefs to organize communities and solve conflicts
I was touched by Peter Adwok Nyaba’s lament concerning the recent instigated clashes between the Shilluk and Dinka Padang in Malakal. Adwok felt betrayed and pulled back from national issues when he had to comment on the conflict; to strongly say that there is no known conflict between the two communities. This is a doctor who lost his leg to the war. He didn’t lay down his life for no reason.
I want to take this opportunity to applaud Adwok for his concept of the House of Nationalities. It is a great idea that needs support. The only legitimate authority in South Sudan, as in much of Africa, is the chief. The people understand him; he is always with them in good and bad times. The president and his cronies are unfortunate implants. The British understood this very well. That was why they used the chiefs to collect taxes (awata – ha ha, that was my first Arabic, or what is it, word!). The SPLM too used the chiefs very successfully during the war to supply food and manpower.
In communal clashes such as the recent one in Malakal, only the chiefs are able to solve them amicably. Why then can’t the government empower them? In the process, we will begin to have educated chiefs and our societies will remain healthy ones. Their conflict resolution abilities will be needed even more after South Sudan becomes independent. Conflicts exist everywhere so having mechanisms to resolve them when they arise is the single most important thing.
The government should avail resources and encourage chief conferences. If they talk more often, they begin to realize that they not only need each other for support but that their destinies are inseparable.
Some unscrupulous elites may exploit the constitutional gap in the roles of the chiefs for their selfish ends. However, South Sudanese are rapidly catching on to these loopholes and exploits. I am sure they will reject those kinds of people with a resolute no.
In summary, the people of South Sudan and their government ought to keep their options close to heart. We should give our express mandate to our representatives to declare independence at any time we deem fit. We also ought to educate ourselves on possible ways to get South Sudan independent through the vote, should that become the only option. Finally, the authority of the chiefs should not be eroded prematurely. If it has to, let it die a natural death. These chiefs are vital in organizing our communities for an eventual Nation State in South Sudan.