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Sudan: Reflections, 3

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jan 10, 2011 (110110)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"I do not believe that either the ruling National Congress party (NCP) in Khartoum or the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which governs the south, want to fight. War would almost certainly bring an end to NCP rule in the north and devastate an already impoverished south. Leaders on both sides are smart enough to know that." - Mo Ibrahim

As world attention focuses on the dramatic process of the referendum in Southern Sudan, this series of AfricaFocus Bulletins contains several reflections on the historical significance of the referendum and the transition process which will be unfolding in the coming months.

  • Two lectures by Thabo Mbeki, Chairperson of the African Union High Level Implementation Panel, one at the University of Khartoum (sent out by e-mail and available on the web at and one at the University of Juba (available at, are both diplomatic interventions and nuanced reflections which warrant careful reading.
  • An op-ed by Mo Ibrahim, Sudanese mobile phone magnate and philanthropist, and a statement by the Sudan Democracy Group entitled "A letter from the men and women of the North to the men and women of the South On your Democratic Right to Self Determination," available at address both the referendum and the future for the expected two separate states.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Sudan, see

For up-to-date news coverage, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++

Sudan is a warning to all of Africa

by Mo Ibrahim

The writer is chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and founder of Celtel, the telecoms group

Mo Ibrahim Foundation

[Oped in Financial Times, January 7, 2011]

One evening, some 40 years ago, a progressive north Sudanese was giving a lecture in Khartoum. He was talking about the problems posed by the chronic underdevelopment of south Sudan, and the need to entrench brotherhood and unity among all Sudanese if we were to develop as a nation.

A southern man stood up and brought the audience back to earth. "That is all fine, sir," he said to the speaker. "But will you allow me to marry your sister?"

The prejudice to which he alluded has remained sadly relevant up to today, when the south of my country is preparing to vote in a referendum on independence.

Late last year, my foundation held its annual forum in Mauritius, a beautiful country which has led our Index of African Governance for the past four years. Some 300 African opinion leaders came together to discuss the economic integration of the continent. The debate was not about whether we need integration: African markets, as well as African voices, are too fragmented to compete globally. Rather, the debate was about why we are moving towards closer political and economic co-operation so slowly.

In the evening, as everyone danced joyfully to the music of Youssou N'Dour and Angelique Kidjo, there was a cloud hanging over the Sudanese guests among us. A woman was crying as her colleagues tried to calm her. While other Africans were celebrating their coming together, we knew that in a few weeks our country would start to break apart.

Later that night I joined my Sudanese friends from all corners of the country, the north, the south and Darfur. The meeting was reflective, sad and awkward. Looking at my friends, I wondered how each would have responded to that 40-year-old question.

Sudan has been an experiment that resonated across Africa: if we, the largest country on the continent, reaching from the Sahara to the Congo, bridging religions, cultures and a multitude of ethnicities, were able to construct a prosperous and peaceful state from our diverse citizenry, so too could the rest of Africa.

That we have failed should sound a warning to all Africans. Sudan, at one million square miles, is the continent's largest country, sharing borders with nine other states. The fault lines that have divided us as a people extend from Eritrea to Nigeria. If Sudan starts to crumble, the shock waves will spread.

Khartoum today projects a sense of normality, modernity and relative affluence. This is in sharp contrast to the rest of the country. Lack of investment, underdevelopment and the exclusion of populations on the periphery from the political process has resulted in alienation. It has strengthened local identities.

We have not nurtured that sense of brotherhood and unity. Rather, since independence the way Sudan has been governed has undermined any potential for a common Sudanese purpose.

President Omar al-Bashir's regime has aggravated the problem by seeking absolute power and repressing dissent. The result has been the civil wars in the south, the east and in Darfur to the west. Our country has torn itself apart.

The separation of the south following the forthcoming referendum on January 9 is inevitable. The least we can do now is to separate peacefully and amicably.

I do not believe that either the ruling National Congress party (NCP) in Khartoum or the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which governs the south, want to fight. War would almost certainly bring an end to NCP rule in the north and devastate an already impoverished south. Leaders on both sides are smart enough to know that.

The north must now focus on finding a peaceful solution to the separate conflict in Darfur, and the leaders of the three main rebel movements there must come together around a coherent agenda to achieve this.

The government in Khartoum feels isolated and under siege, facing criticism from within its own ranks, the population at large and even its Arab neighbours, who are usually tolerant of each others' misdeeds. It needs to reflect on the outcomes of 21 years of absolute rule - and address its legacy, to which partition will now be added. If you are in a hole, stop digging.

But decent governments need decent opposition. The crumbling old opposition parties in Khartoum, led by the same grand old men who were there when I was at school, lack vision or even coherence.

The south faces its own enormous task of nation-building. Civil war and underdevelopment have left the region with little infrastructure and few institutions. Moreover, the south is not as homogenous as often portrayed: there too a national identity must be constructed, representative of the diversity of its people.

At our meeting in Mauritius we all agreed that Africa's future is in its own hands. Freedom of movement of people, goods and capital is essential for the development of our sub-scale economies and for maximising the potential of our immense resources. Regional economic communities across Africa, the African Union and the African Development Bank are all focusing on this as a top priority.

Sudan cannot afford to be on the wrong side of history. The north and south will have to work together, but will they? Less than two decades before the independence of India and the creation of Pakistan, Winston Churchill claimed: "India is a geographic term. India is no more a country than the equator is a country." It is with great sadness that we Sudanese must recognise that the same rings true for us.

Sudan: A letter from the men and women of the North to the men and women of the South On your Democratic Right to Self Determination

Sudan Democracy Group (Khartoum)

1 January 2011
[includes link to list of signatories]

Dear sisters

Dear brothers

This is a critical and historic moment for Sudan. The decades' old project of building the national identity of the Sudanese people is now facing the possibility of the re-construction of the country, including its geography. After a long history of suffering finally the people of South Sudan are in the process of achieving their self determination. We, the signatories below, Northern Sudanese citizens, appreciate and support the people of South Sudan as you prepare to exercise your democratic right of self determination.

Dear Brothers and sisters of South Sudan,

We had hoped that the interim six years of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) would heal the wound of the real injustices that have been inflicted upon you throughout our contemporary history, and that we would reach the moment of the referendum at a time when we --all of us in the South and North- were ready for a healthy start for a new and inclusive future. However the six years have passed without achievement and without any real, conscientious effort by the central state to make unity an attractive choice for citizens of the geographical and cultural South. For six years, attempts to kill the spirit and letter of the CPA have continued, leaving the rights contained in the CPA with no protection and no defence, paving the road for efforts to undermine the agreement, to the degree that racist attitudes and conspiracies have publicly and tirelessly continued to kill the CPA.

We, the signatories below, citizens of the broader North Sudan, do value and join hands with you while you are preparing for this historic moment and pledge to protect and defend your democratic right of self determination.

This step was heavily paid for through atrocities, loss of life, discrimination and the waste of generations of potential by successive regimes since independence. These regimes, in particular the regime of the National Congress Party during the last twenty years, have provoked and continue to provoke, civil conflicts. They have tried to manipulate the country's ethnic and cultural diversity and turn it from an advantage and asset into a curse, mainly for the purpose of sustaining their own existence in government. As a result, the current Sudanese national state has failed to represent the people of South Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, Far North, Darfur---and the people of the country as a whole---by implanting division and hatred and promoting a negative culture of racial discrimination, injustice and inequality between the citizens of the country and between the men and women of Sudan.

We, the signatories below, Northerners from all walks of life, are fully aware of the vital importance of self determination for the people of South Sudan as expressed in the CPA and the referendum vote which will take place on January 9, 2011. At the same time, the people of Southern and Northern Sudan have shared, and will continue to share, strong ties of a common history, the many generations of inter-marriages and shared ethnicity, family relations, common culture and attitudes, religious diversity, livelihoods, and impact they have had on each other's lives. We believe that the bonds between the people of South Sudan and the people of the

broader North still hold strong beneath all the rivalry and aggression demonstrated through the years by the blind military and political power of the North, which led to such pain and destruction in the South. These ties must be revealed, celebrated, empowered and tended by the people of the North and the South. We believe that the Sudanese people, regardless of whether the people of the South choose secession or unity, are destined to seek solidarity and support from each other in both the long and the short term.

We, the signatories of this letter, strongly call upon both current governments in the North and the South not to compromise the safety, security and rights of Southern and Northern Sudanese citizens residing in the North or in the South and along the putative borders, whatever the outcome of the referendum. Southern and Northern populations in both parts should be allowed to hold dual citizenship in case of secession. Their ease of movement, residence, labour and property ownership, in addition to freedom of religion and conscience, should be guaranteed and receive support from the two entities. Acts of aggression against the people of Sudan on grounds simply of place of residence, religion and ethnicity will lead to escalation of conflict and further unrest. We, in the South and the North, must be vigilant against any such occurrence.

At this historic moment, we would like to salute those who believe in and champion the vision of a New Sudan: those Sudanese citizens from across all the Sudanese peoples who worked together shoulder to shoulder, enlightening and empowering against all forms of marginalization. We, the signatories below would like to salute those of us, from North and South, who contributed to the struggle tirelessly teaching all of us lessons on looking and acting beyond race, tribe, religion, gender, class and culture.

Dear brothers and sisters of South Sudan

We urge you to take this historic momentum of self determination as an opportunity to learn from the devastating mistakes made by Northern governments. We hope, in the event of your choosing independence, that you will also choose democracy over repression, embrace diversity over division, defend human rights and justice over abuses, empower transparency and accountability over corruption and nepotism, and promote equality between men and women over discrimination. As we have learned through our long shared history, if our leaders had chosen to follow a different path of equality, justice and democracy the country could have avoided decades of bloodshed and devastation.

As the signatories below, we Northerners are looking forward to the conduct of a peaceful referendum and accepting its results whatever its outcome. The peaceful exercise of the democratic right of self determination is an important lesson for us as Northern Sudanese as we are called to continue the struggle for liberation towards peace, justice and democracy in the broader North. The peaceful completion of the South Sudan self determination process is a critical transformational moment therefore not just in the history of the people of Southern Sudan but also for the people of the different regions of the Sudan.

Finally, we draw the attention of all concerned stakeholders, both Sudanese and friends of Sudan, to the importance of investing in the re- creation of the relationship between the people of the North and the South. There must be a commitment to work with communities and civil society to promote peaceful coexistence on the terms and the principles of equality and respect, to empower the voices of the civilians of the North and the South to be freely expressed through their civil society and community institutions, and to give them genuine roles in the process of ensuring the sustainability of peace and security for all the people of Sudan.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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