Two days from now the division of Sudan will become a reality, with the official declaration of the state of Southern Sudan, and its entry into the club of independent countries. This will result in the state of Sudan losing more than a quarter of its area, more than 8 million of its citizens, and 70 percent of its natural resources. There have been many explanations and justifications repeated by those in power in Khartoum to promote the secession. However, most surprising of all was President Omar al-Bashir’s statement to the Qatari newspaper “Al-Sharq” in May, stating that “one of the reasons for the secession of the south is Egypt not carrying out its role with regards to Sudanese national security”.
Does this mean that Sudan, under the “Salvation government”, is no longer responsible for its own security and territorial integrity? Where is the repeated rhetoric of the regime about “pride, strength, and independence”?
The “Salvation” regime has, since it first came to power via a coup d’état, announced that it aims to “secure the homeland”, and “ensure that a dignified, unified, free homeland continues to exist”. Al-Bashir also stressed – this time to the Sudanese armed forces – that he would not compromise over a single inch of the homeland. But the regime failed in its promises and policies, and instead, via the National Islamic Front, provided the first written commitment to the southerners’ right to self-determination, as part of an agreement signed in the city of Frankfurt in the early 1990s. Following this, the regime proceeded to enact policies that widened the gap between the north and the south, and fostered the secession which was negotiated and signed by leaders of the regime themselves. They even told the Sudanese that this division would be good for the country and its people.
The statements coming from Sudanese officials have been characterized by inconsistency, with respect to justifying the secession of the south. Sometimes we hear comments and hints blaming external forces, and at other times, Dr. Nafie Ali Nafei – an aide to the President and one of the most powerful figures within the regime – comes out and describes the situation as [including] “every good [thing]”, saying that this has “removed a big problem from Sudan”. On one occasion we heard President al-Bashir himself saying that the secession of the south would resolve the issue of identity, and that the north would become an Islamic republic. The regime may see the secession of the south as an opportunity to monopolize the rule of the north, and impose its programs and orientations. Yet at the same time it does not want to bear the consequences of its policies, and will be known to the Sudanese people as the regime which abandoned the unity of the country, and supervised the policy of division.
Indeed a section of the Sudanese expressed doubts early on to the effect that the regime’s Islamists viewed the south as an obstacle to plans to declare Sudan an Islamic republic, so they played the self-determination card, and imposed it on the political scene, then launched a war in the south under the slogan of “Jihad”, officially giving the issue a sectarian feature that further complicated the situation. This combination of war, and the prospect of self-determination, undoubtedly stimulated the south to adopt the option of secession, which was formally codified in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Khartoum government and the SPLM in 2005.
Under that agreement, there was a transitional period that lasting 6 years, during which both parties were supposed to work to make unity an attractive option. But the years were squandered in political wrangling and marginal disputes. The regime did not strive to strengthen the unity option; instead it was busy securing its position and authority, and marginalizing other political forces, rather than making the unity of the country its primary concern, and employing all of its efforts and resources in this regard. Thus the self-determination referendum was scheduled for January 2011 and the stage was set for the option of secession. Southerners voted overwhelmingly, at a figure approaching 99 percent, in favor of declaring their own independent state.
The regime was not only mistaken in its policies, which ultimately squandered the unity of the geographically largest Arab and African country, but it also adopted a discourse which led some to believe that secession would be a good thing, and that its negative impact would be limited. The reality is just the opposite; the impact will result in great harm, especially in light of the current tensions between the Salvation government and the government in Juba, the friction in the contact areas [between the south and the north], and the disputes over outstanding issues, especially border demarcation and oil resources. As a result we have seen clashes in the Abyei region, and battles in South Kordofan, and there are concerns that matters will end with proxy wars between the north and the south, in the sense that each party will support the armed movements fighting against the other party. It is no secret that the south has hosted some leaders of armed movements in Darfur, after accusing Khartoum of supporting SPLM dissidents and opponents who took up arms against the southern movement. However, the most serious problems may erupt in the Nuba Mountains region, especially when we consider the fact that the number of northerners in the SPLM is estimated at being more than 24,000, many of them from South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. These two northern regions have now agreed to carry out a popular consultation with regards to resolving this issue. However, these regions are likely to remain vulnerable to problems and conflicts if the tension between the north and south continues, or a conflict between them erupts.
These tensions are a reflection of a failure to manage secession, following a failure to manage unity. The regime neglected unity, and did not bring peace and stability in return. This failure will also be reflected in the economic conditions of the north, which will lose much of its oil resources as these lie in the south, just as the tension in the relationship [between the north and the south] will hinder economic relations between the two sides. There are already indications that the south is looking to enhance trade and economic relations with other neighboring African countries, particularly Uganda and Kenya.
The picture on the eve of the secession seems alarming, and the evidence points to difficult days ahead. There will be no benefit in searching for a foreign peg to hang the responsibility for this on. The responsibility for how the situation has turned out lies with the Sudanese themselves. If one of the primary duties of any government is to defend the homeland and preserve its unity, then the Salvation government has failed in this respect. I do not think that talk of the “Egyptian responsibility” will convince anyone!