London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Only seven months remain in the transitional period which began following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA] between the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] and the Sudanese government on 9 January 2005, ending two decades of civil war in southern Sudan. When this period ends, the hearts and minds of the Sudanese people will turn to their brothers in the south who will – while the entire world watches on – conduct a referendum on self-determination, choosing between unification and secession. Secession would see the birth of a new state, with the world being introduced to a new African map, something that could cause further instability in Sudan, or perhaps even in the region as a whole.
Pagan Amum, the Secretary General of the SPLM which rules southern Sudan painted a bleak picture of the situation in his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, saying that unification is unlikely “unless the [ruling] National Congress Party (NCP), led by President Omar al-Bashir…occupies the south militarily…in which case this will not be unification…but occupation.” He also said that any calls to postpone the referendum would be akin to calling for the revoking of the CPA, something that would return the country to a state of civil war.
In the Asharq Al-Awsat interview that was conducted over the phone from London, Amum also confirmed that SPLM leader Salva Kiir is preparing to form a [southern] government in the coming days, recalling leading SPLM figures from Khartoum to the southern capital Juba, where they will begin the difficult and historic task of preparing for the referendum that could lead to the proclamation of a new African state. Second tier SPLM officials are set to replace senior SPLM figures in the Khartoum government that is currently being formed.
Amum is one of the most prominent SPLM leaders, and is widely known as being a “trouble maker” for the ruling NCP. For example, Amum previously stated that the NCP’s National Economic Salvation project is exclusionist and will result in Sudanese division. The SPLM Secretary General also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the SPLM will remain active in politics in Sudan even if the south does decide to secede, and it will continue to face the challenges that the NCP has failed to deal with, including issues of unity, ethnic and religious plurality, and the formation of a new Sudan built upon equality and justice.
The following is the text of the interview.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us start with the issue of forming the government. Will this government be comprised of the same old faces or are we going to see some new faces?
[Amum] Concerning the SPLM team, there will be major changes and new faces will enter the Khartoum government because a large number of first-tier SPLM leaders will be part of the southern government’s team. SPLM leader Salva Kiir Mayardit wants a referendum government whose job will be to get ready and prepare for the referendum process and prepare the people of the south to decide their fate. Consequently, he will need the first-tier leaders in Juba for this task and so there will be abundant opportunities for other SPLM leaders to assume ministerial positions in Khartoum. We are currently working, along with the NCP (which is led by President Omar al-Bashir), on distributing the [ministerial] portfolios, and we will assign names to these portfolios at a later time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Concerning the new names being put forward by the SPLM, can you identify any of these for us at this time?
[Amum] It would be extremely difficult to name people at this time, because this process will be subject to the overall composition with regards to the Khartoum and Juba governments…who will participate in the Juba government and who will participate in the Khartoum government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is speculation that you have been nominated for a senior ministerial position in the southern government, and that you may give up your position as the SPLM Secretary General. What do you have to say about this?
[Amum] It is highly unlikely that I would give up the position of SPLM Secretary General, which I was entrusted with by the President of the SPLM, the SPLM General Conference and National Liberation Council. I previously held the position of minister at the Council of Ministers whilst also being the SPLM Secretary General. In any event, everything is now subject to consultations and to the wishes of the elected President.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is talk that you are prepared to give up the portfolio of Foreign Minister in return for being appointed Minister for Oil and Petroleum?
[Amum] All this is subject to consultations by the committee that is authorized to deal with the matter. It is in a state of constant discussion with the NCP and nothing specific has been settled until now.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Leaked information indicates that the NCP is considering nominating SPLM breakaway figure Lam Akol Ajawin as Foreign Minister. Would this nomination raise any objection from your side?
[Amum] If Lam Akol’s nomination is going to be on the basis that he is a member of the NCP, then the NCP has the right to nominate any of its members, but as you know, the Constitution prevents the President of the Republic from nominating a candidate for any ministerial post without first obtaining the consent of his First Vice President (Salva Kiir).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then it is possible that you will object to his nomination?
[Amum] We are saying that the President will need the consent of the First Vice President for constitutional appointments…and the First Vice President has the right to object.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At the recent Africa – France summit that was held in Nice, South Africa and Eritrea led calls for the southern Sudanese referendum on self-determination to be postponed. What is your opinion on this?
[Amum] The CPA put in place a schedule for the referendum and that is within 6 months of the end of the transitional period, and so 9 January 2011 will be the last day for the referendum. Therefore any call for postponement is a call for violating the CPA…and a call for a return to war.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are we to understand from this that any postponement will be rejected, even if such calls are made by influential international parties?
[Amum] Any side that calls for postponement would, in other words, be calling for the Sudanese people to return to fighting. This would be a dangerous and irresponsible action to take. It does not make sense for anybody to call for the Sudanese parties to return to war by [calling for] a violation to the peace agreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that the time remaining until the referendum is set to take place (7 months) is enough to conduct a referendum that will satisfy all parties?
[Amum] Yes, it is a sufficient period. According to the [CPA], there are several mechanisms to implement self-determination, including the referendum. If the referendum is impeded, the (elected) southern parliament will use this article [of the CPA] to activate the other mechanisms for self-determination.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would it be possible for secession to be announced from inside the Parliament?
[Amum] The Parliament will decide what to do in this event. There are other options and mechanisms included in the CPA other than the referendum that parliament can exercise if the referendum is impeded.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this include the option of war?
[Amum] War is not a viable option for us, but it will only return if the CPA is violated. Violating the peace agreement means returning to the phase which preceded this, however we are not adopting war as an option at this time. We do not want war., and our people have suffered from long wars since Sudan’s independence in 1956, and before the independence, and they have suffered a lot as a result of this. We want peace, and we want respect for the choice of the southern people to determine their own fate for themselves. Any violation of this option will cause us to look for other mechanisms.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How are the preparations for this referendum going? Are they moving in the right direction or are there obstacles to this? To what extent are you satisfied with the steps that have been taken?
[Amum] The SPLM leader Salva Kiir will form a referendum government within the next few days….its aim and priority will be to prepare for the referendum to be held on schedule and manage the challenges involved in this task. Until now, we are not satisfied with what is going on because the NCP is trying to impede the referendum by placing obstacles [in its path] particularly with regards the demarcation of the borders between the north and the south, as well as the demarcation of the borders of the disputed Abyei region, as well as forming commissions for the referendum and Abyei, in addition to other related issues. The NCP is also destabilizing the security of the south by forming, financing, and arming militias, and sending them to the south in order to destabilize security and kill innocent citizens. This is what they are investing in now; creating war amongst the people of the south in an attempt to sow discord and destroy the reputation of the south, until it is said that the south is unqualified and incapable of conducting a referendum or establishing an independent state. However, all these attempts will fail and the government of southern Sudan is capable of dealing with these challenges.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The NCP has stated on more than one occasion that it desires unity and it will work for this, and this is what President al-Bashir recently affirmed in his inauguration speech. Are you saying that this is untrue?
[Amum] They do not do what they say [they will], for the most effort they are exerting and investment they are putting forward is to create sedition in southern Sudan and finance and arm these militias. This is what they are doing now. They say one thing but do another. They talk about making the option of unification attractive, while in reality they are sowing discord in the south and making the option of secession the attractive one, perhaps even creating estrangement between the north and south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sudanese Vice President Ali Othman recently asked the SPLM leadership to allow him to reside in the South during the coming period in order to work for unity. What is your view of this?
[Amum] Five years ago, the SPLM leader invited President al-Bashir and his Vice President Mr. Ali Othman to move to the south to [work towards] making the unity option more attractive, but nobody came, and they did not offer anything to the south, and now, at the 11th hour they have decided that they want to come and work for unity. This is unrealistic talk for media consumption and it will not have any effect in reality. What is happening is that the NCP is working to create sedition and plant bitterness. If Mr. Ali Othman will come to reside in the South to bolster this effort, this represents a hostile act. If he wants to exert effort to support the option of unity, then I am afraid that the unity train has already departed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that it is inevitable that the referendum will result in secession? Is there no hope for unity?
[Amum] In the shadow of the National Economic Salvation regime, and its Islamic project, there is no solution, or even a drop of hope or Sudanese unity. This is because the Salvation project is exclusionist…and one of its logical outcomes is Sudan being divided into states, and the south and its people being excluded. It is impossible to adopt an exclusionist course and talk about unity at the same time. There is no possibility or even the slightest chance to achieve Sudanese unity unless the NCP reoccupied the south and takes control of it through military force. This would be a bloody step, and this would not represent unification but occupation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the future? Would there be no chance for reunification?
[Amum] There might be opportunities in the future for unification, if the two states in the north and south are compatible with [the principle of] pluralism and undertake to turn this into a source of strength based upon sound democratic management. The two states might unify at such a time, but within the context of a wider regional framework that includes regional countries based upon shared climate, complete equality and equal participation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This means that this unity would take place within a regional framework, rather than a Sudanese one?
[Amum] There will be a possibility [of this], but [also] to discuss joint interests with the north and also with other neighboring states. In my opinion, such unification would take place within a larger framework than the two states in the north and the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the present map of Sudan disappear forever?
[Amum] My belief is that the future will result in Sudan’s map being transcended and replaced with an African map. There is no possibility for Sudanese unity because there is no national project currently in place capable of building a multi-ethnic and multi-religious nation; a Sudanese nation built upon common ground, rather than on partialities, which is what the Islamic movement in Sudan is trying to impose.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you are saying that you are currently preparing for the establishment of a southern state?
[Amum] As a popular movement, we are preparing to build a new Sudan in both the north and the south. In both states are projects are ongoing, and that is a project for a new Sudan based upon respecting plurality, and a secular state that provides equal opportunities for everybody, allowing everybody the freedom to practice their religion and culture. This project will be implemented in southern Sudan if the people of the south chose secession, and the SPLM will offer this same project to the northern state, and we will strive to implement this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How can the SPLM implement this project in the north following the formation of another state in the south?
[Amum] What do you mean another State? The SPLM is a party that is present in both the north and south, and we are present in all regions of the north and the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What I meant was, will the SPLM be allowed to operate in the north if southern Sudan secedes?
[Amum] The SPLM will remain as a registered party in the north and it will register itself in the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can one party be active in two different states?
[Amum] Parties are groups of individuals. You need 500 individuals in the state in question to register your [political] party. There are no other conditions. This is the case with many other parties that exist in more than one European country, for example there is the “Labor” party in Norway, and its counterparts in other countries. We shall strive in both the north and the south to build a nation capable of facing challenges. We will be faced with many problems in the north after the State’s failure to establish a unified nation, and it has carried out violence against its own citizens, which is something that is leading to the secession of the south. There are many problems, like the war crimes in Darfur, marginalization of certain parties, and other problems.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As for the northerners in the SPLM, are they also going to participate in the southern government?
[Amum] The northerners are members in the SPLM and they have full rights. They will find themselves either in the north or in the south. The SPLM will remain as it is and there will be no big difference. The only difference is that the illusionary borders between the north and south will be transformed into illusionary international borders.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The southern state will also face huge challenges, the most prominent of which is the presence of armed militias. Will the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army [military wing of the SPLM] be able to deal with them?
[Amum] As I said before, it was the NCP who created this situation with the aim of destabilizing the security and stability [of the south] and impeding the referendum or perhaps at some future stage [in order to] occupy the south. We do not want new wars, and we will use all means available to prevent a southern civil war, and there is a current proposal in place for dialogue between the people of the south. However if there is no other choice but war, we will enter it [war]. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army [SPLA] is capable of solving these problems and restoring security…it is one of the largest armies in the region, and it has fought long wars, has excellent combat experience and is currently being transformed into a regular army.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the tribal problems and the clashes between various Sudanese tribes, and the presence of foreign parties seeking to aggravate these divisions?
[Amum] There are no external parties other than the NCP that wishes to sow discord among the southern tribes. The problems between tribes does not solely exist in the south, for there are major tribal problems in the north, in Darfur, in the east, and in central Sudan. Even the ruling regime in Khartoum is a tribal regime as the two tribes the Ja’alin and Shaiqiya tribes dominate this area, and there are real problems between them, even within the Islamic movement. Tribalism does not only exist in southern Sudan, but throughout all of Africa, and there are tribal conflicts all across the continent with the exception of Egypt and Tunisia where such phenomenon has been eliminated due to the strong development of the State. Just as the former apartheid regime in South Africa failed to use tribal conflict to sow discord among the black population, the NCP will also fail to achieve this in southern Sudan. The people of southern Sudan are united and are moving towards self-determination. They have reached a high level of political maturity as a result of their long struggle, and the recent election results represent clear proof of their unity and maturity.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The SPLM has been accused of ruling dictatorially in the south, despite its calls for democratic reform in northern Sudan. International election regulators also recently accused the SPLM of election rigging. How do you explain this?
[Amum] We stress that the SPLM supports complete liberties, and we exercise the democratic process as much as we can. The elections held in the south were free and fair, and we did not hear any complaints until after the results were announced.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However there were groups that rebelled due to these election results and allegations of election rigging, such as George Ator’s political group.
[Amum] This group rebelled due to NCP incitement not because of the elections…this is part of their [the NCP’s] plans.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about allegations that a number of journalists were arrested for failing to cover Salva Kiir’s inauguration?
[Amum] We have no policy of arresting journalists, and I doubt that they were even arrested in the first place. If they were [arrested] this would be a violation of the law, and those responsible for arresting them must be identified and held to account.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Should southern Sudan secede, it will face a number of controversial issues, for instance issues such as the Nile River agreement. How do you believe this controversial issue should be resolved?
[Amum] The new State will not parachute from the skies [to solve the issues]. We have been present in the region since ancient times, and we consume water and need this in the future, whether we are part of Sudan or an independent state. We believe that the Nile is a common resource for all people of the Nile Basin, from source of the river to its mouth. We hope that these nations will enter negotiations to divide this resource to everybody’s benefit, and also to agree on how to manage this in a way ensures that everybody’s rights are protected, along with protecting the Nile itself from any disasters. We support cooperation to attain common interests.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If southern Sudan secedes, it will be an upstream state. Will it be possible for this new state to sign the new agreement on water rights that has already been signed by 5 upstream states?
[Amum] We support fair distribution of the Nile waters, but we are not a State yet, and we will decide our position on this agreement should we become a State. This is a question that must wait until 2011.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The SPLM’s relationship with Arab countries is lukewarm in comparison to its relations with western states. What is the reason behind this?
[Amum] We have excellent relations with a number of Arab countries, especially Egypt. We shall work to develop these relations because we are in the same region.