Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat – Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] Secretary-General Pagan Amum earlier this week in Washington in the run-up to the southern Sudanese self-determination referendum that is scheduled to take place in January 2011. Amum is one of the most prominent SPLM leaders and is widely known for his criticisms of the ruling NCP.
In his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amum discussed the southern Sudanese self-determination referendum and his own dissatisfaction with the al-Bashir government.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you tell us the purpose of your visit to Washington?
[Amum] I first went to New York to attend the UN Security Council’s special meeting on Sudan. The meeting was successful because it confirmed the UN position on the coming referendum in South Sudan to choose between unity and independence. The Council was very clear that all parties should work hard to have a free and fair election, and should accept the results. In Washington, I met some top American officials, talked to the Sudanese in the Washington area, and visited registration centres for the referendum in the South. I encouraged the Southerners to register and to vote.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What did you tell US officials about secession or unity?
[Amum] I told them that if the South chooses unity, we will call on them to support a united Sudan; if the South chooses independence, we will call on them to support the new state, and also the state in the North, so as not to create problems and tensions between the two countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In a previous interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti accused you of supporting US policies against the government of Sudanese President Omer Al-Bashir. Do you have any comment on that?
[Amum] Every time I come to Washington, they say I come to take orders from the American government. There are no secrets in our relations with the Americans. Yes, they helped us in the past when we were fighting in the jungles, and that was because we were under brutal attacks by the armed forces of President Al-Bashir, under the slogan of Islamic Jihad. Yes, they have been helping the Government of Southern Sudan since its establishment, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and the South in 2005. And yes, they promised to help us in the future if we choose unity or independence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do the Americans support unity or secession?
[Amum] You are in Washington; why don’t you ask them?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The US announced a global war on terror; and this is something that has indirectly resulted in Muslims being targeted, whether this is in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, or Sudan. Are you exploiting this “war on terror” to win US support?
[Amum] Firstly, what you just said [about Muslims being targeted] is your own opinion. Secondly, we don’t serve the goals of “others”; we are serving our own goals.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There has been reports that if the south chooses secession, the United States African Command [AFRICOM] intends to establish a base in Juba, and that Israel would also be establishing strong relations with southern Sudan. Would you care to comment on these reports?
[Amum] There is much news out there and people say many things. Please don’t ask me about what others said. I tell you: all that we want is freedom, peace, stability and prosperity. We don’t want to cause problems for ourselves, or the Northerners, or our neighbours; those who are close by and those who are far away.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti also said that the southern Sudanese leaders who were calling for secession were suffering from an “inferiority complex.” What do you have to say about that?
[Amum] We don’t have an inferiority complex. The ruling National Congress Party [NCP] which Karti is a member of is the one with an interiority complex. They want to impose their views on us by force, although they know we don’t agree with them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Karti also said that you were serving the goals of US churches who are worried about the spread of Islam in Southern Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa. Any comment?
[Amum] Our struggle is not a religious one; it is nationalist. Karti and his colleagues were the ones who added religion to the North-South disputes when they declared Islamic Jihad against the South. Karti should be the first to know that because he was the leader of the “Jihadist dababeen” (Jihadist tank forces) in the South.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sudanese Minister of Petroleum, Dr. Lual Achuek Deng – who is himself from southern Sudan – previously told Asharq Al-Awsat that SPLM founder John Garang was a unionist, not a separatist, and that secession was therefore a betrayal of Garang’s objectives. Do you have any comment on this?
[Amum] Firstly, this was Deng’s personal opinion. He wasn’t the only one who knew Garang (though they studied together in the University of Iowa). We all knew Garang. Secondly, when Garang signed the CPA, he agreed to accept the results of the forthcoming coming referendum. Therefore, if Garang were alive and the South voted for separation, he would have accepted it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Deng also said that the situation in the south would not improve following secession, especially as south Sudan [currently] has its own autonomous government and also participates with the northern Sudanese in governing the country as a whole.
[Amum] This is not realistic. Firstly, the reality is that the Southerners rule themselves and share in ruling Sudan, but not the North. Secondly, the South is not a colony of the North, so it is not like the colonized share in ruling the colonizers.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There have been calls from southern Sudanese politicians who support secession for the northerners to apologize for past mistakes, like the issue of slavery and the Jihad that was declared against the South. Do you agree with this?
[Amum] First ask the NCP leaders whether they are ready to apologize. Secondly, people apologize for actions that they no longer commit however the north’s injustice and discrimination [against the South] is ongoing. Thirdly, our struggle is not only for the sake of the South; we struggle to create a “Sudan Jadeed” [new Sudan] in the South and the North. Long before the CPA, we said that the Sudanese State had failed and called for a “Sudan Jadeed”.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you mean by saying that the Sudanese State has failed? When you last visited Washington you told a US congressional committee that Sudan was an “artificial state.” Is this the same thing?
[Amum] I said Sudan could be partitioned because, since its independence, it had been beset by internal wars, mainly between the North and the South…and that these wars proved that the unity of the country was unsustainable, and, so a failed state.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You also told this US congressional committee that there was discrimination in Sudan against “the African majority.” However aren’t the Northern Sudanese also Africans, in addition to being Arabs and Muslims? Isn’t what you said also a king of discrimination?
[Amum] What I said was not discriminatory. I criticized those in the North who practiced, and are practicing, discrimination; those who have been trying to impose an Islamic-Arabic rule on us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who are they?
[Amum] You live in America and perhaps don’t know what has been going on in Sudan. Do you read the Al-Intibaha newspaper? Have you not heard of Al-Tayeb Mustafa? He is President al-Bashir’s uncle and Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper. He wants to expel the Southerners from the North. He mentioned me by name and called for my expulsion from the North. Is there any greater discrimination than this? You talk about the united Sudan, however northerners like Mustafa don’t want us in Sudan; they want to get rid of us. These are signs of genocide.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean to say that the northerners intend to pursue a policy of genocide against the southern Sudanese?
[Amum] I didn’t say that there is genocide right now against the Southerners in the North, and I am not calling for the international community to intervene at the present time. I said that what is published in Al-Intibaha and other similar publications are early signs [of this]. Don’t forget that the international community didn’t intervene to stop the Rwandan and Darfur genocides until it was too late.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Don’t the majority of the northerners support a united Sudan?
[Amum] How do you know? How do I know? I know the record of the ruling NCP party: it hasn’t made unity attractive, has put obstacles in front of it and doesn’t care much about it. We are not against the northerners. I have studied in the North and have many northern Sudanese friends. Our problem is with the NCP and its discriminatory leaders.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If you are critical of the NCP because of its policies in the north, what is your opinion of the SPLM’s rule in the south?
[Amum] The SPLM was entitled to implement the CPA, a five-year period that will end with the referendum.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You previously told Asharq Al-Awsat that the problems between northern and southern Sudan will continue so long as the northern Sudanese call the southerners “abeed” [slave]. Why do you want to divide a country over the word “abeed”?
[Amum] They insulted us, fought us, killed us, destroyed our homes, and exiled us. Therefore, we [now] want to be masters of our own fate in our own country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the US, racial disharmony continues to linger centuries after the end of slavery, yet this is not leading to the division of a country. Why don’t the southern Sudanese follow the example of African Americans?
[Amum] These are two completely different situations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe the northern Sudanese treatment of their southern brothers is worse than the whites enslaving Africans in the US?
[Amum] First, you forget that the whites did not declare jihad against the Blacks. Second, you live in America and enjoy its freedom while there is no freedom in the Sudan. Thirdly, there is no Al-Intibaha and Al-Tayeb Mustafa in the US.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why don’t the northern and southern Sudanese start afresh and forget past differences? This is what happened in the US, and today there is an African-American president in the White House.
[Amum] Ask the NCP leaders whether they want to open a new page. They don’t seem to be interested in us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have called for a “Sudan Jadeed” and later for a more just unity, and now you are calling for secession. What do you really want?
[Amum] We want equal rights. If we can’t get them in the independent Sudan, we can get them in the independent Southern Sudan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about those who say that the southern Sudanese desire to secede is based in Islamophobia, as is the US support of this secession?
[Amum] You keep talking about religion, and I tell you again that our struggle is not religious; it is nationalistic. We have nothing to do with Islamophobia in America.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You previously said you were not angry at the Northerners, but with the al-Bashir government. However before al-Bashir came to power, the Sudanese government was led by Ismail al-Azhari, Sayed Abdullah Khalil, El Ferik Ibrahim Aboud, Sirr al-Khatim al-Khalifa, Mohamed Ahmed Mahgoub, Gaafar Nimeiry and Sadiq al-Mahdi. The country remained united throughout the reign of all of these leaders, so why is it so important for secession to take place now?
[Amum] All of these governments subjugated the Southerners, killed them and expelled them from their lands. Let’s look at history: Al-Azhari refused to grant federation to the South, Aboud sent convoys of tanks to kill the Southerners, Nimeiry changed his mind about the autonomy of the South and imposed Islamic Sharia laws, al-Mahdi refused to repeat the Islamic Sharia laws, and al-Bashir declared Islamic Jihad [against the south].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the British rule subjugation of Sudan? Britain tried to suppress the practice of Islam and the use of the Arabic language, and encouraged the spread of Christianity.
[Amum] Firstly, there were many differences between the years when the Sudanese – Northerners and Southerners – worked together, as brothers, to get rid of the British rule, and the following years when our “brothers” in the North subjugated their southern brothers. Secondly, you seem to interpret past events in a religious manner, but as I told you, our struggle is not religious but nationalistic.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When will Sudan stop repeating the mistakes of the past? Is anger at the north sufficient reason for the secession of the south? Did you read what a northern Sudanese writer wrote about the southerners being like “the husband who castrates himself because he is angry at his wife?”
[Amum] Did you read what a southerner said about al-Bashir possessing the mentality of a pirate?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I believe that is what you said in a recent interview with the Washington Times.
[Amum] I said the truth.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the south secedes, will you stay in Khartoum or live in the south?
[Amum] At the present time, I live in my independent country, the Sudan, and when the South becomes independent, I will [still] live in my independent country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the Northerners who are members of the SPLM? Will they stay in Khartoum or move to the South?
[Amum] Ask them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some of them seem to be confused, as they didn’t expect the SPLM to call for secession.
[Amum] I believe all members of the SPLM should follow the CPA and accept the result of the forthcoming referendum.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Yes, however some of these northerners joined the SPLM as part of calling for a “Sudan Jadeed” however today you are calling for a new country.
[Amum] “Sudan Jadeed” can still be achieved if the South becomes an independent country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your opinion, will the southern Sudanese support unity or secession at the forthcoming referendum?
[Amum] It has become clear that al-Bashir government hasn’t made unity appealing to the Southerners and, so, I expect the Southerners to vote for independence.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] President of the Southern government has reportedly described himself as a unionist, and not a separatist. Is he a unionist or a separatist?
[Amum] Ask him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you a unionist or a separatist?
[Amum] I am a nationalist.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] As the Secretary-General of the SPLM, why doesn’t your party call for the southern Sudanese to vote for unity?
[Amum] The CPA calls for the Southerners to determine their future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Yes, but the CPA also calls for all the parties to support unity.
[Amum] Yes, but like I said, the al-Bashir government has not made unity an attractive prospect.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] On the day of the referendum, will you vote for unity or secession?
[Amum] I am not going to tell you how I will vote.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you at least tell us what you expect to feel upon entering the voting booth?
[Amum] [I will feel] that the day of freedom has arrived; freedom for my children and grand-children. That the days of subjugation and repression are finally gone
[Asharq Al-Awsat] By which you mean you intend to vote for southern secession?
[Amum] I didn’t say that.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why do you want to divide this great state of Sudan?
[Amum] You mean the failed state of Sudan?