KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan commemorates 50 years of independence on Sunday, but some question if the African nation racked by conflicts and dependent on foreign aid and peacekeepers should really be celebrating.
In 2005, Sudan ended Africa’s longest civil war in its south with a peace deal on Jan. 9, ushering in hopes of an era of stability and development in one of the poorest areas on earth.
The south has been devastated by conflict for all but 11 years since Sudan’s independence as southern Sudanese, feeling marginalised after Anglo-Egyptian rule ended in 1956, struggled for more autonomy from the northern Islamist government.
“The 50 years did not deliver anything to us, so we are starting now on Jan. 9 … I think that is the start of the independence of Sudan,” said Rebecca Garang, a southern minister and the widow of late southern rebel leader John Garang.
But with other conflicts in the western Darfur region and the east in full flow, southerners are not the only ones to feel left out of celebrations to mark the anniversary, which will include a special parliament session and a parade in Khartoum.
Rebels from Darfur, currently negotiating a separate peace deal, say Arab tribes living along the Nile have dominated power since colonial times and demand a share in central government.
“Every president since independence has come from three central tribes — we have been constantly marginalised,” said Abdel Wahed Mohamed el-Nur, a leader of the main rebel movement.
The conflicts in Sudan’s south and west have prompted a huge influx of foreign aid and troops in an attempt to stabilise Africa’s largest country.
The south’s post-war reconstruction has drawn pledges of up to $4.5 billion and a U.N. peacekeeping force more than 10,000 strong is being deployed to the region, an operation which will cost $1 billion in its first year alone.
In Darfur, mostly non-Arab rebels launched a revolt three years ago accusing the central government of discrimination and of giving Arab tribes preferential treatment.
The conflict has killed tens of thousands, forced more than 2 million from their homes and sparked the United States to level accusations of genocide against Khartoum. It has cost billions in foreign aid, with more than 11,000 aid workers in a region the size of France.
The African Union has more than 6,000 troops in Darfur to monitor the conflict and the International Criminal Court is investigating alleged war crimes there.
“We have a record of how many armies you have in one country,” said Hassan al-Turabi, an opposition Islamist and former ally of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. “Would you call that independence?”
“(Sudan) is just sitting there under foreign armies, under foreign welfare, the threat of foreign sanctions and foreign justice as well,” Turabi said. “So is Sudan that independent after so many years of so-called independence?”
Some in Sudan blame the colonial legacy for its 50-year history tarnished by conflict because of the artificial drawing of borders.
Britain educated only the central tribes to take over government and united people within the Sudanese borders with little in common.
But others say half a century was more than long enough to rectify the wrongs of colonialism.
“It’s our fault — it would not be fair to throw the blame on history,” Turabi said.
Garang said she hoped the next five decades would transform Sudan into a democratic country, free of poverty and war.
“You will judge me after the next 50 years,” she said.