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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let the People of Southern Sudan Speak/Govern

Let the People of Southern Sudan Speak – and Govern

The people of Southern Sudan have spoken. They want to form a new nation-state. Referendum results show that about 99 % voted for secession from Sudan. This is the time to let them be.

On the one hand it indeed a setback to the Pan-African movement when Africa becomes increasingly Balkanized into smaller states or statelets as one leading Pan-Africanist used to dub them. But unity is not viable when the majority of the people in one part are not happy with it.

Way back in 2009 when the inevitability of secession was so apparent even to distant observers I thus wrote to someone from Southern Sudan: “It is a pity, as you seemed to predict, that the South will secede. I am saying so especially after meeting two young Sudan ladies from Northern Sudan here - it seems you all have more in common. Maybe the radical Pan-Africanists of Kwame Nkrumah´s time had a point when they argued that things that unite us in Africa are more than those that divide us. And maybe Julius Nyerere was correct that once there is a painful breakup there will be further breakups because the broken parts will start creating new divisions as soon as the seemingly bigger division is out of the way. I hope that even if there is a separation between the North and South Sudan you will still be able to hold up what is left.”

The response I got from the Southern Sudanese was thus heart wrenching: “Indeed, it does break one's heart to see the Sudan break up, but the North both political and at average man/woman levels have not even made any attempt(s) to make unity attractive, the civil society and the politicians alike left the National Congress Party (NCP) to conduct business as usual; the South are sub-humans and hence we don't deserve equal citizenship rights etc. What the NCP and 'silently' supported by the civil population in the North have been doing is make us feel less and less belonging to the North part of the country, what can and does one do?” But it made sense.

It now make more sense especially after observing the image of Rebecca Kadi Loburang Dinduch, “believed to be the oldest South Sudanese”, leaving a polling station after voting and saying “the referendum period was the best time in South Sudan history she had lived through”.

Thus what is happening in Southern Sudan, on the other hand, augurs well with the Pan-Africanist ethos which eschews forceful unification. As I have noted elsewhere, Nyerere forcefully underscored this position against that form of imperialism in his 1969 painstaking defense of Tanzania’s seemingly contradictory stances on secessions. He noted that it was particularly “accused of the most blatantly inconsistency because it opposed Katanga and recognized Biafra.”

Only great simplicity or even extreme naivety, Nyerere thus asserted with respect to the natural resource-rich Biafra that was attracting foreign companies, “could lead anyone to accept that Britain is defending the unity of Nigeria or African unity in general.” In as much as Nyerere’s Tanzania wanted to see a federated Nigeria as a step toward a united Africa, it was not ready to support a war to keep Biafrans part of Nigeria even against their will and at the cost of lives.

It is in this regard I nod in agreement with Parselelo Kantai’s article ‘Southern Sudan Referendum: New Hope, Old State’ in its affirmation that “Millions of people in Southern Sudan are determined to make their new state a reality, despite huge economic challenges and obstructionism from Khartoum.” May they become what they want to be. Let them govern.

© Chambi Chachage

The Africa Report, March 2011

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