Saturday, 8 January 2011

Not yet Uhuru?

 Something resembling this picture may be about to happen in Sudan

(as represented by SSRC voter education guidebook)

No, Southern Sudan is not floating away, but it is probably about to become Africa’s newest country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the last civil war stipulated that after a 6 year interim period, the South could vote to go its separate way. And now, that appears to be what is happening. I remember going to see a panel of experts on secessions discuss the phenomenon at Oxford last year; most of the discussion was on former Soviet states, but when Sudan’s situation was raised the panelists all scoffed incredulously! How could think that anything other than a vote for separation was a real possibility? Staying together is just not the sort of thing that people tend to choose in this kind of situation.

My research is not about the referendum, in any way, really. In my original PhD proposal, my period of study ends at the referendum, so following that, today is the last day in Sudan’s history I am looking at (but who is counting? Or holding doctoral students to their original proposals!). Such a massive political transformation is impossible to escape from and I will be joining the ranks of people anxiously biting their fingernails over the coming days. Although the Southern Sudanese friends I have spoken to over the last few days seem very happy and excited, and why not relish this moment?

I heard a talk in September by the historian Douglas Johnson who pointed out that self determination has been a major and recurrent theme in Southern political thought. Yesterday, while I was going through Durham’s collection of documents from Sudan I came across a pamplet, written by  Gen. Joseph Lagu and produced for the Anyanya, the rebel movement of Sudan’s first civil war (1955-1972).

Its fascinating to read the official statements from the intellectual and military leaders of this past struggle for self-determination. This pamphlet, interestingly published just weeks before the signing of the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1972, is a rallying call to support the Anyanya movement. Of course, it is political positioning written in war and not meant to be moderate. With that in mind,  a few excerpts from this pamphlet are interesting to compare with today’s political discourse in the South and to think about the evolution of these ideas.

“South Sudan is African
Since Independence was granted to Sudan in 1956 the Arabs of the North have never regarded the South as a real part of their country and the Southerners as a people with equal status. They regarded the South as a colony left to them by the previous colonial regime and they felt themselves free to exploit the land and enslave its people. The enemy cannot even conceive of independent of autonomous existence for our country because he considers it his property. So force must be used to prove to the enemy his ignorance and stupidity, to make him accept and recognize our national identity, We had not been a colony of the North when the whole of the Sudan was under the Anglo-Egyptian comdominium. The North and South won independace together as equals, now freedom must be equal for all.”

How they saw their position in the region is fascinating too - especially today

“Defending Black Africa
Our Brothers and Sisters in East Africa must realize that ever since the first Arabs reached Malakal, Juba and Wau, we, the people of South Sudan, have been defending not only ourselves but also them from the onslaught of Arab colonialism…while we fight this war we also protect our brothers in East and Central Africa”

My flat mate pointed out to me last night that some of the Kenyan press are embracing narrative of African solidarity in their coverage of this referendum. There is vast news coverage of the referendum from Europe and the US, but I will be making sure I follow East African reaction just as closely in the coming weeks and months.


  1. I've always seen the inclusion of Southern Sudan in Sudan as essentially colonialist. It's just that no-one has ever really included contiguous geographic spaces as colonialist, with one or two inevitably controversial exceptions.