South Sudan: A Lesson For Separatists By Abba Mahmood
I have written many articles on the Sudan on this page. The last one — on the secession of South Sudan from the Sudan — has turned out to be prophetic. And, given the fact that the Sudan and Nigeria share a lot of similarities, it becomes imperative to watch what’s happening there keenly. After all, the Hausa say that when you see a mare with a saddle on her, don’t climb because she must have thrown away her last rider.
The current conflict in South Sudan began about a month ago when President Salva Kirr accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of attempted coup to oust his government. Shortly after, fighting broke out and, in a short time, a group sprang up and took control of some parts of the country including the strategic town of Bor. Over 1, 000 people have lost their lives and about 100, 000 have been internally displaced. Even some government forces have defected to the rebel camp, the latest being Major General James Koang Choul.
The original vision of the founder of Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), the cerebral John Garang, was for a united, secular, African, Republic of Sudan. Soon after Garang signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the government of Al-Bashir, he was blown up in very controversial circumstances in a mountainous region of Uganda. His deputy, Salva Kirr, took over the mantle of leadership till the referendum that led to separation of South Sudan from the Sudan two years ago. Kirr’s trademark cowboy (Bowler) hat, given to him years earlier by George Bush, is now the symbolic hat of every separatist in Africa.
South Sudan is very rich in oil, minerals and agricultural potential. The majority of the population are animists but there are Christians and Muslims too. There are 62 ethnic groups in South Sudan consisting of the Dinka, the ethnic group of Kirr, who are dominating now; Nuer, the ethnic group of estranged vice president Macher; and the others who collectively are called the Equatorian group, among whom is the current vice president of South Sudan. The Equatorian group have their kith and kin in neighbouring Uganda numbering about five million. No wonder in solidarity Uganda’s Museveni also occasionally wears the cowboy hat and is a dominant factor in the current Addis Ababa peace talks.
Perennial agitators for secession in Nigeria were very excited when they saw how South Sudan separated from the Sudan on July 9, 2011. They watched keenly as the events unfolded. They studied the template to see how it could apply here. They can now see that any alliance based on hatred is only a temporary expediency that is bound to crumble. They can now see that any time a new entity comes into being old conflicts resurface and new conflicts emerge. That is an iron law of history. And in that new entity, a new majority emerges with new minorities. That is a reality that no one can escape from.
These pro-secession elements have failed to realize that tribes or religions are not our real problems. Managed effectively, they are even unifying factors. They have failed to see that it is corruption and bad governance that are the real problems of the people. South Sudan is a clear example of how the experiment of balkanising Africa will fail woefully. And that the only way for peace to endure is to make sure that there is sense of belonging, fairness and justice for all. In this era of globalization, no enclave, however tribal and backward, can stay homogenous. South Sudan has also shown that resource endowment is not necessarily a pre-requisite for national cohesion. It may even be a curse when bad leaders are in charge.
It is ironical and indeed absurd that Europe, whose two wars in the last century were dubbed “world wars”, whose industrial base and technological advancement is world-class, have found it very necessary to come together in a common union to have a stronger say in the global arena, while Africa which is very weak economically, politically and socially, is getting fragmented by ethnic warlords. If the stronger European powers have reason to unite, the weaker African countries certainly have even greater reason to come together now if they are to survive.
In the conduct of foreign relations, size is very important. All the countries that are now key players in the global arena are huge in size. Here in Africa some of the tiny countries are just mere glorified local government areas. Some of them who are neighbouring Nigeria at some point rely on Nigeria to even pay the salaries of their workers. How can such countries not succumb to blackmail and intimidation from major powers? Even the relatively bigger countries in Africa have weak institutions. The imperative for stronger unity stares every African in the face.
Poverty and illiteracy are two sides of the same evil coin. One feeds the other and each one can break a society. In Africa in general and Nigeria in particular, we have both. In South Sudan, only 2 per cent of households have water in their premises. A lot of the South Sudan children are malnourished and only 29 per cent of the children attend primary school. After decades of conflicts, these are the issues that ought to occupy the leaders of that country and not power sharing among greedy, corrupt elite who actually brought these problems in the first place.
It has become very clear to all that no amount of division or secession can bring peace or unity. What logic is it that you separate from a bigger portion and expect to achieve unity? It is equally very obvious that justice and fairness are the real foundations of peace and progress. Until the South Sudanese come to terms with these facts their resources that led them to this costly mistake will be useless and their attempt at forming a nation based on the dominance of one group over the rest will remain a mirage.
Now that the first attempt by the world powers to change the map of Africa has failed, it behoves every patriot to realize that in unity lies strength. Unviable, petty state-lets will only compound the already enormous challenges facing Africa. There has to be a way of staying in peace and harmony in Africa even though the current leadership in Nigeria does not see the need to celebrate the 100 years of the amalgamation of the country on January 1. This is despite the billions already earmarked for the occasion. But they must remember not to climb the mare with the saddle moving freely. History is on the side of the oppressed.
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