Friday, January 14, 2011

South Sudan: Africa’s Newest Republic

Flag of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Mov...Image via Wikipedia

After two-decades of devastating armed rebellion, representatives of the Sudanese government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) finally signed a peace treaty in 2005 under the auspices of the United Nations (UN). Led and represented by Dr. John Garang de Mabior (June 23, 1945 – July 30, 2005) in the 2005 historic signing ceremony, the inhabitants of South Sudan looked forward to a day when they would cast their votes in order to determine their future. That anticipated time has finally come. An internationally-supervised voting referendum is currently underway in north and south Sudan. Other polling stations have been set up in several regions of the world where substantial number of registered South Sudanese people reside. The week-long voting has so far been peaceful apart from a few isolated incidents. According to Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, the referendum meets international standards. On the other hand, the inhabitants of the natural resources-rich Abyei region of Sudan are also expected to hold a referendum at a later date.

Since gaining independence in 1956 Sudan has been led by a bureaucracy of predominantly Arab leaders professing Islam. Demographically, north Sudan is dominated by people of Arab origin who are for the most part Muslims while the south is divided between followers of Christianity and traditional African religions. For over half-century Sudan has been at the mercy of a succession of military leaders with appalling human rights records. In the past, there had been relative ethnic harmony between the northerners and southerners until unequal distribution of wealth and imposed hierarchy practiced by north Sudanese leaders plunged the nation into systemic violence. Following the toppling of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in a coup d’état instigated by the current sitting president Hassan al-Bashir in 1989, Sudan descended into a cycle of violence consequently setting the stage for a prolonged conflict. The imposition of Islamic Sheria and the discovery of oil in the south further agitated the predominantly black population who aggressively intensified their fight for self-determination.

Salva Kiir Mayardit, the current president of the semi-autonomous government of Southern Sudan and the Vice President of Sudan, the man slated to be the future president of Southern Sudan, has in the past called for the separation of the south from the north. While commenting on the current referendum in 2009, Kiir admonished southerners to either choose being “a second class in your country” or “a free person in your own independent state”. Political pundits and analysts and commentators and media personalities who are closely watching the political events in southern Sudan, note unifying sense of euphoria and a yearning for national sovereignty that is visible on the faces of millions of southerners casting their votes.

Countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo DRC), and the Central African Republic (CAR) that share border with Southern Sudan have a lot to gain from Africa’s newest republic. For example, apart from having cordial relations with the anticipated republic, Kenya has vast business dealings ranging from banking, energy, transportation, and education in Southern Sudan. An estimated 70,000 Kenyans reside in Juba alone. In the past, the Kenya government played major roles in Sudan’s quest for peace and reconciliation. Top SPLA/M cadres established residences in Kenya’s major cities with John Garang being the top most to own a palatial home in Nairobi. Likewise, Kenya settled thousands of South Sudanese refugees in its northern camp of Kakuma and a vast number of Sudanese students call Kenya home. Chances are that thousands of ordinary Kenyan citizens will flood Southern Sudan once the votes are cast in favor of separation. There was even mention in the Kenya press about modeling future Southern Sudanese education from the Kenyan system. The East African Community (EAC), a regional body whose members have been drawn from nations within East Africa for the purpose of boosting the regions economy with an eye on future confederation, has reserved a space for the newly emerging nation of Southern Sudan.

Final Results Emerge

Finally, the votes have been cast and the people of Southern Sudan overwhelmingly voted for total separation. As a final verdict, global media reported that voting results exceeded international expectations. After decades of armed struggle, the new nation of Southern Sudan is now ready to embrace the international community of nations. And as its people rejoice in adulation and collectively celebrate with melodious applause, the type of political culture and mode of administration to be charted by the nation's technocrats will determine its future. For now, the nation's leadership is in the hands of Salva Kiir, doyen of political and armed struggle. Presumably, the way forward for a region like southern Sudan that has been devastated by military incursions, carpet bombings, inter-clan rivalry, disease and malnutrition, drought and locust invasions, is to embrace liberal democracy.

In conclusion, respect for the rule of law, educating ordinary citizens as a means to combating illiteracy, enhancing the foundations of the economy through aggressive agriculture, land consolidation and soil conservation, advancing political deliberations for the attainment of political maturity, inviting credible foreign investors, exploiting potential natural resources, and equitable distribution of the nation's wealth should be the foremost priority.

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