Clearly, the Sudan before the birth of the Republic of South Sudan was one of the largest countries in Africa in terms of land mass compared only to the Congo. But not only that, the Sudan was, and is distinctly African – if one wants to describe it that way! The latter point is certainly interesting, as we will see in the course of this perspective.
But following the evolution of the Sudan – right from independence and in the last five decades if not more -- this country, viewed from the prism of a hitherto one state, has known no peace. The Sudan has been at war with itself from the word go! Sudanese have been at the throats of each other as the South of the country had sought to fight for its own identity and sovereignty as distinct and away from the North.
Here then comes the element of the description: Arab North which is north Sudan with its capital Khartoum and African or “Jet-Black” South (the latter description being mine!) as South Sudan with capital, Juba. Over the years therefore, a war between the two “Sudans” had been waging. We had the SPLA – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army based in the South, which had fought a protracted guerilla war against northern neighbour, Khartoum’s Sudan.
I remember in the eighties to have run into the leader of the SPLA, John Garang; then visiting Dar es Salaam. We had sat down for an interview and he told me of his visions as a guerrilla leader. Frankly, I was flabbergasted as I am still is, on the course he was set because I am a convert of African unity. But people do not just go into the bush to fight for nothing! They certainly do so for a course.
The fighters themselves can only judge that legitimacy of the course because they would normally know what they are fighting for anyway! So here in this part of the world to the north of this country, we had a lengthy war. But fortunately the two brothers from the same country known as the Sudan somehow reconciled the other day, sitting down around one table. A government of national unity was promulgated in Khartoum with the SPLA of the South being part of that government.
Unfortunately, the founding leader of the SPLA died before the accord was signed but as usual, as is with every organized people, a new leader emerged to take the place of John Garang. He was Mr Salva Kiir. He took a lesser position of Vice President of the Sudan, under President Omar Al-Bashir.
At a time everybody thought the hatchet had been buried and that we had one indivisible Sudan, there was news that a referendum would take place to ask the people of South Sudan whether they preferred to form their own state or continue as part of one indivisible Sudan.
The result of that referendum was overwhelming: the people of South Sudan had voted to have their own state in the name of the Republic of South Sudan. Fair enough! After all, one may logically assume that this is what the people in that part of the African continent had been fighting for anyway! So a new nation in Africa was born, the Republic of South Sudan with Juba as its capital.
That this new turn of developments leading to the birth of a new state in what was once one country was an event of great accolade and pride. Pride because here was one people who had seen the sense of living at peace with one another, respecting each other’s will and aspirations. Of course, for Pan-Africanists it was not exactly an event for celebration because it could hardly be described as an event that strengthens integration of the African continent.
But integration is a process: it is from fragmentation that a movement for integration is normally initiated. But no sooner had men like me begun looking for contacts to facilitate a trip for a first hand sample of the world’s newest nation than the bad news broke. War has broken out and, indeed, it has been waging for the last four weeks between the two Sudans – the one in the North and the South.
Following the news on the global television networks including Aljazeera, the war has been ferocious. At first, there was news that South Sudan forces had overrun an oil-producing enclave, which had been the focal point of the battle. But there is currently the news that the Khartoum Government in the North had retaken the enclave and begun a protracted bombardment of the territory of South Sudan to get rid of the “insects”.
To which inference of being described “insects” a leader in South Sudan has warned that this may be the beginning of a genocide, Rwanda style in which close to a million people died. “There in Rwanda,” the South Sudanese leader recalled, “one side of the ethnic divide was describing the other as cockroaches…”
Watching the news, more especially after reports that Khartoum forces had retaken the oil-rich enclave, images of northern Sudan troops led by the leader, General Bashir were in jubilant mood, saying in many words on the need to get rid of the “insects”. How? This is a crucial question. Time will tell in the coming weeks how they will do it. Here then is the essence of this perspective. The heading of this perspective summarizes it all.
Sudanese are one people, whether from the North or South. And by the way, let no one deceive himself or herself - people elsewhere in the world with a racial trait - make no difference between an African who knows Arabic or English and an African who considers himself or herself an Arab or European in black skin. We are all stereotyped “blacks” or “coloureds” at best!
So let us not kill each other like “insects” or cockroaches” please! As neighbours, Sudanese need each other, they have to live together, whether they like it or not. There is a Kiswahili saying that one may choose a friend but has no choice with a neighbour – one is stuck with him or her, whether he likes it or not!
As described, the Sudanese have been able to go that far, work together and even accept the result of a referendum; then they should be able to live together at peace with each other. Their real wealth is themselves as a people, land which is there and very vast and good leadership, which they can forge. To fight for minerals or oil is foolish because as they will discover at the end of the day, it will be foreigners or the multinationals that are going to benefit substantially.