Many Sudans yet to come
Ali Belail asks whether Sudan's elections mark a step forward and interviews Mansour Khaled, current foreign minister and presidential advisor
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Election observers watch a ballot box at a Zam Zam refugee camp polling station in Darfur after voting was extended by two days
"It is enough to have one Somalia in Africa", is the eleventh hour warning from Mansour Khaled, member of the Political Bureau of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and former advisor to the Sudanese Presidency. Many like Khaled now look back on the last few decades as a honeymoon compared to what could happen to the Sudan in the next few years.
The referendum to be held in January of next year to determine whether the separation of the South represents the major step that will seal the fate of Sudan for the years to come. Should it be held on time, the consensus is that southerners will vote overwhelmingly in favour of secession. How that secession unfolds is the crucial question. "The south will secede. If we are lucky then [the government] will make the secession smooth. Any attempt to put hurdles will lead to an angry secession," says Khaled who is one of the very few northerners who are in the top ranks of the SPLM. There could be many sources of anger but oil is perhaps the most potent factor: almost 80 per cent of oil is produced south of what would be the border between the two countries. According to Mubarak Al-Fadil Al-Mahdi, a former interior minister during the 1980s and the leader of the Reform and Renewal faction of the Umma Party, one of the opposition parties that boycotted the elections, revenue from oil represents nearly 95 per cent of Sudan's total revenue, "oil has become the livelihood of this government... and they got used to lavish spending."
Al-Mahdi's fear is that because the current government has neglected the economy, he cannot see them relinquishing their lifeblood. "Our information is that the National Congress Party [NCP] will not let go of the oil." In fact, he predicts that the government will not allow the south to separate and will -- as he puts it -- "stall as it has done before so that the referendum is not carried out."
That could mean that the south could declare unilateral independence leading to a return to armed conflict. "Anyway there is going to be a confrontation between the south and the north again... back to the war," states Al-Mahdi.
This is the angry secession that Khaled refers to and one that could spell doom for the rest of the country. He argues that if the government cannot demonstrate that it can manage a smooth and equitable (especially for the south) secession, other underdeveloped regions and ethnicities in Sudan will be encouraged to call for separation, and thereafter the Somalisation of Sudan will commence.
The crucial ingredients for that prospect have been gathering and accumulating over the past two decades and will combust under certain (some say inevitable) conditions. "The population has been militarised through the [government's] PDF [Popular Defense Forces] and militias," says Al-Mahdi. "We have three to four million machine guns in the hands of the people of Sudan. Because 95 per cent of Sudanese are now living under the poverty line. It is very likely that Sudan will be another Somalia because of this one sided policy."
"Just look at Somalia," points out Khaled. The implications for the whole region are dire. For Egypt they are particularly serious. The Nile waters issue alone could become a maze which will be difficult if not impossible to navigate smoothly. According to Khaled, both the northern elite and Egypt failed to recognise the gravity of the situation, "they did not take seriously that the south would separate." He stresses that for the southerners, it was not a choice between unity and separation but rather between separation and the extent of implementation of those components of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which was signed in 2005, that were designed to make unity a viable and attractive option with foreign investment to accelerate development in the south. Despite the considerable contribution of Egyptian investment in the south particularly in health and education, Khaled argues that it was not enough, "the Egyptians should have taken the lead in promoting and pushing for other Arab countries to invest in the south."
Many in the south see the situation now as the northerners' and the Egyptians' chickens coming home to roost. For them it is not difficult at all to see why. Essentially, the war between the north and the south has raged for nearly 40 years out of the 54 years since Sudan's independence from Britain with several peace agreements that have attempted to reconcile the two sides.
Central to the success of those agreements, and indeed to the very idea of a united Sudan, was the acknowledgement of the diversity not only of the south and north but of the whole country. "The ruling elite in the north do not accept diversity," states Khaled who was one of the main architects of the 1972 Addis Ababa peace agreement that brought an 11-year peace that lasted until 1983 when the late president Numeiri reneged on the agreement. Al-Mahdi goes further saying that the northern elite "took for granted that Sudan will be an Arab and Islamic state". According to him, they also followed the pattern of the British in ruling Sudan from the centre and neglecting and failing to accommodate "the peripheries".
"Sudan is not bigger or more complex than Brazil or India. What kept them together was that they realised that there is unity in diversity", comments Khaled. " The Indian miracle was not a miracle. It was common sense," he adds. He cites how Nehru fought those who wanted India to be Hindu dominated. In contrast, "the fathers of the nation like Azhari [Sudan's first elected leader after independence] took the model of the Indian Congress [Party] but they learned nothing," he concluded.
"There were mistakes done by the elite... they should have seen that Sudan was multi-coloured, multi-ethnic, multi-religious. Sudan should be taken back to the drawing board -- a civil state that recognises multiplicity. This is the only way if you want to keep Sudan together," says Mahdi.
There is in Sudan now a feeling of impending uncertainty, that something is coming to an end and what will follow is nearly impossible to predict. It is now nine months away from the referendum and there is talk of the government's plans for an accelerated and massive development drive in the south to make unity an appealing option for the southerners by the time they come to vote.
The notion that what could not be achieved in 50 years could possibly be accomplished in nine months underlines the urgency and desperation that could be seen to reflect a sense of denial of the reality. For Khaled it is also not untypical, "the problem with the ruling elite in the north is that they could never come to terms with the facts. And when they do it is too late."