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South Sudan's leader, channeling Mandela, calls for forgiveness for north

At the end of voting in South Sudan's referendum, leader Salva Kiir called on the South Sudanese to forgive northern Sudan for past grievances, just as Nelson Mandela asked black South Africans to do at the end of apartheid.

By G. Pascal ZacharyGuest blogger / January 18, 2011

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, center, hugs Catholic Archbishop Paulino Lukudu following a church service at Juba, Southern Sudan on Jan. 16, 2011. The Southern Sudan's president on Sunday offered a prayer of forgiveness for northern Sudan and the killings that occurred during a two-decade civil war, as the first results from a weeklong independence referendum showed an overwhelming vote for secession.

Jerome Delay/AP

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In a remarkable move at the close of a national referendum on seccession, Salva Kiir, the political leader of Southern Sudan, has called on his people – from inside a Catholic Church no less – to forgive the national government of Sudan for its decades of violence again Southerners. “May we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths,” Kiir reportedly said.

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Southern Sudanese are believed to have vote overwhelmingly to form a new nation, though full election results are not expected until next month. In choosing the path of forgiveness, Kiir, while following his own conscience, is echoing an approach successfully followed by Nelson Mandela of South Africa.

The declaration by Kiir follows an equally remarkable statement by al Bashir, the head of Sudan’s Khartoum government, in which he signaled that he is prepared to let the South hive itself off peacefully. In a visit to Juba, the largest city in the city, al Bashir said he preferred a unified Sudan but would “respect” the South’s right to secede.

“Ties between the north and the south are very huge,” he said. “We spoke to our brothers on how to keep those ties, even if we have two states.”

A two-state solution to Sudan is no chimera. The national referendum, now completed, has been deemed credible by a delegation of foreign observers led by Jimmy Carter, and the Bashir government is on the verge of accepting what many foreign observers until recently considered the unthinkable: peaceful separation.

The logic for al Bashir’s position is clear. He is no democrat, and he appears to reserve the option to intervene in Southern Sudan if for some reason the Kiir government cannot gain control over its undisputed territory.

To be sure, disputed areas in the border between the two halves of Sudan could well experience violent conflict, but such conflict could co-exist with the emergence of the new nation of Southern Sudan.

Pessimists about the Sudan outcome should be chastened by the relatively peaceful round of voting. In the weeks prior to the vote, Beltway pundits rolled out their most energetic Afro-pessimism in order to create near-hysteria about the election. Their predictions could well demand humble apologies in the months ahead, since these predictions transparently tapped into routine fears and stereotypes of supposed African inclinations towards political violence.

Some gloomy critics still say any declaration of seccession by the South will lead to renewed civil war, but with each passing day without such a war, the chances appear to grow that the new nation of Southern Sudan will indeed be born. And the attempt at emulation of Mandela, by the likely new president of an independent Southern Sudan, augurs well for the birth of this new nation.

G. Pascal Zachary blogs at Africa Works.

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