S. Sudan's Cry for Justice

Resource-rich but politically and economically deprived, the country looks westward for help

SOUTH Sudan, twice the size of the state of Texas, is endowed with untapped mineral resources and agricultural potential that could make it the breadbasket of Africa and the Middle East. But for the last decade its people have been terrorized by the pro-Islamic, Iran-backed fundamentalist regime in Khartoum.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been murdered or displaced in the North, and many children exported to Libya as slaves. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced from their local habitat and dispossessed of their basic human rights.

The world community, including the United Nations and Organization of African Unity, has ignored this situation. The Western world has lagged in developing a coherent policy to deal with the Sudan debacle.

Sudan's political schism is a result of the British colonial legacy. It still supports the traditional political parties: the Umma of the Mahdist sect and the National Unionist Party of the Mirghani sect. Northern and southern Sudan were two countries with diametrically opposed political systems.

The North was ruled under Islamic holy law (sharia). The South was governed by indirect rule developed in the northern Nigerian Emirates in the early 1900s.

In 1921 the British colonial government introduced the passport Ordinance Act, designed to control migration of the Arabized and Muslims (Jellabas or Mundukurus) in the south. The same act was applied to any South Sudanese traveling to the North. In 1947 the North and South were unified without a referendum or plebiscite.

Southerners were denied the right to hold a referendum on the question of unification. This was a total British sellout of South Sudan to the Arabized, Muslim North. Before independence in 1956, the Southern Corps rebelled and the first civil war was fought from 1955 to 1972. It was brought to an end by the Addis-Ababa Agreement of 1972, which gave the South self-rule within a united Sudan.

The agreement provided a breathing space in which fundamental shifts in identification might have been promoted. Unfortunately, the opportunity was not grasped. In 1983, war resumed because of the imposition of sharia as the law of Sudan, including the nonmuslim South.

The Sudan crisis has been given low priority by America's political leadership and media. The United States and its Western allies have been reluctant to condemn the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Khartoum, though it has the worst human rights record in contemporary 21st-Century political developments. But the world community and the media, both print and television, have made little effort to provide significant coverage.

The foreign-policy establishment approaches Africa's miseries without any intellectual creativity, sensitivity, vigor, or urgency. The Sudan crisis was going on for a decade before the Somalia and Bosnia conflicts. Yet the Western powers, and the US in particular, have not taken decisive action.

Many people could have been saved had the media exposed the crimes against the southern Sudanese. The perception is that the Sudan crisis is not America's. Washington has no responsibility nor obligation to solve problems created by others. There should be no mistaking that the blame for Africa's predicament rests exclusively on the socioeconomic and political atmosphere of the continent.

Despite the end of the cold war and demand for a shift to "constitutional democratic pluralism" in Africa by Western leaders and the media, the continent continues to be managed by rag-tag military juntas and authoritarian dictatorships. Moreover, Africa continues to receive low priority in US foreign policy and economic development areas.

Sudan has been in a state of intermittent war for the last 29 of its 38 years of independence from Britain. If there is war, it means that there is neither peace nor socioeconomic development.

The people of South Sudan are the most aggrieved and are totally opposed to the imposition of the sharia. When they took up armed resistance a decade ago against Khartoum, it was not for a greater autonomy within a united Sudan, but self-determination is a sine qua non to peace in Sudan.

At present, whether the National Islamic Front repeals the sharia or not, the terms for this unfair political union must be revised. The North-South political marriage has not worked and is not expected to work in the foreseeable future.

Therefore, nullification could be achieved through a negotiated settlement or armed struggle. Sudan must be partitioned into two independent states. The partitioning would not lead to balkanization of Africa.

Khartoum recently recognized Eritrea as an independent state, once it opted for a referendum after 30 years of bloody war with Ethiopia. Hence, it would be unwise of Khartoum to deny the separation between the North and South.

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