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Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Yasir Arman: the only person to bridge North-South Sudan divide

By Jacob K. Lupai

April 8, 2010 — When the Sudanese flag was raised for the first time on 01 January 1956, Sudan has alternated between civilian and military rule in which two enduring political problems have plagued both forms of government, the South and Sectarianism in the North. In the colonial era South Sudan was in limbo until only in 1948 did the colonial authorities realized that a decision had to be made about what path the South should take. The result was of course the ill-fated Juba Conference of 1947 in which politically-unsophisticated southern chiefs and other low ranking officials were persuaded by eloquent northern or Arab nationalists to support unity with the North. The subsequent crash programme of integration that was put in place was too little too late to bridge the North-South divide.

The 800 administrative posts vacated by the British were Sudanised or rather northernised. The northern politicians in their beginning of marginalization of the South only allotted a mere four posts to southerners. This was nothing but an insult but also an indication of how education in the South had lagged behind that in the North. As independence approached southerners saw their British administrators being replaced by northerners. This naturally heightened tensions and increased suspicions of northern intentions in the South. Inwardly southerners felt that was the beginning of neocolonialism. Barely a year before independence the southern garrison at Torit rebelled in 1955 and that rebellion formed the nucleus of the Anyanya separatist movement, which was to fight Sudan’s first protracted civil war for 17 years until the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972.

Sectarianism in the North has not been helpful in bridging North-South Sudan divide. Although the early nationalist movement for independence was led by officers of southern origin, the later independence movement was championed exclusively by the North with the South only playing a peripheral role if any. Eventually for the South independence was merely a change of masters when northerners took over from the British. To make matters worse, in disregard to the majority Black African population of Sudan, the northern elite then defined the Sudanese nation in accordance with the symbols of their Arab-Islamic identity. This was the genesis of North-South Sudan divide immediately after independence. Northern or rather Arab culture and Islam were forcibly imposed on southerners as for example during the regime (1958-1964) of General Ibrahim Abboud. Repressive measures were used in the South by crude military and police forces under the pretext of asserting the rule of law and order. This, however, fuelled resistance and the subsequent widening of North-South divide.

At independence the South was not only different from the North in its traditional systems but had evolved along Christian and Western lines as a result of colonial policies that were pursued at the time. On its part the North felt that reverse policies could be followed in favour of Islam and Arabism with the erroneous belief that the South would fall in line. However, this only invited a strong resistance from the South. The consequence of such erroneous belief was that the North and the South were drifting apart with no common identity to share. All the northern political parties that have produced successive governments in Sudan have identified with an Arab state as though the majority Black Africans in Sudan did not exist. In contrast southern political parties have always identified with a non-racial secular democratic state as a home to all irrespective of race and religion. The two perceptions of identity of course differ hence North-South divide.

In the race for the Republican Palace in Khartoum the last poll in Sudan Tribune showed that Sadiq El Mahdi of the Umma Party was in the lead with Yasir Arman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) as close second runner and Omar El Bashir of the National Congress Party (NCP) a distant third. I would have wished one other independent candidate for the presidency, Mahmoud Ahmed Jiha, who was my classmate in secondary school in Khartoum to have done better in the polls. Assuming that the poll was a true reflection of how people would vote in the upcoming April elections, it is then likely that Sadiq El Mahdi will be the next president-elect of Sudan. However, with Sadiq El Mahdi in the Republican Palace as the president it is not clear how he will bridge the North-South divide. Sadiq El Mahdi may lack charisma to make things happen in bridging the North-South divide. In addition the Umma Party is supportive of the application of Islamic sharia in Sudan.

When Sadiq El Mahdi was the prime minister of Sudan in 1986 he fudged the Islamic sharia issue. He instead pursued the war in the South with greater vigour than before. Sadiq El Mahdi armed militias whose sectarian loyalty he enjoyed to plunder the populations in the South. He did not have the political will to resolve the North-South divide. Even the Sudanese army lost patience with Sadiq’s lack of political will and the army delivered an ultimatum that there must be progress towards peace in the South and the disbandment of militias within one week.

It is worth noting that the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) then in a coalition partner with the Umma Party agreed with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to freeze Islamic law pending a constitutional conference, implement a cease fire and cancel the state emergency imposed by Sadiq in 1987. In the face of massive popular support for the DUP initiative Sadiq is said to have sabotaged the peace process and set up a narrow–based government with the National Islamic Front (NIF), an Islamic fundamentalist party that advocated strongly the implementation of sharia. However, when Sadiq capitulated as a result of the army’s ultimatum the NIF left the government and the DUP returned.

Within months there was a cease fire between the SPLA and the Sudanese army, and negotiations with the SPLA got off the ground. The constituent assembly agreed to freeze Islamic law and a date 18 September 1989 was set for the convening of a constitutional conference. Sadiq was due to meet with Dr John Garang in Addis Ababa on July 4 but Sadiq never met with Dr John Garang as planned. However, the main question here is, will Sadiq bridge the North-South divide when he is the President after the April elections? The answer is in the negative. Sadiq is known for dithering and is inclined to identify with an Arab Islamic state in Sudan which has been a significant factor in polarizing the North and the South. The geographical South has never been part of Arab land except as a source of ivory and slaves to the Arabs, another polarizing factor.

Omar El Bashir mounted a successful coup d’état on 30 June 1989 toppling the democratically elected government of Sadiq. El Bashir’s coup brought in a government of Islamic fundamentalists who swore to implement Islamic sharia by whatever means. As the coup leaders sympathized with the NIF it was clear that Islamic fundamentalism would shape the policy of the El Bashir’s regime and with it further polarization of the North and the South. El Bashir vowed he would not deviate from the path of God which was Islamic sharia. He even indicated that if the South was an obstacle to the implementation of Islamic sharia he would let the South go separate ways. This was not at all an indication of bridging the North-South divide for a united Sudan. Voting for El Bashir as the NCP candidate for the presidency in the upcoming April elections will therefore be a sure way of further polarization of the North and the South with nothing left to make unity attractive.

El Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague for crimes against humanity and a crime against genocide all allegedly committed in the Darfur region. As the ICC indictment hands over El Bashir it is difficult to see how he may not be more of a liability than an asset to Sudan. If El Bashir has nothing to hide he should travel to The Hague to clear his name before or immediately after the April elections.

Yasir Arman, the second close runner according to the Sudan Tribune poll for the presidency of Sudan, is contesting on SPLM ticket. He has all the qualities to bring the North and the South together in a new contractual relationship of peaceful co-existence. As a northerner Yasir Arman has the interest of the North at heart and as an SPLM lead member he has the SPLM manifesto to implement. The SPLM clearly calls for a secular democratic united Sudan to which Yasir Arman dearly subscribes. It is therefore likely that when elected as president of Sudan Yasir Arman will carry out far reaching reforms and democratic transformation of Sudan that unity of Sudan may begin to look attractive. With the SPLM the dominant party both in the North and the South modern Sudan would have been born where religion and race would never be part of North-South divide as before. Sudanese nationalism promoted by Yasir Arman will supersede Arab Islamic euphoria of the old. A vote for Yasir Arman in the April elections is therefore the best that one can be of service to Sudan in its hour of need. Even if the South chooses in the referendum to go separate ways it is most likely that under Yasir Arman it will be a peaceful arrangement in contrast when under the presidency of either Sadiq or El Bashir. However, at least El Bashir has declared publicly that he would be the first to recognize the independence of South Sudan. Nonetheless El Basher is a politician and may change his mind at any convenient time.

In the South a vote for the SPLM is the only guarantee for freedom. Voting for parties such as the SPLM for democratic change (DC) is in reality like voting for the NCP. The SPLM-DC is the disruptive child of the NCP that wants to mess up the South. It has been created to sow a seed of discord. Southerners are therefore forewarned to stay clear of the SPLM-DC which is in all probabilities the extended arm of the NCP to the South. At the national level the SPLM will guarantee peaceful co-existence to all Sudanese. Yasir Arman is therefore the only person to bridge the North-South divide. He is the man to create a modern Sudan devoid of racism and religious bigotry. With Yasir Arman as the president Sudanese will truly discover their identity. For now we are torn between being Arab Muslims, Black African Muslims or animists.
In conclusion under Yasir Arman our allegiance will be foremost to the Sudanese nation in diversity even if this means two nations of the North and the South but living in good neighbourliness and mutual advantage.

The author can be reached at [email protected]