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Towards Confederation between Independent South and North Sudan

By Abdullahi Osman El-Tom

July 11, 2010 — After long and futile emotional tactics, Sudan’s major parties have finally come to explore confederation as the only viable option following the certain separation of the Sudan following Referendum. For the sake of enriching debate, we reissue this article without any changes showing that JEM has long proposed this confederation as a realistic option for future Sudan. The article was published in several major internet venues on 19-20 of December 2009:

In line with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed 2005, a referendum on self-determination will take place in the South of the Sudan at the end of the 2011. Gauging public opinions thus far, coupled by views of political analysts, the separation of South Sudan is inevitable. Surprisingly, leaders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party of the South of the Sudan and partners to the present Government of National Unity (GNU), have yet to come to term with this fundamental fact, the separation of the South. Let me justify myself below.

The late Dr. Garang had always called for unity under New Sudan, a nation that is inclusive, democratic and accommodating to all its citizens irrespective of religious, regional or ethnic origin. That dream is still echoed by his disciples including Salva Kiir, the current President of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and the First Vice President of Sudan. Kiir has been consistently asserting his allegiance to unity while blaming his northern partners for not making it attractive for the people of South. What is perplexing is that Kiir’s insistence on unity, also reiterated by all of his senior staff, does not tally with public opinion among his people. Pagan Amum, the Secretary General of the SPLM has also been among the most avid supporters of the unity project. Strangely enough, Amum himself remarked last year that “more than 90% of his southerners will vote for separation” The statement reflects a worrying trend among SPLM leaders and how they are hopelessly out of touch with their own people.

The Justice and Equality Movement of Sudan (JEM) is a pro-unity organization. On numerous occasions, JEM relayed to the SPLM its intention to work with them and increase the appeal of unity for the South. JEM wants to remove the factors that make the South separate for these are the same reasons behind raising arms in Darfur . But JEM is realistic and in full recognition of the fact that for better or for worse, separation of the South is inevitable. Pessimists push the thesis further and conclude that separation will be preceded by a bloody war following collapse of the presently shaky CPA. Either way, it is incumbent upon all of us to muster hope and work for a peaceful march towards secession. It is here that JEM proposes plan B, admittedly still under discussion within its high ranks. Confederation ensuring two independent and sovereign Sudans , North and South is the answer. It can serve mutual interests, improve development prospects, contain conflicts and preempt war between the two sovereign states. Conceding that confederation is a confusing concept, let me rush and clarify what I mean by it before I lose my readers.

Confederation is a system of administration in which two independent countries enter into while keeping their separate identities. The countries cede some of their powers to a central authority in areas where they share common economic, security, or broadly speaking, developmental concerns. The central authority in confederation is weak and subservient to the founding states. It cannot dominate and can only exercise powers that are ceded to it by the con-federal partners. While confederation is a perpetual arrangement, either of the partners can pull out of it if they so wish. Hence, confederation is like marriage; it takes two to create and maintain but only one partner to dismantle. Confederation comes in different forms depending on the contexts and interests of partners involved. The most successful model around is the EU but Sudan requires a model that suits its conditions and fulfils its purpose.

Let us make a proposition that the CPA survives and allows successful general elections (2010) and the self-determination referendum (2011). Sudan will then split into two independent states: the Republic of South Sudan and the Republic of North Sudan . The two independent states will face formidable challenges that can at best be addressed through confederation. The merits of confederation are as follows:

Separation of the South is bound to be bitterly painful, emotive and resentful. Numerous issues between the two countries will not be resolved for some time after secession. A volatile atmosphere conducive to war will be created. Confederation provides supportive institutions and creates an environ that absorbs tension and contains war tendencies.

The two countries will share a border of 1500 kilometre long, a third of it with, hopefully speaking, post-war Darfur. To make matters worse for the two countries, this long border is shared by hundreds of nomadic ethic groups with their characteristic disdain for political boundaries. The dividing line between the new North Sudan and South Sudan will mimic those of other African countries where political borders come to fence out not only ethnic groups but extended families into two countries. Securing such a long border and catering for the interests of border populations require an arrangement that can be nothing short of confederation.

The release of results of Sudan’s Fifth Census (May 2009) has unleashed a fierce and acrimonious debate about exact number of southerners in Khartoum. Disputants put their number at anything between 350,000 and 2,000,000. To that, one may add many more in all other regions of the Sudan and particularly in border territories. South of Sudan also hosts a substantial number of people whose origin lies further north. Many of these people will remain where they are, irrespective of the outcome of the referendum. A well-designed and managed confederation is the best hope for these populations.

When it comes to the economic development of both sides of the Sudan, the case for confederation cannot be overstated. History has destined the two sides to be intertwined with the South emerging utterly dependent on the North. Dependency of the South on the North spans almost every field of its economy: food and agriculture, oil pipelines, light industrial productions, access to a port and so forth. Shortage of human capital also presupposes reliance of the South on the North for traders, teachers, doctors, civil servants, etc. While confederation does not preclude the South reaching out to other African countries, workers from North Sudan have an undeniable advantage. They so far share the same history, administrative and civil service structure, educational system and above all a common language as Arabic still dominates as a lingua franca in the South.

The North too needs the South for better economic dividends. The South provides a familiar market for northern transport network, telecommunications, oil pipelines, industrial products but above an avenue for surplus labour. The vast forest and animal resources of the South are also highly needed in the North. In short, confederation is a win-win endeavour for both sides and certainly comprises the most efficient management of resources available.
The countries created by secession will be multi religious. North Sudan will have substantial Christian population of Southern origin. In addition, there will also be other Christian minorities in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile whose status, together with many others northern regions is not yet certain. Equally, the South will also host a sizable Muslim population. As a relatively rich minority, the northern Muslim population remaining in the south will be subject for resentment and a possible target of violence. Confederation creates a context where the new countries can lobby effectively to safeguard interest of these minorities. It may also act as an agent of religious moderation at both ends. It is perhaps not far fetched to expect the confederation to act as a powerful drive against possible Talibanization tendencies in North Sudan.

Given the above reasons, the logic of confederation between the would-be Republics of South and North Sudan is quite compelling. Nonetheless, this project requires statesmanship that can allay fears, contain contrived post-secession paranoia and harness grass root good will and support for the project. Confederation can only succeed if it represents a genuine union between two peoples and not an agreement between ruling parties, particularly when democratic credentials of these parties are uncertain or lacking altogether. Popular support for the project must, therefore, be a pre-condition validated through a referendum or a similar undertaking.

Proposals for confederation between north and south Sudan are not new. It was proposed by John Garang during the Naivasha negotiations (2005). Although negotiators of northern Sudan accepted the principle, the project had no support among other SPLM leaders. It was feared that such a project would compromise their call for self determination.

Much more recently, Malik Agar, Deputy Chairman of the SPLM, proposed confederation for the whole of Sudan (January, 17th 2008). Although Agar’s proposal was impeccable, its timing was not, leading to its outright dismissal by the Parliamentary Block of the SPLM, January 22nd 2008 . The timing of the proposal was problematic as it coincided with a period of intense paranoia about collapse of the CPA coupled by the fact that Agar comes from the Blue Nile and not the South per se.

The current proposal is however different as it neither threatens the CPA nor intends to derail self determination for the South. Much more, this confederation is contingent on successful passage of the CPA and amicable separation of Sudan into two independent countries. It is a project whereby both countries choose to enter and exit out of their own accord (for an excellent reading of extreme relevance see: Tesfatsion Medhanie, Towards Confederation in the Horn of Africa. Cuvillier Verlang, 2009).

Author is Head of the Bureau for Training and Strategic Planning of JEM. He can be reached at Abdullahi.etlom@nuim.ie .