Sudan: Referendum could split country
The 2005 Naivasha Agreement ended the civil war between the Sudanese government and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), based in South Sudan.
About 2 million people were killed in the 1983-2005 conflict. A further 500,000 people were killed in the 1955-1972 civil war, also fought between the government and rebels in the south.
Under the agreement, a referendum on independence will be held in the south in January 2011. The SPLM leadership recently endorsed independence for the South, while prior to the peace process it been committed to a united, democratic, federal Sudan.
SPLM leader John Garang died when a Ugandan military helicopter he was in crashed on July 30, 2005 — less than a month after he had become Sudan’s vice-president under the Naivasha Agreement.
Soubhi Iskander is editor of The Flame, the Arabic-language Green Left Weekly supplement. He is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia and a long-term activist with the Communist Party of Sudan.
He spoke to GLW’s Tony Iltis about the referendum, what dangers he sees in the division of Sudan, and the recent formation of the opposition Broad Front.
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We don’t see any benefits in the referendum. We know that to split the country will lead to more trouble than during the civil war. To stay in power the Islamic junta would split the country. We know the new southern nation will be faced with much trouble.
First of all, the US multinational corporations will try to suck away the country’s resources. Especially natural resources — petrol, gold and uranium.
Also, we are afraid that Israel will have its hands on the sources of the Nile [if the south separated]. This will put Egypt and Sudan in a very difficult position because they depend on the Nile for their economic life.
The US is the number one [outside power seeking influence in South Sudan] — it has its eye on the petrol. The west of South Sudan is very rich in petrol. There are places near the Bahr el Ghazal, one of the White Nile’s tributaries, where there is uranium that was discovered during [military dictator] General Gaafar Nimeiry’s reign in the 1970s.
We are also seeing conflict between US capitalism and China because … currently most oil wells are under Chinese control. There could be a very sharp conflict between these two nations.
John Garang was a great leader. He was a unionist — he believed in one Sudan. He led his movement to liberate the whole Sudanese people. He called his movement the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement — not the Southern Liberation Movement.
When Garang went to [the Sudanese capital] Khartoum, after the signing of the Naivasha Agreement, four million people went to the airport to meet him, including many North Sudanese. He had such charisma. He could have been a Chavez of Africa.
I think the CIA was afraid to have such a leader in the geographically largest country in Africa, with so much resources, that they made what looked like an accident. What we believe is that he was murdered.
In Sudan, some nomads wear shoes made from fresh sheepskin, and are followed by dogs that smell the fresh meat. The new South Sudanese nation will be like that — it will raise the appetite of every capitalist power in Europe or Asia and will be powerless.
South Sudan is not inhabited by just one ethnic group. The biggest ethnic group is the Dinka but there are others — like Shilluk, Nuer, Mundari, Zande. There are about 23 smaller tribes that have their own language, traditions and religious beliefs.
Some of them, especially the Shilluk, the second largest ethnicity, and the Nuer, will never permit the Dinka to rule them.
So we predict ethnic uprisings in South Sudan. Hopefully it will not happen, but that is what we fear.
US policy [towards the junta is] the stick and the carrot. It shows the stick, saying: “We will catch the criminal president of Sudan and put him in front of the international court if Sudan doesn’t have the referendum.”
At the same time it shows the carrot, saying: “If you go ahead with the referendum we will let you stay in power.”
And the junta will do anything to stay in power — not only split off South Sudan, but the west and the east of Sudan, just to stay in power.
The people of all these regions are not Arabs. Some of them are Muslims but they don’t speak Arabic. So there are movements that think these regions can also be separate and have their own states, especially in Darfur.
Until 1917, Darfur was an independent sultanate. The British army colonised it and attached it to Sudan. They don’t feel Sudanese.
I think the split of South Sudan will encourage other regions to want the same model.
The Sudanese people know what will happen if the country is split and we know how much trouble we will have from having the junta still in power.
So a lot of people in jail, opposition and exile have called for a Broad Front to organise an uprising inside Sudan.
The first meeting of the Broad Front was in London on October 22 and agreed to set up the front in every European country, and every country worldwide where there are Sudanese people.
Our agenda is:
1. To have a unified, independent country.
2. To separate religion from politics.
3. To have respect for all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnic group, and a democratic constitution with freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to strike.
The Broad Front was launched here in Sydney on November 27 in Liverpool.
The Islamic Front — the ruling junta’s party — succeeded in domesticating the opposition groups: it made them like pets.
Before the election the junta opened the country and invited the opposition groups individual to come back and gave them a period of three to four months with complete freedom. They were allowed to have newspapers and exercise free speech, just to make people feel there was an opposition.
But when it came to the election, in both the south and the north, it was clear that the results were falsified. President Bashir, who is hated by all Sudanese, got about 85%. The opposition inside the country, including the Communist Party of Sudan, can do nothing.
Opposition newspapers are now always closed, or sometimes printed blank because of censorship. So the opposition is really domesticated and it will need leadership from the diaspora outside Sudan for this uprising to happen.