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Khalid Medani, “Strife and Secession in Sudan,” Journal of Democracy 22.3 (July 2011): 135-149.
Jadaliyya: What made you write this article?
Khalid Medani: I wrote the article “Strife and Secession in Sudan” because I felt very strongly that the analysis of the politics in Sudan has long been characterized by misrepresentations and simply a lack of understanding of the roots of the conflicts in the country and the problems having to do with the secession of South Sudan in the longer term. On the one hand, policymakers have been invested in overseeing the secession of the South based on their own calculations and geopolitical interests rather than those of the people throughout the Sudan. On the other hand, scholars and analysts continue to depict the conflict in cultural and religious terms, obscuring the core economic problems that have determined both the nature and timing of the various conflicts in the country. While there is much disillusionment with the prospects of Democracy, I also wanted to make clear that for Sudan this should be part of the analysis, since the country has had a very long history of democratic experiments. Moreover, given the number of conflicts in the country not only in the South, but in Darfur, the East, and even parts of the far north, I wanted to write a piece that squarely puts forth Democracy as the only chance for a longer term peace in the country following the partition of the country. Finally, I wrote this article for my colleagues and friends in Sudan. There is very little analysis of Sudan by Sudanese that is published widely and few Sudanese voices are ever represented in public forums in English periodicals. It is my hope that the analysis and tone of this article reflects the genuine voices of Sudanese civil society in both North and South in ways that would help express the concerns and aspirations of the people of Sudan who naturally are interested in reclaiming agency over their own futures in both North and South.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does it address?
KM: The article addresses issues that explicate the causes and evolution of the conflicts in Sudan. It highlights the oil factor as key in understanding the timing of the conflict and the pace of the secession, addresses the problems that have obstructed democratization, and explains the politicization of Islamism in Sudan in ways that have resulted in the path toward partition. It also shows the structural flaws associated with the peace agreement of 2005 that made the partition inevitable rather than an outcome stemming from the choice of all the Sudanese people, and also addresses the role of external actors in this process in ways that have proved counterproductive in addressing outstanding issues having to do with oil sharing, border demarcation, citizenship rights, and internal political dynamics. I also explain why political liberalization in both North and South is the only avenue for a long-term peace that is currently threatened by factionalization in both regions and armed conflict. Finally, the article addresses the theoretical literature on secession worldwide as a way to understand the long-term prospects of conflict resolution following the partition of South Sudan.
J: How does this work connect to and/or depart from your previous research and writing?
KM: This work connects to much earlier work that I conducted on the Sudanese civil war in the early 1990s in that it centers the issue of democratization as a key problem for Sudan in terms of the prospects for conflict resolution. It is also linked to my earlier work on Sudan in that it once again critiques the focus on the Arab-African divide as the root cause of the conflict, and explains the politics of Islam in the country rather than assuming that the latter is a primary causal factor in conflict. However, it largely departs from my earlier work in that it addresses secession more directly and analyzes the literatures on both secession and conflict resolution with the objective of demonstrating the pitfalls of secession to come if a proper analysis of the remaining issues are not adequately addressed. My previous work has been on the political economy of Islamism in Sudan and did not address the issue of secession and the problematics of externally induced peace agreements.
[Khalid Medani. Photo by Allen McInnis]
J: Who do you hope will read this article, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?
KM: I would hope that scholars of civil conflict and secession and policymakers with a role in Sudan and Africa and the Arab world will read this article. My interest is in having the article make an impact on the analysis of secessions in Africa more generally, and to guide policymakers in making more reasoned policy towards both Khartoum and Juba in the future at this very critical time. I hope also that Sudanese in Sudan will have a chance to read this article and both comment on and critique any analysis that they deem fit in order to strengthen these arguments which are, in the end, written in the interest of the peoples of Sudan.
J: What particular political issues in Sudan should people be paying most attention to at this moment?
KM: The most important issues to focus on in Sudan at the moment have to do with the authoritarianism in the politics of both Khartoum and Juba. Just as Jadaliyya readers have been exposed to expert analysis on the brittle authoritarian regimes in the Arab world over the past year, so to should readers and analysts focus on the real political problems in North and South Sudan. While obscured by the coverage of the secession of the South, the main issue at the moment is the authoritarian nature of rule in both countries. This absence of political participation and civil liberties continues to fuel the conflict in Darfur and has led to dangerous in-fighting among Southerners on the eve of the South’s independence. How then can the rest of the world — especially in the Arab and African spheres — best help to promote democratization in countries like Egypt as well as Sudan? Other key issues include the issue of oil that has continued to fuel conflict, and the related problems of demarcating borders and the status of citizenship for southerners residing in the north.
Excerpt from "Strife and Secession in Sudan":
Between 9 and 15 January 2011, the people of the southern states of oil-rich Sudan—Africa’s largest country by land area—voted almost unanimously (about 98 percent of the South’s eight million voters) to become formally independent of the North as of 9 July 2011. The referendum was the culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the longest civil conflict on the continent. Since the mid-1950s, when Sudan became free of Anglo-Egyptian rule, the predominately black and Christian or animist South had sought either autonomy or independence from the Arabic-speaking, Muslim-dominated North. The Khartoum-based government of Sudan, meanwhile, fought to keep control over the South in a struggle whose latest iteration lasted twenty-one years. On the cusp of partition in early-June 2011, the two sides are once again on the brink of war as long-simmering issues are coming to a boil after the northern invasion of the town of Abyei in the contested region of the same name.
Although the separation of the North and South may seem like the inevitable outcome of a strife-torn history, the path that led to the split might have ended elsewhere had it not been for two things. One was Sudan’s failure to democratize. The other was the flawed implementation of the CPA. Brokered primarily by the United States, the European Union, and Norway, the CPA was signed on January 9 in Naivasha, Kenya, by Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
The CPA’s opening chapter, known as the Machakos Protocol after the Kenyan city where it was signed in 2002, affirmed the “right to self-determination” for southerners and provided for extensive southern autonomy pending the referendum on independence. The ethos underpinning the CPA was respect for the wide ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity of Sudan’s various regions. Although the agreement called for a vote on independence, it was at the same time designed to induce the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to make a unity vote “an attractive option.”
The interim between the signing of the CPA and the referendum failed to accomplish this objective for three important reasons. First, the CPA included only the South and not the other outlying regions of Sudan—Darfur to the west and the states of Kassala and the Red Sea Hills in the east, where insurgents had been battling Khartoum since 2003. Although Khartoum signed a separate agreement with the Eastern Front rebel group in 2006, the accord failed to foster a genuinely inclusive process. Since the referendum vote, the government has faced renewed insecurity in eastern Sudan, where there has been a small but protracted revolt. Second, the peace accord was entered into by two nondemocratic parties (Bashir’s NCP and the SPLM) without the participation of civil society or the country’s subnational communities, such as those in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains in central Sudan, and eastern Sudan. Finally, and perhaps most important, although the CPA stipulated that nationwide elections were to be held prior to the referendum in order to encourage southerners to vote for unity and to promote greater democracy for the entire country, the 2010 elections were so flawed that they failed to serve their purpose. Thus as partition looms, so does a key question: Will Sudan and South Sudan, having failed to build unity amid diversity, live in peace with each other, or will partition itself give rise to further armed strife?
[Excerpted from Khalid Medani, “Strife and Secession in Sudan,” Journal of Democracy 22.3 (July 2011): 135-149. @ 2011 National Endowment for Democracy and The Johns Hopkins University Press. Reprinted by permission of the author. To download the complete article, click here; for the full issue, click here.]
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