The southern Sudan covers some 650 000km2, the area of Uganda and Kenya rolled into one, and makes up more than half of the country. Sharia law was imposed as the country’s national law in 1983 and precipitated the present armed conflict by the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and other smaller groups.
Three themes continuously emerge during discussions with the articulate and determined people of southern Sudan. The first is that they are victims of a double apartheid: of race, because they are Africans not Arabs, and of religion, because they are infidels or “kafirs” to the Muslims. The second is that agreements that were made with the Khartoum government have not been kept. And the third is that South Africa is leaving them in the lurch by not showing solidarity and by not helping them to develop their human and other resources.
They want a unified Sudan, but are also grimly determined to fight for secession and for the creation of a new state if necessary. However, the Machakos Protocols — which guarantee self-determination, freedom of religion (no sharia law) in their region and in the capital city of Khartoum, security arrangements during a six-year transition period, an appropriate share of revenues from national resources — are regarded as an acceptable basis for being part of a greater Sudan.
The current negotiations for peace are also struggling to come to grips with broader African and international issues.
The negotiations revolve around:
The vicious war with its civilian atrocities and displacement of people, as well as the lack of development, has seen the southerners increasingly disillusioned and many are calling for secession and a “new Sudan”. The old Organisation of African Unity said colonial boundaries had to remain, but the African Union is not as firm on this. African Sudanese in the north, both Muslim and Christian, are also becoming increasingly restive.
This conflict could seriously affect international relations between the Arab league and other Muslim countries and Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, in particular. It could increase tensions within the African Union. Egypt is one of the “big five” countries driving the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.
The international community wants peace and democracy in one state of Sudan as first prize. Sudan’s neighbours, but also the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Norway and Canada, who are acting as international guarantors, want stability. They are observers at the peace talks that are presently going on. “Fink” Haysom, legal advisor to former president Nelson Mandela, is playing a key facilitation role.
The latest news from the peace talks in Kenya, is cautiously optimistic. For Africa and the international community’s sake, one hopes that this optimism is well founded.
Graham McIntosh is a Democratic Alliance MP. He visited southern Sudan as part of a multi-party delegation from the South African Parliament