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Southern Sudanese demand equal rights

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:

  • Water resources and a call for a review of the 1929 Nile Agreement that governs the use and exploitation of the river by those countries who depend on it. Egypt, understandably, pursues its own interests, but Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia also have interests in the river.

  • Oil and most other unexploited natural resources including tourism, occur in southern Sudan. Malaysian investors, who also control Engen in South Africa, and the Chinese are exploiting the high quality oil located in relatively shallow wells.

  • Development literacy rate in southern Sudan is estimated to be below 10%. Although many in the region live self-sufficient, sustainable lives — as they have done for a millennium or more — by the standards of those who use laptops to measure development they fall into the category of the poorest.

  • The imposition of sharia law on the whole of Sudan and the human rights issues around this totalitarian intolerance of other values and religions.

  • Sudan’s historical support for terrorism. It was for some years home to Osama bin Laden.

  • The armed conflict between the mainly black Sudanese of the south, who are mostly Christian but also Muslim and animist, and the Arabised north that has produced a stalemate.

    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

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