Original Articles

South Sudan gains independence as a result of referendum – by Naveed Ali

the largest country in Africa has been divided into North and South Sudan

It is a historic day for Africa as a new nation has emerged on face of earth as outcome of a referendum held in January 2011; Federal Presidential Democratic Republic of South Sudan has separated from Sudan to be a nation with Juba as its capital, comprising of any area of 619,745 square kilometres with a claimed population of around 13 Million. Country is an oil producer said to be producing 85% of the total Sudanese output and Oil will be major contributor in country’s economy although under the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) signed between SPLM (Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement) and the Government of Sudan, these revenues are to be shared between both countries and a potential conflict. Country is rich and diverse in demography, with more than two hundred ethnic groups, different religions and multiple languages spoken like Juba Arabic, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Bari, Otuho, Zande and Ubangian and many others.

Historically, Sudan (as it was till yesterday), was demarcated in these borders by foreign rulers, it was the largest country in Africa populated with different tribes following different religions speaking different languages with different local power and control bastions  and borders changing as power dashed from one hand to another. Egypt since ancient history is the most powerful influence on Sudan, we know about Meroitic Kingdom in Northern Sudan then the Christian states of Makuria (or Muqurra), Nobadia (or Nobatia) and Alodia (or Alwa) before Islam came as a force in Egypt and penetrated into this region; South Sudan throughout time was probably a tributary nomadic region and neighbouring Ethiopia also had an influence. Muhammed Ali Pasha of Egypt began the conquest of Sudan in 1821 under Ottomans and Egyptians were able to get hold of whole country, and this was probably first time in history when the borders of Sudan appeared. With Egyptians it was inevitable for British to intrude as Egypt was a British protectorate, and hence began European affair with Sudan and province of Equatoria or Al-istiwaiyah was established on the Southern region by Anglo-Egyptians and eminent like Samuel barker, George Gordon or Emin Pasha were governors in late nineteenth century. Belgium and France were other two European stake holders in the region by late nineteenth century with Belgium claiming Lado Enclave in South Sudan and French areas like Bahr-el-Ghazi and Fashoda .  However both France and Belgium handed over their territories to British under different agreements and from almost same period Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was established.

British for administrative purpose kept both North and South as separate units, especially after Mahdist rebellion which lasted for more than forty years since 1881 (Darfur was recovered in 1916). That rebellion was prime reason why British tried to keep south separate and never encouraged Arab or Islamic influence.  Under Closed District Ordinance, which was implemented after a southern rebellion, it was banned to trade or travel between north and south without official documents,  they tried to keep the region as isolated as possible and also attempted to administer the region from their interests in East Africa. In same approach, British encouraged missionary activities in south.  In 1946, British decided to integrate north and south back under one government, this decision left many in south discouraged and dishearten, and probably the start of conflict between North and South Sudan.

In 1953 Egypt and Britain decided to accord self governance to Sudan, after a period of transition Sudan achieved independence in 1956, but a civil war broke out in 1955 in south and bone of conflict was the arrangement of the new government in which southerners demanded more sovereign rights under the federal structure. From independence Sudan went through a series of coups and rebellions with military seizing power as early as 1958 then given power back to civilians in 1965 and then another coup in 1969 then a brief communist takeover and resulting executions of communist party leaders which brought Numeiri to complete control, in 1972 a peace agreement was reached and first civil war in south was ended. In 1983, Numieri introduced the Sharia Law and the second civil war broke out in south; Numieri was removed from power in 1985 and after a brief period of civilian strife, in 1989 another coup brought Omar Al Bashir in power, under him ruling NCP (national Congress Party) carried on policies which resulted in implementation of Sharia Law and pro-north conservative Arab nationalism. This further alienated the southern and civil war continued to be the longest civil war in last century. In 2003 conflict in Darfur began after a rebellion of SLM/A (Sudan Liberation Movement/Army) and JEM (Justice and Equity Movement), this bloody conflict resulted in casualties claimed to be in hundred thousand and dispersal of large population to neighbouring countries. Different cease fire arrangements and agreements were made but objectives were not met until a treaty is signed in Nairobi Kenya in January 2005. Under this treaty it was agreed that future of south will be decided by a referendum in which southerners will decided on secession from Sudan, it was also decided that Islamic law will continue to remain in north and south would decide on it after an elected assembly is constituted. This referendum was Held in January 2011 and almost 99% of southerners decided in favour of secession from Sudan; as a result today on 9th July 2011 a new country has appeared on global political map.

We can see through this history of conflicts and challenges that both North and South have remarkable differences throughout the time, this region was never a geo-political entity until mid twentieth century, to see Oil as root cause of conflict (as many do) is not right, Oil was discovered in 1950s and major oil discoveries started in later 197os, although these fuelled the conflict and changed interests and motives of stake holders, both South and North had differences over issues such as government structure and constitution, civil rights and legal framework of the country. These regions have remarkable demographic differences and political differences were refuelled by initially the colonial masters and then the authoritarian, undemocratic biased regimes which never allowed democracy to flourish and never supported decentralization to bring progress to indigenous population. Resentment and bitterness of south was always tried to be curled by force by the powerful north which resulted in bloody civil wars and destitute of people in millions. In absence of willingness of communication by both sides and growing influence of conservatives in centre alienated people of one country. Responsibility of this conflict goes to those who supported and sowed the seeds of intolerance and never put up with democracy.

This was brief history and background of this new beginning, its success or failure is yet to be seen but there must not be a doubt on strong challenges new South Sudanese people and government have to face, they clearly have an opportunity of a new democratic beginning for social and economic growth with bringing its fruits to the population, they have strengths like Oil revenues and commitment and support from masses but they have a long way to go to bring healthcare, education and good living conditions to a people crushed by war, bloodshed, destitute and hunger. It is very hard to see such opportunity arising for nations in third world specially Africa, South Sudan will be a light of hope and could provide an example to their former countrymen in North. No doubt, they will be a challenge for the totalitarian conservative groups in north which will be cautiously watching every move made in their southerner neighbourhood and would be reluctant to welcome a democratic progressive South Sudan.

Government of Omar Al Bashar should however be appreciated for they allowed a peaceful negotiation and ultimate resolution and they are first to accept new country. All participants and stake holders in negotiations must keep Sudan into confidence, and that responsibility goes to South Sudan as well. A real challenge of diplomacy and bilateral relations awaits both countries.



About the author



Click here to post a comment
  • I am happy for people of South Sudan for getting their rights through a democratic process but doesnt that speak for the hypocrisy of the west that they promote cessation where the christians are to get their homeland?

  • Is it not wise to have such peaceful referendums on Balochistan and Sindh?

  • Wont it be better if democracy and social justice is brought to people from all corners of Pakistan? As this article has suggested, situation could have been different if it was not the unrealistic behavior of leadership and privileged; Sudan had all similar ingredients as we have, continuous coups, military janta and leadership finding one reason after another to keep status quo and forcing unrealistic solutions on people until it was too late to mediate and thought it is better to let it go before it gets them too. Our people once did same with East Pakistan, and that is why story of Sudan is relevant to us, we have so much to learn from it.

  • By the way it was not a peaceful path which reached that referendum, we can not even realize the extent to which people have suffered in the bloody civil wars in Sudan, so much human misery and suffering, that referendum was very costly humanly.

  • No such action has been taken for Kashmir till now. Sudan got independence in 1956. The UNSC passed a resolution in 1949 to hold a refrendum in Kashmir but till now no action has been taken. This speaks hypocrisy and nothing else.

  • As Ibn-e-Insha wrote about UN “if problem is between two small countries then problem disappears, if it is between a small and a big country then small country disappears and if it is between two big countries then UN disappears”

    No doubt UN has failed in issues like Kashmir or Palestine.

    But I think we must consider circumstances as well and compare situations on case to case basis.

  • I see so many similarities between Pakistan and Sudan, that is the reason my interest, Sudan just like Pakistan was a target of self proclaimed military jantas, from start south and north got confrontation almost similar core issues as between east and west in Pakistan. many see this as confrontation between Christianity and Islam or Christians and Muslims but I do not, it was rather between indigenous and arab north which eventually forced northerner power bearers to find distinction in Sharia laws and radicalization of society, Numieri, Omar, Ayub and Zia have many similarities, then Sudan became a favorite of middle eastern religious funding almost like Pakistan, that ultra conservative movement of pan Islamism and Salafi though, then Arab nationalism which resulted in genocide in Darfur; Christians are probably 50% of population in South and still around 2% in north which are now migrating to south (do you see parallels with post partition migration in India? though not same scale but probably same symptoms).

  • Dear Naveed,
    it is a matter of perception. right now our right wingers are not talking about it, but will soon rally this point to make a case of anti-west and anti-americanism

  • if pakistan so badly wants self-determination for kashmiris, it should set an example in the case of balochistan… hold referendum there

  • Balochistan and Kashmir are two different cases. That being said, it does not mean problems in Balochistan can be denied; People in Pakistan can no longer be ignorant and need to recognize situation and concerns of Baloch people, they need to be listened and provided opportunities that their demands are met in a democratic fashion and they be given equal share in decision making and distribution of resources and fruits of all progress must reach the lowest classes in Balochistan.
    As suggested earlier secession and separation might be the last option, if democracy and social justice prevails, we have many more examples where people lived together with peace, including USA, Canada and China. Sudan could still be one if not the bigotry of its Janta and power bearers.

  • we want to distribut Pakistan, Pakhtunkwa will be Part of Afganistan, Balochistan be with Iran, Punjab Join India, and Sindh will be the Colony of USA, like Hong kong were