Tough task begins for Africa's youngest state

When the first rebellion by Southern Sudanese against Khartoum happened in 1955, Lual Diing Yoll was barely out of intermediate school.

By David Ochami

The Torit Mutiny was a rebellion by Southern Sudan soldiers who opposed the movement by the joint Egyptian-British rulers towards independence in 1956. Then, politicians from the region believed they were being marginalised and their country was being taken over by an Arab elite oriented towards the Middle East.

Yet, since his early days in Aweil — the capital of Southern Sudan’s Northern Bahr al Ghazal state — 77 year-old Lual believed, like most Southern Sudanese, centuries of occupation and colonialism had wrongfully depicted Sudan as an Arab country. This is a crisis of identity the British failed to reverse or address when they began to prepare Africa’s largest country for independence.

According to Lual Arabs "walked into our country by force" with British decolonisation after 1947 becoming the last attempt to impose "unity of South and North Sudan by force".

As he cast his vote at the mausoleum of veteran South Sudan leader John Garang in the Southern capital Juba on January, Lual predicted, "today our people will prove this unity was artificial".

Born in the former larger Bahr al Ghazal state, Lual speaks Arabic, unlike many southerners. His family moved to Tonj town, currently in Warap state.

"When the rebellion took place, we were sent on leave hoping to return," he said in Juba.

"We never went to school," he adds bitterly, saying that on January 1956 "independence was given behind our backs".

Lual argues that a pre-independence census conducted by the departing British should have prevented an Arab elite who conscripted Sudan in the Arab League from taking over.

"At that census, people of Arab origin were 31 per cent of the population while black Sudanese in North Sudan were 39 per cent. South Sudanese formed 30 per cent of the population. So why did they take our country to the Arab League? poses veteran of the two civil wars that followed the declaration of independence.

As Southern Sudan enters the last phase to independence, Lual is not the only one with a feeling of angst of the future after a history of betrayal by Western powers who patronised despotic regime in Khartoum. He is also concerned by the ‘under performance’ of Southern government after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.

"The British are now saying we are a failed state," he laments referring to pre-referendum assessments by Western powers doubting Southern Sudan’s capacity for statehood.

Like most Southern Sudanese who often guard their criticism of their government for fear of playing to the hands of "all who want to divide us", Lual believes that after six years of self rule the Southern government is strong enough to defend itself against Northern aggression. However, he warns that the new regime in Juba must begin to tackle the monumental development challenges facing it.

Dr Tobby Maduat Parek Machar, who chairs African National Union –– one of the oldest political parties in Sudan (Sanu) –– argues that independence can only be meaningful if President Salva Kiir launches a rebuilding programme based on a democratic constitution under a broad based government that will prepare for new elections.

Splinter faction

Sanu is one of the over 10 political parties besides Kiir’s dominant South Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement SPLM. Apart from the SPLM, only a splinter faction of the SPLM called SPLM Democratic Change (DC) headed by controversial politician Dr Lam Akol Ajawin holds three seats in the legislature in Juba. During the referendum, SPLM DC was accused of secretly supporting unity with the North and its officials were detained for allegedly buying and destroying voter cards. Critics accuse the SPLM of imposing a one party state.

Opposition parties often claim they are intimidated alleging that the last elections in the South last April were manipulated by SPLM. "In April the election was manipulated through rigging and bribery," claims Dr Machar, a former minister for Health in the short-lived autonomous government established after the signing of the defunct Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972.

"The post referendum era should be a broad based government so that democrats get into government to assist in transformation," he says, echoing Lual’s argument that owing to the monumental challenges ahead, Southern Sudan requires political stability.

Says Lual: "Since the British left nothing has happened," referring to South Sudan’s non-existent infrastructure and decades of neglect and backwardness. Machar outlines the main challenges for the new regime as establishing peace, security and the rule of law followed by resettlement of all displaced people besides massive investment in education and infrastructure.

The new government, according to him, should decentralise economic and political decision making in a federal arrangement to give equal opportunity and services to all regions, accompanied with investment in agriculture to eradicate poverty and provide employment.

Lual agrees, saying: "Southern Sudan is potentially rich if resources are well managed." He urges Kiir to punish looters because "money has to be protected before corruption destroys development".

Meanwhile, at 77, Lual is waiting to graduate with a degree from Uganda’s Kampala International University, more than half a century after his dream was shattered.

He is among the thousands of Southern Sudanese who have returned to school in neighbouring countries, ready to assist rebuild their shattered land. He believes the Diaspora should play a big role in new Sudan.

"People should be patient," but adds that Southern Sudan has no excuse not to prosper.


Posted in: Sudan Referendum
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