Monday, June 07, 2010

Invitation to Dialogue: A Call for Renewable Confederation in Post 2011 Sudan

By John A. Akec

"Where there is no vision, the people perish"
- Proverbs 29:18

"We do not know what will happen in January 2011." I have heard this statement repeatedly said by a considerable number of fellow South Sudanese who hold positions of significant prominence in the government. This comment is also fast becoming the default resignation answer given by most government bureaucrats when confronted with issues whose resolution would call for some amount of long term view that transcends January 2011 Sudan. This is when South Sudanese are going to vote to choose between remaining in united Sudan and opting for an independent sovereign country of their own. Many of us are guilty of this ambivalence. It is nothing short of burying heads in the sand. We are becoming a nation of 40 million ostriches (minus the children who know nothing of our perilous history). That is, no one wants to say the truth or face up to inescapable reality.

No matter how hard-sounding or how bitter this reality may taste, it unequivocally says that South Sudanese are going to overwhelmingly vote for independence in the referendum scheduled early next year. This is evident from many opinion polls.

Besides, there are countless grounds on which this prediction can be defended. That being the case, I would like to first acknowledge that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Kenya in January 2005 was a great Sudanese achievement that stopped bloodshed caused by the Africa' longest and most deadly civil conflict; brought relative stability to the country; restored some rights to the aggrieved Sudanese parties/citizens in South Sudan, South Blue Nile, and Nuba Mountains; devolved power throughout the country; allowed Sudanese from different cultural and religious backgrounds to work as equals in close proximity for five years; and permitted a first multiparty election in 24 years to take place last April 2010, among others.

However, despite promising Sudanese with long awaited change of political system, making unity attractive for all the Sudanese, and transforming the country democratically, CPA has somewhat fallen short of achieving those ideals. With respect to democratic transformation, the multiparty elections could not be described as completely free or fair as the more resourced ruling parties (NCP and SPLM) emerged with the lion share; that a number of national security laws have not been repealed and continue to pose threat to basic freedoms and freedom of press and media.

With respect to making unity attractive, 5 years is too short a time to build trust between parties that have fought each other for over half a century, that old habits would typically die hard, and there bound to exist within the political establishment a considerable number of spoilers who are constantly dreaming up ways to undoing the positive progress brought about by the CPA in all aspects of our political life; that the huge socio-economic gaps between the North and South which resulted from half a century of political and cultural marginalisation and inequality could not be closed over night. And most important of all, the great majority of South Sudanese (including the most optimistic unionists) would not miss this opportunity to exercise the right for self-determination to choose between voluntary union and complete independence that is guaranteed and supported by the international community.

In this atmosphere of mistrust and uncertain future fraught with unquantifiable risks, the better option of the two choices is independence because it is the only option that can be peacefully reversed anytime the Sudanese feel they are ready to reunite under new voluntary terms. On the other hand, choosing unity and trying to opt out later is only possible through violence and use of force.

Voices in both the North and South Sudan have been calling for "good neighbourliness" in post 2011 Sudan. Yet nothing much has been articulated about how this good neighbourliness would look like, or what institutions need be formed to act as the custodians of this peaceful coexistence across the borders of the two Sudans that will soon emerge.

Egypt has expressed the need to allow a 10-year transition, while Eritrea and South Africa have called for the delay of the referendum to a later date. A new NGO with membership of artists, academics, and civil society organisations has been launched from University of Ahfad for Women to advocate for unity vote in the referendum. The dominant political parties, NCP and SPLM, have pledged to collaborate to make unity attractive. All these are well meant intentions, and yet are unlikely to do much to avert the independence vote, nor do they provide clear vision on the shape or model of good neighbourliness that will serve the interests of two parts of Sudan. The best we can say to describe the state of the affairs regarding the future of North-South relationships in post referendum era is 'chaotic and incoherent.' The lack of vision about North-South relations in post referendum period cannot go on indefinitely.

And in humble contribution to shaping of this vision, the writer of this article would like to invite all the Sudanese to air their views on feasibility of adopting confederation to manage the North-South relationship when South votes for independence.

According to this vision, both South and North will be free to organise their foreign policy, security, and economic planning as would happen for all sovereign states. The current council of states and national legislative assemblies will have their life extended (funded by Confederation to 4 years) and functions of certain national commissions will be modified to support confederal government. There will be a Northern Chamber, where Khartoum government can discuss issues concerning the North. The merits of a monetary union should be carefully studied and given a serious consideration in this debate. The management and sharing of comment assets and regulating trade should be managed by the confederation whose president rotates every 6 months between the South and North. Citizens from both Northern and Southern states will be free to move freely and enjoy the full rights of the citizenship (education, medical treatment, right to buy and sell property) in two Sudans. Both Sudans should device tariffs that will not put any side at disadvantage and maximise the accrued benefits for all. Fighting crime and managing security across the borders is carried by confederal government in collaboration with the two sovereign states. This confederal arrangement will constantly be improved and renewed every 4 years (equivalent to life of legislative assemblies) and the renewal should be voluntary (each side can opt out at the end of 4 years should it feel there are good reasons to quit).

The two sovereign will constantly strive to widen the circle of "common good" so that in not too distant future, all the boundaries and governments will be rendered artificial and irrelevant like it is happening between countries of European Union.

By giving this post referendum arrangement a trial, I am certain that if we do not hit the sky, we will hit the tree. In all cases, we all stand to gain.