Sudan – New Countries, Old Problems

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Oasis’s journalist Andrea Pin met Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law, Emory Law School (USA). Here are excerpt of the interview.


Now the world has two Sudans. Do you think that we should consider this as a political success, a compromise or a failure?

      It is obviously too early to tell. Too many issues are still unfolding. We must also consider the “law of unintended consequences”: the way we design things – the way we hope they work – may not actually work. It is not like writing a script, too many factors are implied. My view has always been that separation as such, or unity as such, is not the answer: I don’t agree with opinions such as “if we separate, everything will be fine” or “if we remain united, everything will be fine”. Whether Sudan is separated or united, the issues are still about economic development with social justice, democratization, human rights, equal citizenship, and so on. The outcome is not a mere question of secession or of unity as if either is an end in itself.


What could we reasonably expect to happen now?

      It is hard to imagine what will happen, but there is predictability in the personalities and in the type of regimes that lead the two countries. Since the North is still governed by the same Al-Bashir regime, we cannot expect changes in its attitudes and policies. Bashir’s forces are widely condemned for threatening political balances and undermining peace. This is what they have done in Darfur as well as in the South Sudan for decades. So, why would they change? It will continue to be a manipulative, underhand and violent politics. Nowadays, they are talking about launching Jihad to liberate places such as Nuba Mountains and Darfur. This is insane; this is exactly what happened in the 1990s . They are playing the same game again, in order to distract people for real problems, such as corruption and economic hardship. It is a discouraging to see this happening again.

      The oil is another relevant factor, too. I think the South Sudan has decided to adopt the policy of exporting oil through the North. But the North is asking for a very high fee for the pipelines crossing from the South. There is blackmail ongoing behind the South Sudan oil market. Therefore, the question to be addressed is: what is the bargaining chip that the South can play in the oil market? Water could be a bargaining chip. The South, as an Independent State, can now renegotiate the agreement about the Nile water with Northern Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia. My sense is that water is more valuable than oil. Oil is a limited resource that will come to an end; but there is no life without water.


How do people feel about the referendum and the creation of an independent and sovereign South Sudan?

      As expected, there is a mixed feeling. Most people of the North have not really internalized what happened. The media have been overwhelmed by talks about independence, but people in the streets or in the rural areas do not have a clear idea of what is going on. It takes time to realize what happened and its consequences. When you don’t see people who used to be there anymore, because they left the North and went back to the South, you start asking yourself how this will affect the economy and the social relations of people in the North. It takes time to process events not only intellectually.

      Among those in the South who have articulated their feelings you can still see euphoria. But they start realizing that the independence process had created too high expectations. So, immediately after the secession, people of Southern Sudan must face very practical questions. The extremely high level of expectation is now met with very harsh limitations. This will affect how people feel about the secession.

      The North has experienced similar issues. Many North Sudanese people initially felt a sort of hurt of rejection in face of the South’s independence process – in reaction they pretended that to them the process was both as a relief and an opportunity to demonstrate the South that the South was wrong. Also Liberal Sudanese intellectuals thought that the South would finally realize that there was no future without the North. I think this is just a childish response to rejection.




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