Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Don’t celebrate yet : Freedom still a goal in South Sudan

Reproduced from Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / July 8, 2011/ ADG reserves rights


Friday, July 8, 2011

LITTLE ROCK — When the January referendum for South Sudan’s independence passed, along with the cheer for liberty, many fears gushed forth. Tomorrow, this planet will get its newest nation. This freedom came after a wait of five years since the comprehensive peace agreement was accorded between a cornered Sudan and the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. And freedom is precious. But in the case of South Sudan, there is little to cherish.

People who fled to distant shores in search of peace are now hopeful of a peaceful future in their homeland. More than 150,000 people have returned to the swampy tracts of the White Nile. But can South Sudan ensure and sustain peace?

Steven Wöndu, a former Sudanese diplomat to Japan, suggested in a Sudanese daily a few weeks back that free South Sudan should be renamed the “Nile Republic,” dissociating it from the ominous tag of “Sudan.” Not only that, but “Nile Republic” might be an inclusive name for the youngest country in the world, which also raises hundreds of ethnic Niloti ccommunities. The nomenclature may trigger positive vibes but cannot resolve anything beyond that. South Sudan is lying on the crater of a volcano of risks, and it is now the most difficult task of its leadership to take the nation to the plains of peace.

There are big issues South Sudan is likely to face as soon as it takes its first independent step on Earth. The country is comprised of composite clusters of ethnicity. Their respective political aspirations, beliefs, customs and languages may pose the first hurdle toward building one nation. Diverse ethnic leaders might have sung in unison in their long chorus for independence against Khartoum, but history often has shown us the bitter reality of chaos when there was great need of unity. The new government at Juba has to assure equal opportunity and democratic representation of all ethnic sects.

Southern Sudan shares its borders with Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Congo. Each of them offers a unique assortment of problems. Ethiopia’s political instability, insurgents and the fast-penetrating roots of Islamist terrorism are poised to be the greatest challenges to predominantly Christian South Sudan. Congo’s rank in the corruption index is not far from that of undivided Sudan, and despite the anti-corruption measures initiated by President Joseph Kabila, Congo continues to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. South Sudan needs to struggle hard to get out of the quicksand of state-endorsed corruption that parent Sudan and Congo have sunk into.

Uganda and Kenya are economically more robust and have natural aspirations to explore the vast virgin natural resources of South Sudan. Its richness in forests, oil and precious metals is an asset as well as a vulnerability, not only to relatively stronger neighbors but also to ambitious economies on remote horizons.

For a nation that has long been under the trauma of blood and mortar, establishing constitutional law is going to be an uphill task. And for known reasons, warlords must be kept out of governance and judicial apparatus. Experiences are bitter when military chieftains have gnawed into civil systems. The proposed state motto of “justice, equality, dignity” is not about coining three words but to enact and enforce three ideals.

There is also the strained relationship between Juba and Khartoum to worry about. Southern Sudan produces nearly 75 percent of Sudanese oil, though most refineries, logistic hubs and the pipeline network are in the North. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has threatened to shutdown its pipelines if South Sudan does not pay adequate transit fees. South Sudan has downplayed northern threats, indicating diplomatic discussions to sort it out. But it is more likely to turn into a perpetual point of conflict between them. Oil is what runs in the veins of both Sudans.

Sudan’s debt of $38 billion and ill-defined borders are two other contentious matters that need soulful attention to settle between North and South.

An age-old Nilotic proverb says, “An empty stomach can make a man lose his cattle.” With poor human development in dices, no nation can thrive; it merely exists. Bulk investment on education, self-help programs and infrastructure are the needs of the hour. Progressive bodies in the West and the United Nations could perhaps assist the country with initial finances, but its leadership has to grow an appetite to digest them for the cause and not let them be consumed in a few pockets.

With all these flammable streams of risks running underneath, it will perhaps take decades for South Sudan’s people to realize the real taste of freedom. A freedom from poverty, malnutrition, anarchy, external threats and all that keep humans from rejoicing for life is still a distant dream. Cheering for this freedom can wait.


Ajoy Chatterjee is a freelance writer and founding member of South Asian Center for Reintegration and Independent Research. He lives in Bentonville.

Editorial, Pages 15 on 07/08/2011


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