Real Self Determination is More Than a Vote for Secession

Published on 14th December 2008

The debate amongst Sudanese citizens about the question of unity and separation and the continued utility of the New Sudan vision three years since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) continues unabated. It is an urgent and useful debate but one that is sometimes being carried out in an atmosphere of discrimination and negative labeling that is not helpful to anyone, especially the besieged South Sudanese people.


The CPA has clearly and fundamentally established a right of self determination for the people of South Sudan. That right has also been incorporated into the constitutional regime of the state and cannot be delayed without placing the whole peace accord in total jeopardy. That right to self determination also enjoys the political and moral support of the majority of the South Sudan population, many of whom have a legitimate reason to have become tired of their long-standing marginalisation in their own country by the successive ruling cliques in Khartoum. Consequently, they look to the self determination clause as the defining moment when they can seize their freedom from an untenable arrangement.


The SPLM, as the other main signatory to the agreement, has historically pursued an agenda anchored on the vision of a New Sudan. This calls for a new political dispensation across the whole country to eliminate marginalisation and endow all citizens with equal and fair access to national wealth and power regardless of their religious, socio-cultural or regional orientation. As a pragmatic people’s movement, the SPLM championed the demand of a significant bulk of its constituency in the South for self determination through a referendum during the peace talks. It signed the CPA with the view that the unity of Sudan would be given an opportunity over the 6-year period through concrete and verifiable initiatives pursued by all levels of the government to fashion a new reality that would be palatable to South Sudanese when they contemplate their fate in 2011.


It was implicit that South Sudanese would not likely endorse a united Sudan if it does not mean a fundamental break with the past, especially in the seat of power in Khartoum. Many skeptics who did not see any reason to hold out hope were proven right by the intransigent behavior of the National Congress Party (NCP) since the agreement was signed, and it is fair to say that the sentiment for a separate South Sudan nation in 2011 has gained greater steam over the last three years.


This is the reality on the scene currently, but that reality is being incorrectly conflated with a far more critical issue, and that is the utility and viability of the New Sudan project as a political tool to achieve more than just averting the disintegration of Sudan. Self determination is a process and not an event, and it should not be narrowly seen from the prism of that approaching date in 2011 when the people of South Sudan would presumably go to the polls to vote on the question of remaining a part of Sudan or seceding. The vote will occur only after all the requisite constitutional and legislative arrangements have been carried out as outlined in the CPA, and those arrangements are subject to the shifting political winds both domestically and internationally. It is not enough to have the moral and legal right without the requisite deterrence to forces that might be tempted to deny or abrogate what the agreement stipulates. Moreover, the deterrence cannot be the SPLA alone as many people are bound to retort because the correct strategic approach that we must pursue is one that protects and implements the CPA without plunging the South into another cycle of decades of war.


Furthermore, self determination also means fashioning a post-referendum political dispensation that leaves South Sudan and the rest of Sudan in far better form than it was before the signing of the CPA. That means that if the South votes to go its own way, it is able to inaugurate itself as a viable and secure state and not one being buffeted by war and cross border infiltrations by its new neighbor to the North. It also means being able to control and protect its territorial integrity through an orderly and fair border demarcation process beforehand. It means being in a position to see that our compatriots in the Nuba Mountains and South Blue Nile retain and expand upon the limited autonomy they have currently, and that they play a greater role in the political centre in Khartoum. It would be foolhardy to suggest that the South has sufficiently determined its fate if it were to separate in 2011 as a wounded shell of itself, denied the bulk of its oil fields by the marauding Northern forces and engaged in another protracted battle for Abyei.


The point in all this is to say that the South has serious strategic objectives that it must attain if it really wants to determine its fate and those objectives go beyond the simple Yes or No vote in 2011. This brings us back to the main thrust of this article, and that is to argue that the New Sudan vision is the best combination of tactical and strategic tools to achieve a transformed Sudan and achieve self determination for the people of South Sudan. The link between the transformation of Sudan and the cause of the South’s self determination is usually ridiculed by many South Sudanese who think they are the only ones keen on the fate of the South, but they are clearly mistaken because their views do not extend beyond the vote on separation.


The referendum vote itself can only be guaranteed if the political situation in Khartoum in 2011 is such that the remaining CPA clauses must be implemented and the cost of abrogation remains too exorbitant for the NCP or whoever is in power after the midterm elections. The SPLM must therefore improve on its share of national power during these upcoming elections and it must significantly help like-minded marginalised and progressive forces to gain a foothold in the legislature and executive in Khartoum.


The combination of revolutionary awakening in Darfur and the East, restlessness with the ruling clique in Khartoum and favorable international disposition towards the SPLM provide the best environment for reshaping the political equation in the centre before the end of the 6-year period. Retreating to the South and prematurely declaring ourselves independent is the greatest folly we could commit because it will only embolden the ruling clique in Khartoum to pull another stunt from its overflowing toolbox of tricks to destroy this agreement. More ominously, the enemies of equality and justice in Khartoum might ascertain that a weak new South state stripped of its allies in the Nuba Mountains and South Blue Nile and denied its rightful oil fields in the border areas is a far better adversary, and therefore it makes great sense to lull them into believing that they should focus assiduously on the date of the vote in 2011 and abandon any ambitions for change in Khartoum.


That change can and will come if the SPLM re-invigorates and continues to push the New Sudan agenda all over the country, and consistently tells its sizable membership in the South that pursuing change all over Sudan is the key to the South’s self determination. That self determination must be one that will ensure a viable and prosperous South Sudan for decades after 2011, either within a transformed democratic Sudan or as a strong and united independent nation.


By Parek Maduot

Commentator from Sudan.

He can be reached through email at

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