As the people of South Sudan conclude the referendum that is likely to lead to the realization of their dream of independence, there is a palpable mood of excitement and expectation. However, the usual pessimists, who have never been known to give Africa a chance, have expressed cynicism about the future of an independent South.
The history of the country, has been characterized by war and conflict for the last half a century, as the people of South Sudan fought a series of wars against domination by the Arab North. South Sudan has historically been excluded from political, economic and social structures of the country. While the Sudan as a state is a country that depends largely on natural resources – primarily oil and minerals, the South where most of them are situated has been short-changed, with virtually no benefits from their own resources. Most of the oil revenues went to Khartoum and in most cases have facilitated the perpetration of the Northern hegemony and domination over the South.
As the South, therefore, awaits the outcome of the referendum, with the expectation that the separation vote is going to win, some observers are beginning to shift their focus to realities of an independent South Sudan state.
The historical marginalization has left the region with minimal infrastructure for the functioning of a modern state. There was hardly any paved roads in Juba the capital of South Sudan. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) administration has worked hard in the last five years, to construct roads, build schools and health care facilities, as they set up local administration structures, and so far the achievements are impressive, considering the odds they have been up against.
Inspite of the enormous challenges, the new South Sudan, if the vote to split is carried through, has a lot going for it, and is likely to surprise the cynics who have expressed misgivings about a successful independent South. Firstly, the SPLM and South Sudan people have demonstrated a remarkable level of resilience, over the last fifty years that has seen them through a successful armed struggle against the dominant Arab North, which culminated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), part of which is the Referendum that is likely to usher in an independent South.
The overwhelming turn out for the referendum, where the requisite 60% is likely to be easily exceeded, signals the determination of the South to begin a new era. The picture of a woman believed to be 115 years, wheeled to a polling station to cast her vote points to an impressive capacity on the part of the SPLM, to mobilize the people around a national cause. Indeed the struggle in South Sudan transcends generations and evokes intense emotions.
Among the ancestors of the struggle who cast their vote in the referendum, is 79 year old General Joseph Lagu, who led the initial military challenge against Northern domination. As he recounts his experience, General Lagu, describes the referendum as a dream come true.
Secondly, the experiment of the last five years has demonstrated a remarkable level of good will and solidarity from the peoples of the region and neighbouring countries. Today, the semi-autonomous South Sudan is doing brisk and lucrative trade with all its neighours and beyond and it can only get better. Indeed for the people of South Sudan’s interaction with other African countries, ranging from trade and sharing of experiences, is part of a carefully charted course as they prepare for independence. After the comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) South Sudan faced a multitude of challenges and part of their strategy was to learn from other African countries that have gone through war and devastation, and have managed rebuild against all odds.
And they didn’t have to look far. Rwanda has provided inspiration to the people of South Sudan, and this is reflected in the many delegations representing various sectors and levels of administration, that have frequented Rwanda to learn from the country’s experience. From teams of top military commanders, to representatives of women leaders, and Unity and Reconciliation Committees the South Sudanese identified this country, as a place to learn from as they prepare for independence. They have quickly discerned that sixteen years after Rwanda went to hell and back, the country is now the undisputed role model of, not only how to recover and rebuild, but how to develop.
When President Kagame’s views on the International Criminal Tribunal (ICC) were taken out of context, by some Ugandan Army Officer, seeking to portray Rwanda as unsupportive of South Sudan, as quoted in an article published in the East African, 3 – 9, 2011, the people of South Sudan easily saw through the posturing. They are aware that the President’s views on the ICC don’t necessarily reflect his position on President Omar Bashir.
The outcome of the referendum won’t be known until mid February. Whichever it goes, the people of South Sudan have, for over half a century, demonstrated the best of the human spirit and resilience, and going by the enthusiasm for the vote, the African Union is likely to register a new member before the end of this year.