For Sudan, its a half-hearted divorceBy BADRU MULUMBA in Juba | Friday, February 4 2011 at 17:23
A Norwegian dramatist once remarked that Norway was a free country, inhabited by un-free people. More than a century after Henrik Ibsen’s remark, and following secession from the union with Sweden in 1905, Norway has created a country of free people.
“The results were the same (as Southern Sudan); more than 99 per cent (voted to secede),” Erik Solheim, the Norwegian minister for International Development, said. “Sweden and Norway are the best of friends, they are the best of neighbours, and that’s my advice to the people of Southern Sudan to stay the best of friends with the North Sudan.”
The South, added the Norwegian minister, should assist President Bashir in these difficult times.
Some would find his suggestion ironic. Norway has built trust with Southern Sudan, perhaps more than any other country, because of consistent relief and military support during the civil war.
But even before the Norwegian minister’s call, his thinking has been in vogue. As officials divulged results indicating a 99.57 per cent vote for secession, contours of the future states have emerged.
In Ibrahim Khalil’s thinking, Sudan’s history is so powerful, it would foil the emergence of two fully detached countries. The results, Khalil, the head of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, a body tasked with organising the referendum, would lead to the emergence of two states, instead of one.
But, he adds, “North and South share boundaries; we are descendants of a great people.” People, he says, came from all over the world to Sudan. And ancient kingdoms grew from the Sudan, spreading out to influence world civilisation. “These indissoluble bonds will not disappear; they will impose themselves and force us to create constitutional forms of relationships, not just two separate countries,” said Khalil who also rooted for a Sudan with constitutional ties that reflect historical and geographical bonds.”
The same vision of a new beginning had been floated earlier, just before the Sudanese referendum in the euphoria immediately following the visit by President Omar al-Bashir to Juba where he articulated the desire to work together, to help Southern Sudan build a viable country.
“What’s important is that we should know that even if we are divided, we are still one,” said one of the archbishops after meeting with President Bashir. “The Sudan is the same,” argued Jemma Nunu Kumba, the minister for Physical Infrastructure. “Even if people separate, the relationships will be maintained.”
Others see a future based on shared economics.
“The North is technologically more advanced,” said Luka Monoja, the Health minister in the Government of Southern Sudan. “They can offer quality technological assistance than outsiders could.”
Southern Sudan Information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin revealed that the two are working on trade and commercial relations and training.
Broadly, the two nations will have some form of economic community. Some expect that goods would flow freely, or at reduced taxes between North and South. They will have a joint say in the oil revenues from of the South. The South currently gets half the revenues. After independence, Southern Sudan will get all the revenues minus rental of refinery and pipeline services from the North. In fact, Finance minister Deng Arthorbei said Monday as he unveiled the region’s 2011 budget: “We are unlikely to see a sharp change in revenues because any new arrangement will be adopted gradually to avoid instability.”
Half the revenues
There are signs of the two moving in tandem. The south has long expressed a desire to join the East African Community. The north recently named an envoy to the East African Community. Economic ties between the two could be hard if they chose to belong to different economic communities.
Socially, some institutions will even remain intact. For instance, agreed already is that they will have the same archbishop, and people at the border will generally have easy crossings.
Politically, they will share intelligence and security operations, especially close to the border. Some expected that there may even be a relaxed visa regime. The fine details will emerge as the two regions sit down at the negotiating tables.
As Solheim says Norway-Sweden history makes a case for close ties that dwarfs a case for distant relations. In Norway and Sweden, for instance, armies are currently mulling a military cooperation to cut costs, by say, joint shopping for military ware and joint training, and research as well as joint military actions.
On the other hand, the India-Pakistan divorce doesn’t aspire much optimism. The two have spent the large part of the last century in a disruptive relationship, fighting one another. Eritrea and Ethiopia have seemed to follow the acrimonious road, emphasizing their differences over commonalities.
Despite the consensus, a split is unlikely to heal all the fissures immediately.
For one, the war was fought over one group trying to impose its culture and religious believes on the other. It’s hard to see whether the North, minus the balancing power the South brought to the table, would allow religious freedoms and ease sharia. New economic strains could mean that one or the other of the partners may want something more from the other: border communities, for instance, could reject pastoralists from the other side. One of the regions may seek more share from the oil revenue.
But with increased chatter about twin nations, separation could prove a turning point for the relations between the two countries that have spent centuries battling each other.
Even the people initially opposed to Sudan’s split are looking at this secession as a beginning of African unity.
Africa, Thabo Mbeki, the chairperson of the AU High Level Implementation Panel on the Sudan said days before the ballot, must have a true economic and social integration, a basis for political unity, if it’s to meet the aspirations of the people.
“If Southern Sudan secedes, this might indeed create the possibility for the two states to lead Africa by showing our continent the way forward about what might be done to achieve the integration, which our continent has set as one of its urgent and principal goals.”
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