Prof. Dani Nabudere
August 17, 2005 (The Monitor)
The recent accident that led to the death of Sudanese Vice President Dr. John Garanghas dealt a major blow to the efforts of the people of Southern Sudan to realise their right to national self-determination and democracy.
Beyond the SPLA
It is not only the Southern Sudanese people that have fought for this right. Many people now under the regime of the Arab-dominated "North" have similarly engaged in struggles at different levels at different times to realise these objectives, but which have been denied to them.
Therefore, many of them saw an opening to assert their own rights in the victory of the SPLA.
One week before John Garang died, I had returned from the Nuba Mountains where I had been invited and commissioned by the Swiss Confederation Federal Department of Foreign Affairs to facilitate a conference of traditional leaders on the role of traditional institutions in the governance of the new Sudan.
This conference was part of a series of engagements for the promotion of the idea of the House of Nationalities as an upper chamber in the new constitution of the New Sudan.
My role was to facilitate the meeting together with a Sudanese assistant and get the traditional leaders to express their views and recommendations for a constitutional conference that was scheduled to take place in Rumbek in August 2005.
Arab vs Blacks
Altogether more than 100 traditional leaders attended the conference. Through four days of deliberations we were able to bring out the contradictions facing Sudan. For the first time, I was able to recognise the richness and vibrancy of Sudanese peoples' African cultures, including their traditional institutions of governance, which have survived centuries of Arab domination and harassment.
You could feel clashes taking place in the dialogues between them about the imposition of Arab identity on some of their people who called themselves "Arabs" when they were in fact Africans with a distinct African culture, which they demonstrated through songs and dances during the breaks.
I learnt the frustration the people of the Nuba Mountains felt about their isolation by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by John Garang and the Arab-dominated North.
They blamed themselves for not having made their identity clear in the past and rejected identifying themselves with the South. They now saw John Garang and the SPLM/A as the real liberators of the whole of Sudan because for the first time, they were asked what their feelings were about their future and how their traditional institutions could play a role in the New Sudan.
The Nuban SPLA commanders who attended the conference assured the people that so long as they stuck to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Nuba people would join the South and the rest of Sudan to realise their right to self-determination.
They pointed out that the Agreement provided for elections to be held after three years and that if the people of the Nuba Mountains supported the SPLM, they would have impact on the Agreement because at that stage the Agreement would have to take into account the fact that the SPLM/A represented them and thereby ensuring that Nuba Mountains and other "special contested areas" such as Abyei and the Funj in the Blue Nile were part of the New Sudan.
This impact of the SPLM/A in these "special contested areas" had begun to have effect right through the rural areas where the SPLM/A were busy building branches and support networks. In the early part of July 2005, the Second All Nuba Conference as well as the Second All Nuba Other Tribes Conference had taken place. These conferences, which attracted some 700 representatives, had discussed peace and unity among the people of the Nuba Mountains in the changed political conditions in the Sudan.
Culture very crucial
A participant from Khartoum, the country's capital, summarised the aims of the festival thus:
"Through such cultural activities, the Nuba can unite around a common vision for the future because culture transcends political differences. They will promote peaceful co-existence among our people and help keep our culture and our language alive."
These activities were intended to address to the feeling of uneasiness and vulnerability that had been created by the Nubas being excluded from the Agreement and categorised as being part of the "North." This categorisation was seen as creating new tensions between the Nuba "Africans" and the Nuba "Arabs."
The cultural activities were supposed to encourage unity and these activities were being encouraged by the SPLM/A under John Garang.
Despite his death, I am encouraged by the quick response by the SPLM/A leadership to overcome the crisis that would have arisen if there had emerged a vacuum in the process after Garang's death.
Salva Kiir pressure
New leader, Salva Kiir, known to be a keen supporter of secession will experience pressure from the "Special contested areas" as well as from other peoples of Sudan.
They will be demanding comprehensive political dispensation that not only guarantees the southerners their right to self-determination (should they decide so in the referendum to be held after six years), but also the rights of the people of the rest of Sudan for democracy and freedom as well as the end of Arab ethnic domination.