Can Sudan be put back together again?

There is only one path that both northern and southern Sudan can take together if they achieve a great deal of stability and progress. That path is the path of unity.
Thursday 12/09/2019
Unresolved issues. Sudanese protesters hold posters of missing people in Khartoum, August 30. (AFP)
Unresolved issues. Sudanese protesters hold posters of missing people in Khartoum, August 30. (AFP)

Sudan has not finished putting order in its internal affairs after the dramatic exclusion of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir that some have started talking about restoring the lost unity with the state of South Sudan.

This kind of talk lacks political soundness. Sudan has not recovered from the repercussions of removing al-Bashir from power and of forming a transitional authority.

It is premature to push the country into a new maze that would mix up the political cards and allow those who wish it ill to confuse the new Sovereignty Council and the government and preoccupy them with issues requiring the presence of a strong state, an experienced authority, firm feet on the ground and the minds and hearts of the people.

The topic of a unified Sudan carries a plethora of diverse issues. It captures the consciousness of a large segment of citizens because it confirms their adherence to their large state and suggests that the partition of their homeland had taken place under circumstances that were rejected by most political and social forces in the country but accepted by the National Congress Party out of its desire to remain in power.

Sudan lost its south and the party and its president lost power. Many of the former regime's figures are subject to multiple legal prosecutions.

The secession of South Sudan went through political obstacles and armed challenges that had paved the way for it. It was the crisis of having “two Sudans” in practice that led some Sudanese to call for a new Sudan free of racial discrimination and where wealth and power are equally shared between the centre and the peripheries. These reasons left no choice for regional and international powers but to support the secession under the pretext of stopping civil war and supporting the option of self-determination as a basic human right.

Regardless of the declared and hidden agendas that led to the independence of South Sudan, it was Khartoum's political choices and tendencies three decades ago that opened the gates of secession and contributed to the dismantling unity. Those policies carried the implications of not excluding the dismantling and fragmentation of Sudan, if the price was to maintain a small spot of land on which al-Bashir and his companions had established Islamist rule.

The fledgling southern state has failed to heal its wounds and its structures and institutions plunged into a spiral of an even more destructive civil war. In four years of independence, its political forces and armed groups started a bitter fight for power and the country is struggling to achieve peace after it had lost the lustre it had at the beginning as a promising new country.

The transitional authority in Sudan has given priority to a comprehensive peace and confirmed the strong desire not to let go of any of the regions that are sites of fighting between government forces and armed factions in the east, west and south.

It sent messages that the former official negligence regarding those areas was a scourge for all of Sudan because it cut off a precious part of its land and led the country to lose about 75% of its oil revenues, which was one of the causes of the intensification of the economic crisis.

This angle alone seems to constitute enough motivation for some to start playing on the emotional strings of unity and picture it as the miracle solution to Sudan’s economic woes. What they ignore is that the same diseases that led to the secession of the south have not disappeared from the north and they also still plague the south, which does not want to escape its crises by ignoring them.

If the active and influential political forces failed to stop the war and implement the terms of peace, can they be expected to reach this goal as long as there are divergent and rival forces that have yet to reach a stable common and central state?

The irrationality of borrowing axioms of unity pushes beyond politically accepted boundaries because it closes the door to focusing on the murky reality that prevails in the north and the south and draws people into prematurely debating utopian concepts that need not be evoked in the present circumstances.

However, this is exactly what is happening considering efforts by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit to reach an understanding between the Forces of Freedom and Change and the Revolutionary Front. It is likely those efforts would lead to a dialogue between the latter and the transitional government soon after announcing the formation of the new cabinet, not for the purpose of achieving the attractive goal of unity but in pursuit of generalising peace in Sudan.

Success on this front would lead to maintaining a minimum level of calm in the south and ensuring stability in the north because any tension would adversely affect the whole geographical environment and touch first and foremost South Sudan, which wants to assert its role and independence through active mediation between the various forces. Not reaching a stable peace does not mean the road is clear for promoters of restoring unity with slogans.

There is only one path that both northern and southern Sudan can take together if they achieve a great deal of stability and progress. That path is the path of unity based on a confederation rather than a merger because it is too late to speak of the latter.

Each party must first achieve, on its own, success on the political, economic and security levels and keep their states coherent and protected from strategic threats. Perhaps, in the not-so-distant future, leaders from both sides who believe in the importance of voluntary unity might emerge and work towards safeguarding the interests of both sides.

This scenario is in line with the positive aspirations in the region, aspirations that encourage cooperation and coordination for greater peace and development among the countries of the region.

It is no coincidence that all approaches to resolving crises in the two countries emerged from neighbouring countries because they all believe that stability is the best foundation for strengthening relations and constructing an integrated unity that will be greatly beneficial to all countries in the region.