Last week witnessed a flurry of statements from foreign dignitaries on the future of the Sudan, one state or two. Libya's Gaddafi in his usual confusion stated that he would support an independent South Sudan whilst warning of the consequence that it would be a 'very weak state'. The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana expressed frank opposition to an independent state in South Sudan. In the meantime the devilish details of the referendum law are up for grabs. The Monday meeting last week between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) apparently did not achieve the expected breakthrough on two decisive issues: who is to vote, all Southerners or residents of Southern Sudan only? And the cut-off percentage, a simple majority 50 plus for both choices, unity or secession, or a 50 plus for unity and a 75 plus for secession?
In the absence of domestic ingenuity political space effectively awaits the designs of the US policy review on Sudan, a process subject to a battle of interests and visions within the US administration over which the Sudanese have no substantive influence to reckon with.
In this gloom Sadiq al Mahdi flew off to Juba sharing the same plane with SPLM Deputy Chairperson Riek Machar and pre-empting the announced 'all parties' meeting to declare a piece of wisdom long defunct: the right of self-determination for Southern Sudan should not be turned into a political feud. Well, it is, and it has been so for very long indeed!
Sadiq himself was not particularly happy with the inclusion of self-determination in the master-piece of the National Democatic Alliance, the Asmara Declaration of 1995. And his partner on the plane, Dr Riek Machar, launched a South-South civil war against the late John Garang on the grounds that the latter had false aspirations of unity. Paradoxically, Machar at the time rushed off to the camps of the adversaries to sign the forgotten Khartoum Peace Agreement, claiming to having won the right of self-determination for the South. Khartoum before him was quick to table its calculated acceptance of self-determination as early as 1992 during the Frankfurt talks, a step that fuelled the SPLM/A split between Nasir and Torit.
The lesson here is that self-determination does not provide in formality, in itself and by itself, a resolution to the Sudanese conflict. Proponents of a quick secessionist fix, from North and South, are thus equally misguided in that they offer an administrative solution to a protracted and complictated history, one that has long resisted statist machinations, from the likes of the Closed Districts Ordinance (1922) to the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling on Abyei (2009). This history is not amenable to quiet reversal by virtue of an international border that promises on one side realisation of a chauvinist jellaba dream and on the other the first NGO-run state. Both are false options. The only 'attractive' unity that remains is one thrust in the future: the unity of the disenfranchised across the rifts of this history. Read Joseph Garang for an imagination of what that could possibly mean.