Talking on the 27th anniversary of the SPLA/M the Secretary General of the SPLM, Pagan Amum, took a wide stride back into history claiming that the liberation struggle in Southern Sudan started in the 1860s at the time of communal wars involving ‘traditional’ and ‘spiritual’ leaders. In a televised speech he attempted to combine a notion of historical continuity and purpose that leads ultimately to the independence of Southern Sudan next January, presented as the final destination of a long journey of struggle against adversaries, jellaba, British, and Turks. Like all nationalist mythologies this is but an edited, ‘photoshopped’ version of a much more complex and combustible reality, one that Pagan surely knows better.
Once an ardent defender of the ‘New Sudan’, by adopting a mythology of secessionist destiny Pagan has chosen to relinquish the transformative potential he once adhered to as a matter of principle. In his speech he concluded that there is no more chance to make unity attractive and that the people of Southern Sudan are expected to vote for secession, a consequence of the failure of the National Congress Party to make unity attractive over the past 5 years. In a tragic overture Pagan re-directed his skills and competence from the notion of ‘the problem of Sudan’ to the ‘problem of South Sudan’, from self-determination as a hard-won tool to achieve citizenship, voluntary unity and political transformation in an adverse environment, to self-determination as a teleological channel to a historically pre-determined end-station of separation, from the celebration of diversities to a mythology of seclusion and particularity.
In concept, unity is the responsibility of whoever wants unity. Recalling the struggle of SPLA/M against secessionist contenders and adversaries in Southern Sudan, and the history of alliance and comradeship between SPLA/M and a rainbow of Northern based forces since the inception of the movement, and the personal role of Pagan Amum in this history it comes as a surprise that a nuanced leader in his position surrenders to frustration with the ‘ghastly’ NCP and renounces at such short notice a career of opposite intent supported by an active investment in the imagination and pursuit of a future beyond the South/North divide. If the Gordon College Graduates failed at the eve of independence, at the height of their power and prestige, to imagine a Sudan other than the one they inherited form colonial Britain, and thus created a Sudan in their own image, too narrow to survive, the SPLM today, at the height of its political transformative potential but adrift from its inspiring principles of creative unity, is succumbing to lame politics à la Athor or rather à la NCP.