I spent the good part of last week in the capital of the South, Juba. This time around, I had more time for lengthy evening discussions with friends and colleagues, Sudanese and otherwise. As is nearly always the case, the North-South get together, even at a personal level, invites the greater ghosts of historical collision. Gearing up for the expected secession most of whom I met were tensely jubilant, and greatly expectant. The excitation of a new world beyond the referendum finish-line is overwhelming, and penetrative. Risks are named, but sidelined, opportunities are fantasised but not really identified and scrutinised. It is hard to impress on people the notion that secession does not necessarily equate with redemption; and actually presents a start of a not less challenging process as was the trek to ‘liberation’.
If lessons can be learnt there is an immediate lesson to acquire from the early independence history of ‘old Sudan’. In response to popular demands of economic rights, equitable development, and due recognition and consideration of national groupings Sudan’s ruling elite raised the silencing slogan of ‘liberation not construction’ in the face of its contenders implying the priority of the form independence over the content of the nation-state project. This stance dominated ideological space, apart from short ‘revolutionary’ ruptures when the edifices of the colonial state were questioned and subjected to Marxist inventory, foremost during the tumultuous 1960’s.
On reading Southern press coverage of the Youth League campaign for secession I could not help noticing the implicit imperative forwarded by the Youth League to swallow grievances and freeze demands for the sake of the coming independence, i.e. ‘liberation not construction’, as if these were isolated processes, and they are not. Whilst seeking independence the Youth League is advised to translate nationalist pride into the more mundane but concrete necessities of the masses, not so ‘high’ may be on nationalist inspiration. Man does not live on bread alone, but cannot live without it nevertheless. With the tide of secession dominating, the concerns of groups wary of Dinka hegemony and patronage in the civil service and the political administration must be adequately addressed, not necessarily in terms of ethnic representation but foremost on the basis of the primary Southern Sudanese demand: citizenship. Informed by the experience of religious discrimination South Sudan needs to escape the trap of state-church overlap. The pulpit, in rapture at being a recognised political floor, needs the appropriate downscaling deemed necessary in a secular state. This may not be an all too easy process, considering the influential role church aid and foreign faith-based organisations play in the South, in particular as providers of health and educational services.
The SPLM, once with socialist leanings, is today not particularly conscious of its political self, apart from the quest for independence, and the thirst for Foreign Direct Investment. Come independence, more qualified answers to the queries of nation-building will be required of the ‘liberators’.