Two recent articles in the East African press thematized the impending independence of Southern Sudan in the context of the evolution of the post-colonial state in Africa. Charles Onyango-Obbo writing in Kenya’s the East African wondered if the secession of Southern Sudan would signal a re-carving of the African political map. He drew a picture of possible secessionist trends that could utilise the Southern Sudanese precedent to argue for their own legitimacy, notably the already independent yet unrecognised Somaliland, and possibly war-stricken Northern Uganda drifting off towards a loose federation with Southern Sudan and the Lendu of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in addition to the ghost of division hovering over Nigeria and the chance separation of Zanzibar from the mainland. Alan Tacca writing in the Ugandan Daily Monitor suggested that the secession of Southern Sudan would have greater repercussions on the notion of the state in the continent than the Eritrean example. Tacca leaned heavily on the Arab-African race paradigm to argue against Ghaddafi’s recent warning that partition of Sudan would endanger the sanctity of borders in Africa.
In a sense, the referendum on the future of Southern Sudan does challenge the rule long cherished by the Organisation of African Unity and its successor the African Union regarding the preservation of colonial borders on the continent. On another level, an agreed upon partition of Sudan supported by a ‘popular vote’ qualifies as a belated renegotiation of colonial designs, as much as the Rwandan post-genocide arrangements signal a departure from a history of engineered racial division within one state. Failing to accommodate each other ruling elites in North and South are opting for partition as an entry point to a post-colonial future. Preoccupied with the administrative consequences of generating two states where one attempted to rule, the two are weakly conscious, if at all, of the historical trajectory they are about to embark on. South Sudan aspires to situate itself within the East African community, a geopolitical space not necessarily less challenging than the attachment to North Sudan and the wider Moslem-Arab domain. Onyango-Obbo’s remarks on secessionist tendencies in regions of Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC indicate some of these challenges. What he missed to mention is the continuous ‘colonial’ scramble for the Lakes region rechristened but yet unfolding, and how it plays into ‘indigenous’ politics. A considerable bloc in the NCP ruling North Sudan imagines partition as liberation from African predicaments and an opportunity to fully embrace Sudan’s Arab-Muslim heritage. Nevertheless, a separate North Sudan is unlikely to be redeemed from its ‘multiple marginality’ using Ali Mazrui’s diagnosis. Partition is rather a symptom of the aggravation of that marginality more than being a feature of its resolution. Sudan is renegotiating the colonial state, that is true, but is it really carving its alternative or merely extending its race conventions?