Tuesday, 15 September 2009

From Juba to Juba

The political scene awaits the convention of the Juba Conference, now adjourned to 26th September, in cordial SPLM response to the NCP's request. The SPLM in its invitation to the conference named 5 major issues for deliberation: unity and its conditions, democratic transformation, Darfur, the census results and upcoming elections, and the referendum. The opposition parties proposed two additional issues, economic policies and foreign relations.

Fiery at first and full of disdain for the mere idea of an SPLM-Northern parties 'get together' the NCP is now actively seeking participation. At the onset, NCP officials described the conference as a meeting of the 'opposition', unworthy of 'national' relevance. Nevertheless the NCP was quick to shift tone from the regular patriarchal confrontational jargon to a more conciliatory note. Just two days ago Bashir made a loud announcement of commitment to the notion of 'political freedom'. He even gave the rhetoric a philosophical twist defining 'political freedoms' as inalienable and basic principles, and not tokens of generosity, in the same gusto he described human rights as elements of faith to be protected by the power of the state. Add these to the friendly proclamations of the Vice President, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, and the impression is NCP is yet again in moulting.

NCP in or out, the parties gathering in Juba on the 26th are about to re-enact a formative scene from the history of the modern South-North encounter, namely the June 1947 Juba Conference on the Political Development of the Southern Sudan, when British administrators, aware of the consequences of their policy shift vis-a-vis Southern Sudan i.e. from insulation from the North and independent development to integration, invited delegates representing main Northern parties to join Southern politicians in a discussion addressing 5 major issues spelled out in a memorandum by J. W. Robertson, civil secretary of Sudan government at the time and chairman of the conference: recommendations of the Sudan Administration conference about the Southern Sudan - the question of whether Southern Sudan should join the East African colonies or be integrated into North Sudan; the advisability of the Southern Sudanese being represented in the proposed Assembly; possible safeguards in the legislation setting up the new Assembly, to ensure that Southern Sudan with its difference in race, tradition, language, customs and outlook is not hindered in its social and political advancement; the advisability of an advisory council for Southern Sudan to deal with Southern affairs; matters not strictly relevant to political development albeit essential if the unification of the Sudanese people is to be achieved.

The same questions - political power, identity and the state, unification - continue to haunt the relationship between North and South, and largely within the same coordinates stated by J. V. Marwood, governor of Equatoria and host of the 1947 Juba Conference: "The policy of the Sudan Government regarding the Southern Sudan is to act upon the facts that the peoples of Southern Sudan are distinctly African and Negroid, but that geography and economics combine (so far as can be foreseen at the present time) to render them inextricably bound for future development to the Middle East and the Arabs of the Northern Sudan, and therefore to ensure that they shall by educational and economic developments be equipped to take their places in the future as socially and economically the equals of their partners of the Northern Sudan in the Sudan of the future".

If the Juba Conference of 2009 is not to be a Marxian farce of its predecessor the utmost necessity is to blast the racist hegemonic doctrine inherent in the reading above, British-born and re-christened with different names at the hands of the Sudanese post-colonial state. South Sudan is not a vestige seeking refuge amongst superior neighbours, in East Africa or down the Nile, it is the Sudan.

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.