Sunday, 20 June 2010

Beyond flags

Sitting on Juba’s Nile bank this Sunday, in one of many camp hotels that capture the venture/frontier nature of this booming town, I watched how a cargo barge steered loudly along the White Nile hoisting two flags in seeming reconciliation, Numairi’s version of the Sudanese national flag as inspired by the pan-Arab motivations of the 1960’s, and the SPLM flag bearing a yellow star, the insignia of liberation movements all over the world.

Passing the main streets of Juba I could not help noticing how businesses, and not GoSS institutions, announced themselves in both Arabic and English, apparently a necessity of the market. The barge and the shop signs signify a large domain of what constitutes the North South entanglement: enterprise. The ever cited image of the vicious jellaba, tradesmen, entrepreneurs, adventurers and above all slavers, is the defining motif of this relationship. Over time the term jumped out of its historic context and developed an essential nature that overdetermines the perception of the North in Southern minds, before all else the jellaba-hakuma complex.
Speaking to the Round Table Conference in 1965 Abdel Khalig Mahjoub, the Communist Party leader pointed out the need to break away from the perpetrator-victim dichotomy that titles the North South entanglement in various forms. He eloquently declared that the grandchildren of Zubair Pasha move with the times while making the new Sudan, and that new democratic and progressive institutions grow up among them. Well as much as the emancipation of the South seems straightforward today – essentially separation from the North – the liberation of the North from its self-defeatist political imagination appears yet more distant. Mahjoub’s tenant of progress has proven to be more elusive than wished for. Concurrent with the duty to imagine a future beyond the perpetrator-victim trap Mahjoub vigorously criticised the surrender to colonial state structures and culture, sudanised yet persistent and subservient to elite interests conjoined with imperialist needs rather than popular will. Since replacement of British rulers by Northern Sudanese did not necessarily transform the colonial state he cautioned of the seduction of identity politics, making the valid point that replacement of Northern Sudanese by Southerners will in and by itself not necessarily deliver the state to the people in the South. Mahjoub stressed that if separation must be it has to be guarded by independence from the colonial powers citing the Katanga crisis and the demise of the Congo at the hands of Moise Tshombe and Belgian associates.

These two issues, conflicting identities and the nature of the state, adamantly haunt North and South alike, pending an informed outlook investing in the future rather than power-brokering hardwired into the past. 

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