Monday, 21 June 2010

Not good riddance: an interview with Alfred Lokuji

Alfred Sebit Lokuji (PhD) is an independent consultant specialised in governance and development issues and a Lecturer at the Catholic University of Sudan. His most recent report, published by the North-South Institute, focuses on police reform in Southern Sudan. I met Dr Lokuji in Rumbek (Southern Sudan) where he was teaching on the annual Sudan Course of the Rift Valley Institute. 

Sudan is steadily heading towards the referendum that marks the finish line of the CPA. What are the immediate challenges facing self-determination of Southern Sudan?

Before all else a highly credible referendum commission must be set up, one that is autonomous and independent, not an agent or a tool of either the NCP or the SPLM. If this is done a credible voters list must be produced, box stuffing must be prevented. There should also be a clear agreement on who has the right to vote. The organisation and procedure of the referendum must be better than the elections.  Actually, the elections should have been a stepping stone towards the referendum, an exercise if you wish in the conduction of a proper vote. I think, neutral symbols are also important, ones that do not affect the choice of the voter, since most voters cannot read and write. There are also other concerns to be addressed. It has been agreed that a turnout of over 60% of registered voters constitutes the threshold of an acceptable result. There are opportunities for manipulation, and these must be addressed. For instance, how to deal with spoiled ballots, and how to guarantee an authentic count?  

There is a debate in the press that a secession vote does not necessarily imply independence of Southern Sudan.

A secession vote means independence, however between the two events there is a legal and constitutional process that may take some time. Putting the will of the people as expressed by the vote into effect will be a difficult process. The caution is however, how long the people of Southern Sudan are ready to wait; and the elites in Southern Sudan, are they ready for the popular expression of that will? I sincerely warn of confusing elite level calculations and tactics with popular will. Consider as an example what happened to Samson Kwaj when he supported the notion of transferring Ounduruba from Juba County to Lainya County.

In case of secession, what Southern Sudanese interests remain to the north of the border?

Two primary concerns I suppose. The first is the fate of Southern Sudanese citizens in Khartoum. I do not mean here the established Southern professionals who enjoy stable livelihoods and careers but the bulk of destitute IDPs who cannot even manage to come back to the South. The worst thing Khartoum can do is to use these people as a bargaining chip. The elite in Southern Sudan do not pay this issue sufficient attention. Additionally, the Southern elite have acquired properties of high value in Khartoum, largely real estate. I wonder if they are sincere in their call for secession considering the economic interests they have in the North. There are also Northern citizens in Southern Sudan, however their properties do not compare in volume with Southern properties in the North. It is important to be accommodating on both sides. Other than that, oil as a communal property may provide the basis for a friendly relationship. For instance, why should the South bother to spend money on constructing a new pipeline when there is an existing pipeline to Port Sudan? Khartoum and Juba can become economic partners provided that greater transparency of the oil industry is ensured. It is commendable if North and South can work on this for their mutual interest.

Khartoum has recently launched a campaign for unity, while a parallel campaign for secession is underway in the South. How do you expect Khartoum to behave in the case of secession?

The ideal scenario would be a win-win game, where both countries cooperate for the sake of common interests. Alternatively I expect Khartoum to militarily occupy the oil fields, intensify its military presence in Abyei, and naturally question the South’s share of oil revenues. In that case the SPLA may be tempted to embrace war generating a lose-lose situation. Is it advisable though that the South restrains itself for sometime bearing in mind the need to consolidate nationalist sentiment in the South and the need to make independence attractive and thus buy time to allow better handling of Khartoum’s hostilities. The South needs to invest in the international support and recognition of its independence in the face of Khartoum belligerence, before resorting to military means.

Regarding international support, the US government through its Envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration, has been intimately involved in management of the CPA and its implementation. What do you make of US policy towards Sudan?

I think the US government first and foremost wants to avoid another Iraq or another Afghanistan, or a new Libya in the region for that matter. That is why it has not intervened in Sudan militarily beyond the bombing of the Shifa factory. Despite domestic and international pressure the US refrained from declaring a no-fly-zone over Darfur. Another factor is that the US is currently not reaping any benefits from Sudan’s oil despite the early engagement of Chevron. The Americans will be satisfied if things just don’t get worse.

What do you think then is the American position on secession of the South?

It is natural to hear non-provocative statements from the US administration. I think the US wants to inspire some sense of neutrality vis-a-vis the North, as opposed to the line taken by agents like Philip Winter who have been associated with the liberation movement in the South since the 1960’s.

The state(s) aside, how do you see the future of North-South relationships at popular level?

I think the belief in Islam generates a superiority complex, one that is not actually grounded in religious text, but nevertheless. This sense of superiority breeds condescension and outright dismissal on both sides. You can overcome this barrier in the field of cultural exchange and interaction whenever social norms and beliefs allow. If you notice, in their confrontation with the Soviet bloc the Americans always insisted on forwarding cultural exchange as a means of influence. Northern and Southern intellectuals have always created personal bonds between them, so in essence it is possible. However, it has to be recognised that the common man bears common prejudices.
I suggest the promotion of theatre, not parody by Northerners about Southerners, but theatre of the self, where Northerners enact their own behaviour towards Southerners and vice versa. We may thus be able to break prejudices and move away from stereotypes. Moreover an open media policy is needed so that North and South can see each other and maintain exchange. This is actually part of our mutual liberation, since perpetuation of prejudices indicates the level of imprisonment in the self.

Is there a future then beyond the North-South conflict?

Your question has bearing on the entire African scene. If you observe interaction between young people, for instance between Kenyans and Ugandans, you see incredible bonding across tribal affiliations. The condition for bonding at grass roots level is reduction of restrictions to cultural exchange and promotion of media. With provision of the right channels and means of information young people can grow up free of the prejudices of their parents generation, because of the different sources of information and means of communication they are exposed to.
People in the North and South can do just that. You may have noticed how popular Northern singers and musicians are in the South. Instead of just singing love songs they should also sing material that bears on the daily life of Northern and Southern Sudanese. Instead of guns music can carry the message across the border.

What does independence of the South mean more than 50 years after independence of the Sudan?

I think it is a wonderful thing for the South, and equally so for the North. It frees both from the preoccupation with conflict and the hegemony of military governments and agents. It certainly creates opportunities as well as dangers for both North and South. An independent Southern Sudan will make the Southerners realise that they do not have an accountable government. In the South, we are inheriting the same autocratic mode of government we have been subject to all these years. On independence Southerners will discover that they have merely drawn a line on the map calling it a border, but the hakuma (government) has not actually changed. The citizen in the South will then begin to think I want to control this thing called hakuma. That is the start of the real struggle, a struggle for a truly democratic government that reflects the will of the people, one that has not been accomplished in either South or North. John Garang had a fantastic idea of a New Sudan, however it ended up in mere sloganeering and rally cries. The South must pay attention to minorities and their concerns. My Dinka brothers need to devise a correct interpretation of the status of a majority, and how this majority expresses itself.
If Khartoum continues to be ruled by Bashir the North will fail further in analysing history and understanding its predicament. In that case peoples in Darfur, in the Nuba Mountains, in Southern Blue Nile, and in other marginalised areas will push in the same route that the South has taken. South Sudan has gone down that route because of Khartoum’s failure to handle the Sudan correctly. The independence of the South is not on any account good riddance of the South but rather a feature of the disintegration of the country called Sudan.

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