Opinion

Should we look at the relationship between the two states of Sudan through a keyhole or from the broader perspective of history, geography, culture and mutual interests?

Yasir Arman

At the start, let me express my gratitude to the newspaper Al Watan and to my friend Michael Christopher for this great initiative. I salute all the leaders and ministers involved and everyone who took part in this seminar entitled “Peace in Sudan and its effect on the stability of South Sudan”. We learned from our communities and some of our teachers in school and in public life that South and North Sudan occupy the same place in our hearts and minds. Our love for the two Sudans is everlasting and we will always have a joint task now and in the future to build strategic relations between the two countries. We cannot afford to forget this task.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the Mediation and the Government of the Republic of South Sudan for hosting the Sudan peace talks in their capital city, Juba. It is a historical event that will strengthen and improve bilateral relations between the two countries. The historical contradictions which have characterised relations between Northern and Southern Sudan and which later extended to the two Sudans are rooted in the depths of history and in the issues of nation-building which Sudan has encountered since 1956 and long before and which the two Sudans continue to face today.
We believe that peace in the two Sudans and its effect on them, as well as on the region and the world, is the right theme for today’s seminar and that each country will contribute to peace in the other, even if the peace process has different features in each country.
The current peace processes in Sudan and South Sudan and the contribution being made to them by the leadership of both countries will not only have a significant impact on stability but should also be extended to our ongoing efforts to create a new relationship that enables us to recover slowly from our troubled past and benefit from our historical, geographical and cultural links, blood ties and mutual interest in achieving strategic relations, leading eventually to a Sudanese Union between two independent sovereign states.
We should not take a narrow view of relations between Sudan and South Sudan. This relationship is much broader than that and has deep roots in the history of the Nile Valley civilisation. Without considering the historical and cultural links between the two peoples, there will be something missing in our efforts to achieve a paradigm shift in this relationship in a manner that is truly consistent with our mutual interests, our links, our blood ties, geography, history and culture. If we want to move forward, we need to see where we have come from in order to understand where we are going to.
Sudanism still exists and has not been erased by international borders between the two countries. It is the umbilical cord of relations between North and South Sudan. Despite the fact that we are now in a different situation and live in two countries, most of us still believe in Sudanism and long for the Sudan that no longer exists today and for the strategic links between the two countries that are dictated by current and historical interests. We can see this clearly just as Michelangelo saw an exquisite statue in a block of marble and trimmed off excess material before he began to carve the statue itself. Creating strategic relations between the two countries will not happen without difficulties like a sculpture hewn from rock. But it is possible and necessary to do this just like Michelangelo created his statue from a block of raw marble.
The Sudan peace talks in Juba offer another opportunity to correct the historical mistakes in Sudanese politics which led to the secession of South Sudan and to pursue a new National Project within Sudan and between the two Sudans. Juba itself is an open history book of the mistakes made by the centre of the Sudanese state in Khartoum. If we had dealt wisely in the past with the issues of nation-building, we should not have needed a visa to come to Juba.
Hovering around us in this hall in Juba are the spirits of Benjamin Loki, the leader of the Liberal Party, who came from Lainya and whose constituency was several miles from Juba, Father Saterlino Ohure from Eastern Equatoria, Frank Wel Garang from Wau in Bahr el Ghazal and Buth Diu and Bullen Alier from Upper Nile. They addressed issues of nation-building in bold and strong speeches in the First Parliament (1954-58). These uncles of ours were sublime and, if we had listened to them, we would not be in this position today. Frank Wel Garang said that they did not have any bad or ill intention towards Sudan but that, without responding to the demands of the Southerners, the South would leave Sudan just as Pakistan had left India. He went on to say that, unless things were to go well in Southern Sudan, they would never go well in Sudan. Peace in Sudan still faces the same old and renewed dilemmas of how to reach a credible process of nation-building based on equal citizenship without discrimination. So the contribution of the Republic of South Sudan is not only necessary for the stability of South Sudan but is also important for the Sudanese story itself and to avoid the mistakes of the past, including correcting fatal political mistakes between the two Sudans and restoring strategic relations between them with good faith and a clear vision for achieving peace in both countries. The importance of hosting the Sudan peace talks in Juba is driven by the importance of the relationship between the two countries.
South Sudan is the only country in the region which has an organic geographical relationship with the three regions where there are wars in Sudan (Blue Nile, South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Darfur). South Sudan is connected by the Nile, history, culture, values, interests, borders, national security and a common future with Sudan. The current peace process is an opportunity to transform the catastrophe in relations between the two states into an asset and to transform secession into a Sudanese Union between two independent states. The borders of the two countries are not separated by natural phenomena like a sea or an ocean. On the contrary, there are more than 10 million pastoralists on the borders of the two Sudans. This border was linked in the past to river, rail and road transport and extends more than 2,018 kilometres. It represents an important border for national security in both countries and is perhaps equivalent in length to the international borders between South Sudan and its other neighbours. South Sudan used to import more than 137 different commodities from Sudan, just as the products of South Sudan, which has a climate similar to East Africa, will find a welcome market in Sudan and the Middle East. We should restore river, road and rail transport links so that the economies of both countries will prosper. The two Sudans have more than 140 million feddan of arable land and the largest animal resources in the African continent. What we are lacking is the vision to establish strategic relations on a new foundation.
The fate of each country could impact seriously on the fate of the other, be it prosperity or collapse, and it is up to them to make sure that they prosper rather than collapse. The project of the New Sudan, which first emerged from South Sudan, is another intellectual resource for linking the two countries. It is another currency that can be a medium of exchange and intellectual commonality as the glorious December Revolution, in one of its key slogans, called for building a New Sudan.
Economics, security, defence and correct parameters of nation-building are the agenda for both Sudans and it is possible to develop them into a Sudanese Union between both countries.
There is indeed great potential for the Sudanese Union to develop into a regional union that includes Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Eritrea, Kenya, Libya, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A Sudanese Union would contribute to improving African-Arab relations and would increase the chances of prosperity in the region and in Africa.
South Sudan’s biggest asset is its people and culture. Moreover, it also has a bigger geographical area than Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya put together. If we stand back and look at the two Sudans from the perspective of their geographical size rather than through the keyhole, we see that they have the biggest area in the whole of Africa. The future of the two countries lies in their huge agricultural area and arable land. What clearly shows the importance of agriculture is that expert studies have concluded that three countries – Canada, Australia and the two Sudans – can provide food for the whole population of the world.
The wars that have taken place in the two Sudans have been at the expense of the future of their populations. The two countries have a combined population of no more than 50 million people, whereas their land area is enough for more than 500 million people. So wars pose a threat to the population’s strategic existence and strategic interests. Peace and progress towards a new democratic national project based on equal citizenship is the main issue in the peace process. In our meetings these days with the Forces for Freedom and Change, I suggested that the Sudan Revolutionary Front, the Forces for Freedom and Change and the Mediation should go and visit the tomb of Obaid Haj Al Amin in Wau, who is one of the most important leaders of the 1924 White Flag Revolution. We are on the threshold of the one hundredth anniversary of this great 1924 Revolution, which represents our national, symbolic and historical capital and heritage and the social roots of many of its leaders were both from the North and the South. The revolution was led by Ali Abdel Latif, who spent many years in prison like our icon of change and struggle, Nelson Mandela, and by Abdul Fadil Al Maz who led the Second River War and who was martyred at the age of 28. As Obaid Al Haj Al Amin is buried in Wau, Abdul Fadil al Maz in Khartoum and Ali Abd Al Latif in Cairo, the Nile and its tributaries embrace them all.
The absence of Southerners has made Sudan like tasteless food. Southerners also miss, to a large extent, the warmth of relations which connected them to the North. Our relations did not just revolve around war but there were more human aspects based on history, culture and blood ties and many good things despite the ugliness of war. But even the war, if we start to write its history, brought out many common human values. Our humanity was reflected in some aspects of the worst human phenomenon, which is war. How many brave men and women joined the battlefield from both sides! We should build on their courage to develop a new strategic relationship.
The Sudanese state after independence gained many of its national resources in the fields of culture, music, the arts, the military, professionals, technicians, nursing, education and services from the contribution of talented Southern Sudanese. There are talented people in both countries who could contribute to the prosperity of both countries if a meaningful strategic relationship is established between them.
One of the most important things about the mediation of the Republic of South Sudan in the Sudan peace talks is that South Sudan does not have an agenda to damage Sudan’s national interests. South Sudan’s interests lie in exporting its oil and managing to resolve its own internal wars. Sudan has a lot of experience and experts in many fields who could contribute to state and institution-building in the Republic of South Sudan and Northern Sudanese are also closest to the social psychology of the Southerners. Through their relations with each other, the two Sudans can consolidate independence and sovereignty in both states. As for the global economic landscape and exploitation within the nation state, the leading intellectual Joseph Garang, who was Minister for Southern Affairs in the early period of Nimeiri’s Government and author of the booklet “The Dilemma of the Southern Intellectual”, in one of his perceptive sayings, compared those who escaped from national exploitation to global exploitation to “someone who escapes from a den of hyenas to find himself in a den of lions”. Consequently, the two Sudans need each other if they are to confront this troubled world and projects for global exploitation.
European countries have fought wars with each other and, in the Second World War which ended in 1945, no one could have imagined that France and Germany would join a single European Union. Today you can go from Spain to the borders of Turkey with a single visa. Although individual European countries have different democratic governance systems, there is one European political and economic area, and borders do not present any impediment to movement. If European countries, developed as they are, have established a European Union, it is all the more necessary for us to establish a Sudanese Union and the current peace talks have an important role to play in achieving this.
Redefining Sudan’s National Project and achieving sustainable peace in Sudan call for lessons to be learnt from the two biggest events that Sudan has witnessed: the secession of the South and genocide. The Sudan peace talks in Juba therefore have a deep meaning and significance for Sudanese and are a catalyst for achieving a new National Project.
During the wars in South Sudan, it was remarkable that millions of displaced Southerners headed northwards. This trend was driven by shared values and cultural links, blood ties, history and geography and the Nile has always played a significant role. Today, refugees from both Sudans all go to the other country. This movement of IDPs and refugees reflects the need for strategic relations between the two countries. The common history and the participation of many Northerners on the side of the Southerners in the last war (1983-2005), especially from the Two Areas Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile), is an additional important reason for building a strategic relationship because this area provides an organic link between the two countries. The border area is an area of human intermingling and the most beautiful place for building a Sudanese Union.
In the last 32 years, there has never been a better opportunity for peace in Sudan than the one that exists today. The good news is that Juba is playing an active role in this. What happens now presents big opportunities as well as challenges and concerns. Boosting peace in both Sudans would be an added value and would reflect progress and stability in both countries. We call for the holding of an inclusive conference for active forces in both countries to promote a joint vision for a Sudanese Union and the establishment of political, economic and cultural institutions to support this concept. We have been an advocate of a Sudanese Union since South Sudan’s independence in 2011. When the last Framework Agreement between the Transitional Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-North/Sudan Revolutionary Front was signed on 24 January 2020, President Salva Kiir Mayardit mentioned, in response to my call for a Sudanese Union, that he is in support of strategic relations and that he dreamed of seeing security and peace prevail in both countries. He mentioned that, in earlier times, vehicles carrying goods used to travel safely from Dongola in the far North of Sudan to Yei in the far South of South Sudan without encountering any obstacles. He called for this situation to be restored. This represents an important call.
Finally, the one thing I want to achieve in my future political work and to which I will devote my remaining effort, energy and time is to contribute humbly to establishing a Sudanese Union between the two Sudans as independent sovereign states.
Many thanks and appreciation.

Yasir Arman
15 February 2020, Juba

I dedicate this contribution to martyrs and friends, and especially to our leader Dr John Garang De Mabior, Yousif Kuwa Mekki, Mohamed Juma Nail, Hashim Abubakr, Mohamed Ahmed Omar Al Haboub, Yasir Jafar Al Sanhouri, Abdelbasit Al Adnani, David Majok Mac, Lol Chol, the well-known singer of the Belfam battalion, Bona Obec Nyuela, Isaac Tut Dhier, Dr Justin Yac Arop, Clement Katinga, Gilo Agada, David Nari, Jok Dum, Mabuto Mayen, Malwal Biong, Koul Deng Koul (Suk), Daud Yahya Bolad, Scopos Lubro Kenyi, Lewis Al Yardou, Peire Okeruk, Abd Al Hamid Abbas and Rafat Rahmatallah. They are just a few of my many departed friends who were martyred. They wrote a new history of relations between the two Sudans and these are seeds that must grow and yield results for the benefit of the two peoples. From those who are still with us, I dedicate this to Dr Mansour Khalid with warm affection.

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