Is secession the answer? - the case of Sudan

Is secession the answer? – the case of Sudan

The conflict tree analysis model shows that the root and seed causes of conflict in Sudan were never addressed with the 2011 secession. Secession did not transform the conflict and adjust incompatible ideologies; it actually generated more conflicting interests.

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By Phillip Nyasha Fungurai and Tendaishe Tlou

Ever since the historic secession of South Sudan four years ago, the country remains plagued by attempted coups, political impasse, tribal animosity and mounting human insecurity. Such developments suggest that secession was the wrong prescription to the dreadful Sudanese impasse. What Sudan needed was a united country, premised on egalitarian principles and tenets of inclusiveness, participatory governance, tolerance and reconciliation. This is affirmed by Hawi (2014: 40) who contends that the Sudanese government failed to base the country’s unity on common citizenship in which everyone enjoyed equality. The pan-Arabism North and the secular south failed to harness their protracted conflict constructively to bear sustainable peace, perceiving it rather as a fruitless and destructive phenomenon.

The frustration that accompanied the Sudanese failure to embrace diversity and move past their cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences culminated in the easy yet unsustainable solution of secession. This was aggravated by neighbouring countries – Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Eritrea – who all supported secession only to gratify their own national interests. The answer was and remains engraved in a state of citizens with equal rights, equal political representation and socio-economic status and responsibilities.

The conflict tree analysis model shows that the root and seed causes of conflict in Sudan were never addressed with the 2011 secession. Secession did not transform the conflict and adjust incompatible ideologies; it actually generated more conflicting interests. These include the issue of contested shared geo-political areas like the Abyei region, Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile, coupled with shared resources like water and oil. All these were further complicated with the citizenship dilemma. Had the Sudanese government engaged a holistic and relevant conflict transformation approach, the aforesaid factors would have acted as drivers of unification not secession. The conflict tree analysis model aptly postulates that any attempt at conflict transformation should always address the root causes, lest the conflict bears off-shoots. The current instability in South Sudan resembles off-shoots of an old conflict and bears concrete testimony to the pre-eminent fact that secession was never the answer.

When it comes to issues of self-determination, secession and autonomy, political protagonists in Africa regularly interpret them wrongly, prompting bloody conflicts and the loss of innocent lives. In light of the Sudanese conflict, it is clear that the 2011 secession reflects on the depth of the continuous power struggles which continuously tear Africa apart.

The African Union cannot continue allowing secession, but should have endeavoured to keep North and South Sudan together. The AU should have engaged both in negotiations to solve their differences, rather than facilitating a deal that has led to more deaths than compared to the crimes against humanity committed when the country was one. Rather than allowing the international community to focus on real and historical conflicts such as the one in Somalia, all attention was focused on South Sudan. Let Sudan remain a case study that secessionists who seek the redrawing of political boundaries and calls for international recognition will also do the same when a bloody conflict arises, but now with different results.

Secession will not address and transform the conflict because most of the disgruntlement is along ethnic, resource-centered, racial, religious and gender lines. It is instead always productive to transform conflict into positive energy to open space for negotiation, reconciliation and unity. The resurgence of self-determination, just like in the days of decolonisation, as a source of conflict will prevail, but it now needs powerful negotiators, human rights activists and intellectuals to predict and quell this phenomena before it becomes even more problem. The Tuareg in Northern Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Janjaweed in Darfur, among others, should not be ignored.

Way forward

Both governments should engage in a Government of National Unity. A crucial point of departure would be establishing dialogue that sets shared objectives, interests and mutual benefits for the conflicting parties. The dire need to pursue these ends should be employed as the basis for unity and national healing.

There is strong need to institutionalise and operationalize a government arm for reconciliation, national healing and nation-building. It would be the prerogative of this structure to foster equality in political representation, tolerance and mainstreaming equity and equality in national policy and planning. The same structure can engage in intensive civic peace education to denounce ethnocentrism and tribalism. Translating the national anthem and constitution into all local languages to inculcate a sense of national belonging within the citizenry should be prioritised. Both governments should not undermine the power of participatory governance. It will not only mitigate dissenting voices of minority groups but satiate collective identity conflicts rooted in exclusionary practises and politics of access.

It is also a crucial moment for the Sudanese to encourage intermarriages between prominent persons and families (macro level) as well as at community level. This will make fruitful strides in fostering intermixing (tamazaj) of ethnic identities and cultures which will at large alleviate ethnic and tribal animosity. This will avert inter-generational conflicts and ensure sustainable peace for future generations.

Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in human rights, environmental security, peace and governance issues. He holds a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education and a Post-graduate Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation. He works with various NGOs and Government Ministries in Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

Phillip Nyasha Fungurai is a researcher who holds a BSc Honours Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education. He is also a Peace and Governance, Human rights and Democracy patron and specialist who works in cohorts with civil society organizations, think tanks and research institutes in Zimbabwe.

This article reflects the personal views of both authors. 

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