10. März 2015

The map of divided Germany was ugly, wasn’t it?

This was one of the first questions a lecturer at the University of Khartoum asked me after he had heard that I was German. When I looked at him rather puzzled, he quickly fetched a big map of Sudan and – while looking at the still preliminary border between Sudan and South Sudan – he started raving how beautiful Sudan looked before the independence of South Sudan in 2011: ‘Then it was unified and whole – now it is just incomplete and ragged‘.

The comparison between the division of Germany and the division of Sudan was not one that previously had crossed my mind; probably not only because the latter was legitimated by a referendum, but also because the former is widely, albeit not universally, considered as a wrongful division of what belongs together. In contrast, the independence of South Sudan was justified by the right to self-determination. Without going into the endless debate on the right to self-determination (and without stretching the German-Sudan comparison too much), it again struck me how randomly this right is granted and supported by members of the international community. 

The way to South Sudan’s independence was paved in 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was reached between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. This agreement formally ended the two-decade long Second Sudanese Civil War and also included agreements on the resolution of the conflict in Sudan’s regions of Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan as well as on wealth and power sharing. As far as I can tell from the conversations I had here, most of the (North) Sudanese regarded the Comprehensive Peace Agreement as a deal: peace for a part of their territory, their people and their culture. Today, ten years later, economic growth has diminished in Sudan, the costs of living have strongly increased and all of the conflicts addressed in the Peace Agreement have flamed up again. The frustration about the economic situation, together with the anger over the regime and the restriction of the media, erupted in September 2013, when the Government of Sudan announced to cut down fuel and cooking gas subsidies. Many dozen, if not hundreds protesters, died in the following crack-down.

Without ignoring the decade long discrimination of the South by Khartoum or belittling the yearning for their own country of the people now considered as South Sudanese, I do not find it hard to understand that most of the (North) Sudanese feel betrayed by the outcomes of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Surely, they see their government as bearing the main responsibility. However, as I have learned, in the opinion of many Sudanese, the international community, led by the USA, has pushed for the independence of the economically most important part of their country, while refraining to follow-up on the other parts of agreement. Indeed, they argue, finding solutions to the conflicts in the south, east and west of Sudan has become even more difficult, as the Government of Sudan now seems even less inclined to grant more rights to the various state governments.

Despite little chance to change the political course of their country in the up-coming elections in April (the hardly existing opposition is boycotting the election) and little trust in the international community, (North) Sudanese dream of unifying their country again – thereby hopefully referring to the peaceful re-unification of Germany.