In late 2015, a Sudanese Professor and a Member of the Pan-African Parliament told me, during a consultative meeting of the Pan-African Parliament on DRC, Somalia and South Sudan, that “we made a terrible historical mistake to let South Sudan go. We want South Sudan back and we will stop at nothing to bring our brothers and sisters back.”
I laughed it off.
I sniggered because I thought that having secured freedom and dignity at the cost of over 2 million lives lost, it will be unthinkable for any South Sudanese leader to willingly walk his or her people back into slavery, humiliation and indignity.
Recently, I have realized that it is precisely this mindset – the thinking that it is impossible for South Sudan to go back to the Sudan – that is responsible for the nonchalant attitude and laissez-faire approach by some South Sudanese to all the provocative maneuvering of Khartoum in recent times.
It is this over confidence that has allowed many vanguards of our hard won freedom to underestimate the sturdiness of our former masters to re-enslave us and the gullibility of our current political leaders to exchange their birthrights for bread crumbs.
Who would have thought, for example, that a decorated war of liberation hero like Salva Kiir would apologize for the separation of South Sudan while in Khartoum; or that some opposition, faith-based and civil society leaders would spend months in Khartoum helping to legitimize and perfect the efforts of the Sudan to entrench fragility, ensure sustainability of conflicts and eventually to takeover South Sudan by the Sudan?
South Sudanese seem to forget that its independence was not just an excruciating defeat of the political system in the Sudan but that it took away the soul and the strategic importance of the Sudan. So, while South Sudan went to sleep after gaining its independence, the Sudan went to work against that same independence.
The Sudan had at least two strategic goals: to delay or derail the referendum and to defeat viable state and nation building projects in South Sudan.
The Sudanese strategists saw thwarting the Referendum as an uphill task. First, because the people and the leaders of South Sudan were united and determined to conduct that Referendum. Second, the American administration and the region were firmly behind it. Third, the support of the Islamic world that bankrolled the Islamic agenda in Sudan faltered in the face of an aggressive American administration that was bent on having a homeland for the people of South Sudan.
Therefore, the Sudanese strategists saw the prevention of a successful transition of Southern Sudan to a viable statehood as the only prudent investment the Sudan could make to enable it accomplish its goals of gradually assimilating and eventually annexing South Sudan.
But these were not without challenges. There were internal and external hurdles.
Internally, South Sudan was a fairly united country and with a political leadership that was not so fractured. The Army was, to some extent, professional and disciplined.
Externally, Uganda’s support for the SPLA/M and the Americans’ perceived support for a viable South Sudan state were seen as stumbling blocks by the Sudanese strategists.
To deal with these barriers, the Sudan adopted a triple strategy: first, to divide the people and leadership in South Sudan. Second, to infiltrate all political and military establishments in South Sudan. Third, to use the first and second strategies to ensure and to portray South Sudanese as incapable of self-governance and a failed state.
To realize the first strategy, the Sudan encouraged an ethnocentric government in South Sudan. What this did was to pitch the Jieng against the other ethnic groups and significantly weaken any basis for social cohesion. In addition, the Sudan unearthed and exploited the historical grievances between the Jieng and the Nuer. This prevented the two majority ethnic groups from working together in the interests of the country.
The massacre of 2013 presented an opportunity to further nourish and cement the strategic weakness of a Juba regime that was predominately Jieng and a SPLA-IO that was dominated by the Nuers. Khartoum used its support or lack thereof for each party to the war that ensued following the Juba massacre strategically. For instance, in its support for the SPLA-IO, Khartoum ensured that such support was just enough to ensure the survival of the SPLM-IO but not to enable it organize into a formidable monster it could not control or allow it to overthrow the Juba Regime or destabilize the flow of oil.
To achieve the second strategy, Khartoum worked assiduously to weaken the SPLA including by excluding its professional cadre, by supporting the formation and absorption of Khartoum sponsored militias into the SPLA and by sponsoring National Congress Party elements and sympathizers into the inner circle of Salva kiir and into the Jieng Council of Elders. These infiltrators’ mission was to undermine viable state and nation building in South Sudan.
The cumulative effects of the strategies of the Sudan were that the political elites were fractured; religious and civil society organizations became disillusioned and preoccupied with mundane issues of bread and butter. Both the remnants of the SPLA and the rebels that emerged to fight ethnic, economic and political hegemony suffered from ideological starvation, fighting fatigue and lack of logistics to execute a successful war. This further weakened significantly any cohesive and nationalistic resistance internally or externally to the Government of South Sudan. The death, destruction and despair faced by the ordinary citizens made life in the Sudan, comparatively, much better than in the country they fought so hard for. South Sudan became, helplessly and hopelessly, a failed state and nation thanks to its lack of visionary leadership.
The internal front was weakened and at the verge of destruction.
There were only two more hurdles. The American support for South Sudan and Uganda’s opposition to a greater role for Sudan close to its northern boarders.
Sudan was less worried about the Americans. It was clear to the Sudan that even though the Americans had impressive records in dismantling regimes and carving out new countries, they had very checkered records and short temperament for rebuilding failed states. Therefore, a failed South Sudan State was all that was needed to weaken the Americans’ support.
Once South Sudan failed, the Americans’ support for the country faltered.
Dealing with Yoweri was more difficult. But fate favored Khartoum. Yoweri is in great difficulties. He has gradually fallen off the most favorite list of the Americans and of the West European countries who had considered him a necessary evil in their projects of instabilities and stabilities in the region. The economy of Uganda is progressing from stagnation to collapse fueling internal dissent. Uganda’s investment in propping up the ethnocentric Regime in Juba is returning a net lost while its grips on the SPLM and the IGAD led peace process are sliding away. South Africa and Tanzania were overseeing the reunification of the SPLM while Troika was seen as dictating the direction of the IGAD peace process.
This Ugandan perfect storm provided an opportunity for Khartoum to enlist Uganda’s support. Thus, Khartoum can only get South Sudan back if it did so in a manner that makes Uganda feels important in the process and in a way that guarantees a return on Uganda’s investment in South Sudan.
This is exactly what Khartoum is doing. The Sudan has granted to Uganda its wish to deploy its forces in Equatoria so as to address its fears of Sudan’s military and Islamic ideology close to its Northern Boarders. In addition, Khartoum has safeguarded the place of Yoweri’s stogies in power in South Sudan. Furthermore, Khartoum has offered a share of the oil income to Yoweri as a return on investment in South Sudan by Uganda.
That is why, to the strategists in Khartoum, the time to achieve its strategic goals in South Sudan is either now or never.
This explains why the Sudan has hijacked the IGAD peace process and adopted a mediation strategy that is extremely heavy handed. The Sudan has indeed “ stopped at nothing” in its desperation including intimidating, bullying and coercing unyielding parties to the talks and, where parties are stubborn, Khartoum has actively fractured them as a means to coercively and ostensibly extract signatures while adopting an extremely casual approach to addressing the real root causes of the conflict in South Sudan.
But why is the Sudan so desperate to take back a troubled and failed prodigal son?
The Sudan wants unfiltered access to natural resources. But there is another internal reason. The Sudan’s brand of Political Islam does not thrive well in the absence of an opposing force. Thus, the loss of South Sudan and a bulk of the Christian population took steam away from NCP’s brand of political Islam. Once this fire is out of the Islamic ideology, NCP will be fired from power in the Sudan.
In addition, there is an external pressure on Khartoum from the Islamic world. Sudan realized only recently that it was the most favorite child of the Islamic world because it was a strategic bridge to use to export a certain brand of Islam to the rest of Africa and that this strategic geolocation was partly undermined by the independence of South Sudan and partly by the troubles in Darfur.
So, getting South Sudan back is not just about feeding a bruised ego and correcting a historical mishap. It is about the survival of the political system in the Sudan. It is about courting the love and the petro-dollars of the Islamic world again. It is about reopening a strategic gateway to export a particular brand of political Islam to the rest of Africa. It is about everything else except South Sudan.
While the Sudanese Professor at the pan-African Parliament might be right, it is the obligation of all South Sudanese, irrespective of political affiliation and ethnic background, not to make the sacrifice of our heroes and heroines a bad investment.
Dr. Remember Miamingi is the Co-convener of the South Sudan Human Rights Observatory. Dr. Miamingi can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed herein are those of Dr. Miamingi and should not be attributed to any institution he might be affiliated to.