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Sudan’s Secession: Another Episode in An Unfinished Business


Southern Sudan is all but set to be enlisted in the group of nations that have seceded from their mother countries, following a weeklong referendum which observers strongly believe will be in favour of secession. With this development, Africa’s largest country, Republic of the Sudan, may as well lose the tag/epithet which it has held for a long time.  The referendum, which has brought southern Sudanese living outside the region and abroad home, is expected to split the country into two. It is part of a peace agreement to end a decade of war in the country.    

Secession in Africa and the world over has a long interesting history. The trend, which started in the Latin America in the early 1820s, has seen the number of countries in the world swell over the years, especially in the last 50 years. During this period, countries have seceded for various reasons from the grave and absurd to the mundane. In 1861, for example, the southern states of the United States moved for secession because they saw it as the only way they could protect what they believed were southern rights which included the rights to own slaves, following President Abraham Lincoln’s opposition to the spread of slavery. The establishment of a confederacy known as the Confederate States of America by the southern states, comprising South Carolina, Georgia, Mississipi, Texas, Florida and Alabama, in 1861 led to the American Civil War of 1861-1865. The confederacy would surrender in 1865.

Perhaps, the earliest known breakaway in the modern world was the secession of Venezuela from Colombia in 1830. Upset with the political union in the Republic of Colombia, Venezuela seceded to form an independent republic.  

In Canada, there was a secession threat from 1960 to 1966 by the Québec Province during a period of major social change known as the Quiet Revolution.

Unarguably, the country/political union that has experienced the most remarkable breakaway is the Soviet Union. Then known as the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), a confederacy of several states, it witnessed a massive breakaway of splinter states/confederate states in the 1990s, following the collapse of communism.

While the battle for secession or independence in the USSR and other parts of America revolved around economic policy, denial of rights, among others, that of Africa has been hinged on nationalism, marginalisation and oppressive leadership/tyranny. However, analysts are of the view that the political instability that has been besetting African countries, was designed at the pre-independence/colonial era and is still being fuelled by their former Western colonisers.

Nigeria has its own experience of secession that saw eastern-based defunct Republic of Biafra embark on an unsuccessful bid for secession which was suppressed after a-30-month civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. There was also an unsuccessful secession bid by the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo led by Moise Tshombe in 1963.

Eritrea is, perhaps, the only African country to have successfully seceded when in 1993 it broke away from Ethiopia, albeit at a great human and material cost following years of conflict.

The  decision of the people of Southern Sudan to be independent of Sudan further underscores the widely held hypothesis that the creation of African countries/states is an impermanent marriage of convenience intended to suit the whims and caprices of their former Western colonisers.

Covering Africa for the New York Times from 1994 to 1998, Howard French observed that the colonisation of Africa by European powers in the 19th Century created political units that divided ethnic groups, in some cases, and combined rival groups in others. As African nations began to gain their independence in the 1950s, these arbitrary borders sometimes became a cause for conflict.

Speaking in the same vein during a chat with Saturday Tribune, a don in the department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Dr. Osisioma Nwolise, described the crisis in Sudan and the imminent secession of Southern Sudan as one of the bad legacies of colonial rule in Africa, particularly the British administration of Lord Frederick Lugard.

“If you look at the footsteps of Lord Lugard, he moved through India, Sudan and to Nigeria. India has been broken up- Bangladesh, Pakistan. Sudan is about to be broken up. Nigeria may be next. These were or are large countries.

“The lesson, of course, is that our leaders should read the handwriting on the wall. When the American intelligence agencies talked about Nigeria breaking up, people dismissed them as doomsday prophets. But they have not read the handwriting on the wall that it is very easy to dismember this country by external forces. Given the injustices in the land, the Niger Delta crisis for example, whether Sudan breaks up or not, our own leaders in Nigeria should be very vigilant; all those predictions may not go for nothing.”he argued.

Also, a lecturer in the Department of History, University of Ibadan, Dr. Paul Ugbuajah, while tracing the political history of the country and its attendant crisis, said that:

“If you trace the history of Sudan right to the period of colonialism, they were colonised by the British who introduced what is known as divide-and-rule method. They deliberately created a division between the people. They created a buffer zone which is a middle zone; they made it difficult for one to cross from a region to another. By so doing, they formed a few religious zones— the Northern Sudanese who are basically Muslims, and Southern Sudanese who are basically Christians. Through this, they gave more power to the Northerners, just as they did in Nigeria where apparently they had a special preference for the North while the Southerners did not have much space.

“By the time Sudan gained independence in 1956, the division had already been created; a division that was further exacerbated by the discovery of oil later. Incidentally, the discovery of oil in the country made the Southerners become more subjugated.”           

Moreover, like many political crisis in the continent, political pundits believe that the crisis in Sudan has foreign hands in it as well as having religious and economic undercurrents.

Speaking in a state-owned Iranian TV station, Press TV, recently, the editor of the Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi, condemned the secession bid of Southern Sudan and accused the West of feathering the crisis in the country, claiming that “the so-called Christian majority in Southern Sudan is a myth. The region is dominated by the African animists.” Versi cited the case of Nigeria during the Civil War (Biafran war) in which he claimed that the Christian missionaries backed Biafra against Nigeria.


Dr. Nwolise, would, however, see it in a different light. He blamed the problem in Sudan, and Africa as a whole, on bad, corrupt and oppressive leadership and singled out the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, as an oppressive ruler. He described the secession bid as a welcome development for the

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Posted by on Jan 14 2011. Filed under Africa & World Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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