Sudan’s Ambiguous Anniversary
Sudan’s independence, fifty years ago today, was not a unifying moment in the nation’s history. The achievement of independence meant very different things to different constituencies””for some it was a prelude to an anticipated union with Egypt, to others a resurrection of the “˜first independence’ of the Mahdiyya, to others the birth of a modern secular nation state””and for many southerners, there was nothing to celebrate at all, given that the new country was born with a mutiny already under way and on the basis of a dishonoured promise of a federation. In fact, the parliamentary vote that brought about independence was a tactical manoeuvre by a crisis-ridden governing coalition, which collapsed soon afterwards.
For the last fifty four years, Sudan has maintained that same spirit of incompatible visions, tactical compromises and broken promises. What has unified the Sudanese people is not a permanent constitution or a common national project, but an unending dialogue, a vibrant national discussion about what Sudan should be. The tragedy is that this debate has been too often conducted with intolerance and violence. But the Sudanese have also shown a remarkable capacity for reflection, reinvention and civil debate about their collective identity.
As the country enters the final year of the CPA Interim Period, it may in fact be entering its final year as the nation that we have known. In just 53 weeks’ time, the southerners are due to vote in a referendum which will probably bring an end to Sudan as a unified country. The year 2010 may be the last year of Sudan. At present, it seems as though the ending of Sudan will occur with the same ambiguity and turbulence as its birth. Whatever happens during 2010 and 2011, the dialogue about Sudanese identity will not be resolved, it will merely be reconfigured. Sudanese will remain Sudanese whether they live in one country, two countries or many countries. Let us hope that this debate, inevitably unending, can be conducted with civility.