Sudan declared independence from British colonial rule 55 years ago. As 2011 opens, the country is on the verge of partition driven forward by the Southern capital of Juba.
Juba, with a population of 400,000, was a ghost town today as many spent most of the night celebrating the New Year. Tellingly, the South Sudan government did not observe Independence Day, always marked on 1 January, though the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement it signed in 2005 requires it, and the north, to "work on making unity attractive".
Instead, there are sweeping campaigns for partition, with posters on cars and walls. The ballots of the referendum on independence in South Sudan, slated for 9 January, have two symbols: the first is two hands interlocked in a handshake for unity, and the other is a single hand for partition. Hardly any of the banners in the streets have the handshake symbol on them.
Ramish Kamohar, a Kenyan-Indian hotel owner, said that peace celebrations on 1 January were always more appealing than marking Independence Day. "Government agencies would usually ask us to prepare for peace celebrations," Kamohar said. "Only once or twice did they ask us to host such celebrations for Independence Day."
Mustafa Biong, deputy minister of information in the southern government, said that unity is no longer attractive to anyone in the South. Unity has meant marginalisation, "so we will not vote for it". "The National Congress Party (NCP) has no intention to change their attitude that has prevailed for 20 years," Biong asserted. "Namely, that Sudan is solely an Arab and Muslim state while ignoring the wide range of ethnicities in the country."
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir declared last week that his country will apply Islamic Sharia law as soon as the South secedes. "There will be no talk of plurality," Bashir stated. Many political forces active in the North rejected the president's proposal. The North chapter of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which controls the regions of the Blue Nile and Kordofan, denounced the proposed application of Islamic Sharia. Meanwhile, Sudan's opposition parties said they intend to join hands to topple the government.
"I am asking everyone to vote for partition," declared Makwig Dink, a civil servant. "We will no longer live as second class citizens. The Northerners have everything and they have denied us our rights for a long time. We have nothing to lose more than the two million killed in the war."
Sudan witnessed the longest civil war on the African continent, which began the end of 1955 and ended in January 2005. Some two million were killed during that time, and between 4-6 million displaced inside and outside Sudan. Meanwhile, Sudan was controlled by an elite of Muslim Arabs in the North who monopolised power and wealth.
According to Yasser Omran, member of the SPLM, ironically the highest rates of poverty are in the North where the ruling elites come from.
Haj Hassan Ali, professor of political science at Khartoum University, believes that if the South breaks away it will not be the end of troubles for the North. "We have problems in Western Darfur, a crisis in the East and southern parts in the North," Ali explained. "Meanwhile, the issue of oil-rich Abyei has not been settled between the North and South. At the same time, low living standards are sweeping the country."