Challenges of self-determination: The Case of South Sudan

By Michelle Glasser

As the international community celebrates the birth of the newest country in Africa, many questions remain unanswered. On July 9th, the day South Sudan celebrated Independence, there were mixed feelings among the population in Khartoum, North Sudan: one of sadness to lose a third of their country, another of happiness when supporters of the Just Peace Forum (JPF) went out on the streets to celebrate getting rid of the ‘African element’ in North Sudan and preserving the ‘purity of their race’.

All hopes for unity disappeared when John Garang, first vice-president of Sudan and former SPLA leader, mysteriously died in a helicopter crash. Self-determination became the only way for the South Sudanese to achieve democracy and the only way equal rights for all the different races and religions could be provided.

Now that separation has become a reality for this long contested area in Sudan, it remains to be seen what will be the fate of the oil rich states of South Kordofan, Darfur, and Blue Nile, where many ethnicities other than the North’s ‘pure ruling race’ are rooted. Both Sudan and South Sudan are staking their claims to these regions. As the world watches massacres in Darfur, ethnically based executions, aerial bombings, and mass displacement in the Nuba Mountains and South Kordofan, memories of decades of war with the South return. Since the door to self-determination was opened for the South, these other regions may return to war until they are granted the same opportunity. There is also the possibility of the Arab spring reaching Sudan; if it does, will it keep the ethnic groups in the North united under one cause?

As peace talks in Doha and Addis Ababa continue to decide the fate of some of these contested regions, will the international community support splitting countries into smaller, ethnically similar territories for the respect of human rights and diversity? Or will they advocate building understanding and acceptance between ethnic groups and religious beliefs under a working democratic system?

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