Just ahead of Sudan’s historic referendum, Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, issued an op-ed, “Sudan Is A Warning to All of Africa“. From Egypt, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Ivory Coast, to Ethiopia, there are serious lessons for Africa’s future which he lays out for all to see.
Giving a somewhat sad but stirring look back at Sudan’s history and political shortcomings, Ibrahim captures the pains and gains made of an ethnically and religiously divided state that fell short of “making unity attractive” and forging a genuine Sudanese national identity.
Sudan has been an experiment that resonated across Africa: if we, the largest country on the continent, reaching from the Sahara to the Congo, bridging religions, cultures and a multitude of ethnicities, were able to construct a prosperous and peaceful state from our diverse citizenry, so too could the rest of Africa.
That we have failed should sound a warning to all Africans.
Ibrahim’s self-assessment of his country is honest and refreshing. He shows how Sudan failed to foster an inclusive national identity and how the NCP did not “make unity attractive” for the South, as agreed to in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. A country rich with culture, intellect, and longstanding traditions is still struggling with deep-rooted divisions, disparity, and oppression.
Lack of investment, underdevelopment and the exclusion of populations on the periphery from the political process has resulted in alienation. It has strengthened local identities.
We have not nurtured that sense of brotherhood and unity. Rather, since independence the way Sudan has been governed has undermined any potential for a common Sudanese purpose.
Ibrahim acknowledges the cultural and socioeconomic cleavages that existed between the North and the South, Christian and Muslim, rich and poor, and confronts the reality that few would so readily admit. Khartoum failed to deliver on the promise of peace with the South – and Darfur – and build a genuine national platform for all. It neglected the need for good governance, protection of basic rights, delivery of essential services, and allowing for strong civil society & opposition voices in Sudan. Simply put, NCP failed to govern.
And now its feeling the heat.
The government in Khartoum feels isolated and under siege, facing criticism from within its own ranks, the population at large and even its Arab neighbours, who are usually tolerant of each others’ misdeeds. It needs to reflect on the outcomes of 21 years of absolute rule – and address its legacy, to which partition will now be added. If you are in a hole, stop digging.
It would behoove Africa and the international community to not learn from Sudan’s history and its mistakes. We must be prepared for the post-referendum reality just around the corner and the growing pains it will surely endure. As the world’s newest country, A New Sudan.