The separation of the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan raises more questions than answers about the viability and sustainability of the One Africa project.
It is significant that Sudan was the pioneer post-colonial African state whose independence from British/Egyptian rule in January 1956 heralded the beginning of what could have been the beginning of a march towards a borderless, inclusive and sovereign Africa.
Regrettably, after 55 years of independence, the international community joined Africans in celebrating the separation of Sudan, the raising of Africa’s 54th flag and the inclusion of South Sudan as the world’s 193rd country.
What does this all mean for the future of Africa?
Is there a cause to celebrate? What lessons do we draw from the 55 years of Sudan’s post-colonial experience? What, if any, could have been done differently to preserve the union?
What are the implications of the celebrated divorce on race relations and economic/resource nationalism in Africa?
As the flag of the new state was raised on July 9 2011, legitimate questions were being raised about its challenges and promise.
To many who have challenged the wisdom of poor people seeking to assert their dominion over resources deposited by God in their area of birth and residency, the case of South Sudan with the support it has enjoyed from the international community will no doubt open a new chapter for people locked in nation states at a disadvantage to look to bringing about their own independence and sovereignty.
It must have been clear in January 2011 to the voters that in approving the resolution to separate the region from the North, a new era of uncertainty would dawn and any viability questions were not as important as the desire for freedom and sovereignty.
Even as the first president of South Sudan read his acceptance speech, he knew that the future carried with it expectations that had no guarantees of fulfilment.
The state of mind of the inhabitants of the new nation when the flag was being raised for the first time was no different from the kind of experience that the majority of the African inhabitants felt at independence.
Although the past was pregnant with painful experiences, the future carries with it real responsibilities that often remain hidden in the excitement of the promise.
Whereas before, the Southern Sudanese could blame their predominantly Muslim Northern brothers and sisters for their condition, now they are compelled to take ownership of their future.
The past, rich with feelings of pain and suffering, will not cure the poverty that was evident as the world’s attention was focused on this new baby.
The case for a united African front to address the challenges of the future remains as we celebrate its partial disintegration.
The point made by the Southern Sudanese is no different from the point that informs land reform, indigenisation/black economic empowerment, and more significantly that it must have been God’s intention that the beneficiaries of the resources that lie in Africa’s belly must be the inhabitants of the people where the resources are deposited.
As representatives of the international community took turns to congratulate the people of Sudan for a job well done, the people who feel that they have failed to harvest the fruits of their existence and the consequence of the seed deposited by God must have drawn inspiration that if people of South Sudan can be rewarded with sovereignty why, for instance, can the people of the oil-rich Delta State in Nigeria, not be accorded the same rights and privileges?
If the birth of South Sudan was a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible, then what are we to say to the people of Zimbabwe, for instance, on the question of land reform and the attendant challenges that have gone with it?
If one were to do a cost-benefit analysis of the project to create South Sudan as a sovereign state, it would be obvious that such an enterprise would not qualify as a bankable project and yet what informs the creation of nation states may ultimately have nothing to do with the kind of rationality that is often associated with decisions involved in enterprise creation.
The people of South Sudan simply wanted to be free yet could not put a price tag on liberty.
What then does freedom mean when the very people who must benefit from the freedom are freed from the means they need to have free access to?
In writing the book Long March to Freedom, even Nelson Mandela must have been acutely aware that freedom is expensive for it requires the means to enjoy it. Do the people of the new nation have the means to enjoy the freedom?
The divorce of Sudan was as inevitable as the challenges that lie ahead for any investor in resource-endowed states or communities.
Although God was generous in giving resources without expecting a return, mankind has not found a mechanism to allow the same generosity of spirit.
If North Sudan was a threat to the sovereignty and prosperity of the South then who will be safe when the country looks to others to make good on the promise? This is the challenge that we face in Africa.
The people of South Sudan cannot deliver the promise without the intervention of others and yet the project to create this new nation was informed by a desire to connect the black people of Sudan to the resources that God deposited.
The place of Sudan in shaping and defining the character of Africa is secure and will no doubt challenge the proponents of a unified continent.
How can one celebrate the fragmentation of Africa and remain committed to the idea of a united continent?
The founders of the United States of America, for example, understood that the idea called America would only be strong as long they remained united and yet the idea called Africa produces its own absurdities, some of which are deemed worthy of celebration.
If the image of South Sudan is as black as me, then what kind of face should Africa have?
Would US President Barack Obama, for example, celebrate the secession of California or would he behave otherwise?
The role of former South African President Thabo Mbeki in making the divorce less painful will be part of the narrative and yet he would be misunderstood if he were to perform the same role for the Western Cape Province, if hypothetically the white drivers and builders of the economic change were to pursue the same strategy as the people of South Sudan.
The fact that the people of Western Cape have chosen to vote for the District A dministrator must suggest that the majority of the voters feel they would better off under a different regime; it would become a toxic subject if they were to harbour any illusions of secession.
South Africa has been described as a “rainbow nation” but this masks the separate and unequal existence that remains between the racial groups that make up the so-called rainbow.
Should we give up on the idea of an inclusive and progressive Africa? What kind of Africa do we want to see? Should it be black like South Sudan?
If Sudan has failed to create a unitary state, what then are the prospects for Africa?
These are questions for which I have no monopoly of answers, but do hope that we can begin to begin new conversations on what kind of Africa we want to see.