South Sudan arrives with bang, whimper
by Salim Mansur
The news surrounding the independence of a new state in Africa, South Sudan, has been undeservingly drowned out in the cascading news from other fronts of political upheavals and terrorism.
This newest member of the African Union and the UN, with a population under 10 million and an immense burden of violence borne by its people for the past half-century, deserves more attention and support from the West.
The struggle for South Sudan's independence from the north ruled by military dictators in Khartoum has been costly and long. It is doubtful independence will bring a cessation of strife and animus of the north given much of Sudan's oil wealth lies in the south.
Sudan was Africa's largest state until its division, following a near-unanimous demand of South Sudanese in a referendum earlier this year to become an independent state.
Sudan had been ruled by Britain following Europe's scramble for possession of the continent towards the late 19th century, and granted independence in 1956.
But the earlier independence of Sudan from Britain, and of other African countries subsequently from European rule, was followed by two decades of bitter civil war between the north and the south that was increasingly racial and religious.
Sudan is not an exception of the wars inside the newly independent African states. Indeed the unsettled history of post-colonial Africa is how the blood and iron unity Europe imposed on the continent — a rarely recognized or admitted fact reflected in the manner Africa's map was drawn — will eventually be unravelled.
This means how the people of an ethnically diverse continent will find a modicum of their history restored either in some manner reflective of their pre-colonial ethnic boundaries, or post-colonial multi-ethnic states — such as Congo — will reconcile the inequities of power in more equitable democratic arrangements.
South Sudan's birth is in real terms independence from a far more insidious colonialism that devastated one half of Africa before the arrival of Europeans.
This is the colonial-imperialism of Arabs in the name of Islam from the early seventh century onwards that brought about, in the words of Wole Soyinka, Nigerian author and Nobel Prize winner, "the cultural and spiritual savaging of the continent."
The rulers in Khartoum viewed Sudan as an Arab and Muslim country, and a member of the Arab League. In their effort to hold Sudan together, they waged their savage war against black southerners of non-Muslim faith.
The word for blacks in Arabic is "abed" derived from "abd" meaning slave, and South Sudanese will testify what this meant for them for so long.
In nearly 14 centuries since the Arab penetration into Africa, the independence of South Sudan is the first instance of a segment of Africans breaking free of Arab overlords.
This small but significant fact has gone unnoticed, yet deep inside the continent, from among the Berbers and the Coptic Christians in the north, to the Ibos and the Darfurians in sub-Sahara, the birth of South Sudan will have a special resonance.
The sordid role of Arabs in black Africa has remained mostly veiled, yet understanding of the various conflicts raging across the continent requires unveiling of this history.