The Colonial Push to Separate Southern Sudan

South Sudan today becomes the word’s newest nation state and another division of Muslim land. This article gives some historical background to this separation of Sudan.

In September 2010, at a Sudan meeting on the sidelines of the meeting of the UN General Assembly President Obama said gave an ultimatum to the people of Sudan. “What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether a people who have endured too much war move forward towards peace or slip backwards into bloodshed.” He spoke in reference to the planned referendum for the independence of southern Sudan scheduled for 9th January 2011.

Washington would normalize relations should the Jan. 9 referendum be carried off calmly. He made the promise that if the government of Omar Bashir fulfills its obligations in settling the conflicts, then the United States will support agricultural development, expand trade and investment, exchange ambassadors and eventually lift sanctions. Failure to do so, would lead to a hardening of attitudes.

The drive for the division of the Sudan is not new – though it has accelerated dramatically in recent times. What is called the problem of ‘south Sudan’ started after the British occupation in late 19th Century. The British High commissioner in Cairo, Lord Cromer, presented plans in 1883. The British encouraged the Masaleet tribe in 1916, to self-determination. A similar declaration was made by US President Woodrow Wilson in 1918 and again by James Robertson the administrative secretary of the British Government in Sudan in 1946. It is the same as the so-called manifesto of the SPLA rebel movement in 1983. Presently, America is spearheading the effort to enforce this long-planned division, with the support of the current regime under President Omar Al-Bashir.

When Bashir became President, the government abandoned its previous uncompromising refusal to grant self-determination to the people of the south, after the IGAD declaration in 1994. After this, the main steps towards division over 15 years can be summarised as follows:

– 1995 – Acceptance by the so-called opposition forces in the Asmara conference ‘’of the fate determining issues” of the right to self-determination (i.e. separation) of south Sudan.

– 1997 – The Khartoum peace agreement signed between the current Government and some rebel factions, which stated the right of self-determination.

– 1997 – The Government signed the declaration of the principles of the IGAD stating the right of separation for the south.

– 2005 – Codification of the interim Sudanese constitution for the right of the separation of the south.

– 2005 and 2007 – The Government signed the Mishacos protocol and later the Nifasha agreement which stated the right for separation of the south.

– 2009 – The Juba declaration signed by the SPLA and opposition, which secured the right of self-determination.

– 2010 – Elections scheduled for January 2011 in order to provide democratic ‘legitimacy’ needed for the separation of the south.

Is separation a solution to the conflict?

Some have argued separation of the south is the only solution. Scott Gration, Obama’s special envoy to Sudan said on 26/4/2010: ‘’We know that the elections are fake and faced many difficulties, but we will acknowledge it in order to reach the independence of the south of Sudan and avoid going back to war”.

President Bashir argued as long ago as the 1990’s, on Al-Jazeera TV, that he preferred peace with the separation of the south over unity with war; and that separation would achieve stability.

But the idea of separation as a solution to the problem is simply running away from the real solution to the problems of neglect towards the people of the south. By following colonial powers successive leaders from north and south have neglected the people of the Sudan. Just as the government neglected the people, the rebel movements neglected the people they were supposedly fighting for. None of the people – north or south had their rights and affairs looked after by Islam and its justice.

Far from being a solution separation adds to complexity of problems.

Moreover a dangerous nationalism and tribalism has emerged in the north, calling for a separate south – even saying that the people of the south do not ‘resemble us’ and other similar base and ignorant remarks.

The Real Dangers of Separation

The idea of separation has always been brought by colonialists under the guise of ‘independence’ for an occupied power.

But separation will not stop the warring. It may precipitate endless wars over territory, between tribes and over the strategic Nile basin.

Land Disputes:

Some have described this area as set to become the Kashmir of Africa, as division provokes irresolvable territorial disputes. To illustrate this, it is worth looking at one or two problems that are well known.

The shepherd herding tribes in west Sudan own half of Sudan’s cattle (estimated 15 million according to 1994/95 statistics). The natural grazing and watering areas for them is the middle of the south: the area of Bahr al Gazal, Bahr al Lol and Bahr al Arab. Separation would mean that these tribes would be restricted to the borders of Bahr Al Arab only, which would last them for about only one month. Hence, the potential conflict provoked would be one of survival for these tribes.

Another dilemma is in the Abyei region inhabited by the Denka tribe (who want it to be part of the south). Their claim is disputed by the Maseeriyah tribe who believe that the Denka are living in their area and have refused to accept the outcome of the Nifasha treaty. These kinds of disputes can be avoided when the tribes live under a common authority, but are incendiary when separation occurs.

Strategic Dangers:

What is taking place in Sudan, whether in Darfur region or the south, cannot be isolated from wider politics of the Middle East. In particular the United States would seek to dominate the south and north of Sudan – leading to enormous regional influence affecting both Sudan and Egypt due to influence over the Nile basin.

Moreover, Israel has sought its own strategic influence in the region. There is a historical relationship between the rebel movement SPLA in the south and the state of Israel as party of a wider alliance of countries encircling the Arab world. Israel has interfered in the south of Sudan and established close ties with the rebel movement whether by providing training or by sending experts or reinforcing with heavy machinery. During the time of Former Ethiopian President Mengistu in most of the treaties that were signed between Ethiopia and Israel, Ethiopia had to give a fraction of the arms sent to it by Israel to the SPLA in the south of Sudan. Furthermore Israel used to provide satellite picture to the rebel movement. John Garang (then the leader of SPLA) signed a treaty with Israel that includes the reinforcement of his army with many Israeli military experts. In 1990 more than 15 Israeli experts arrived in the south.

The south of Sudan is an oil rich area. China has interests in this region, and whoever controls this area, controls resources vital to manufacturing economies across the world.

Influence in the south of Sudan means influence over the Nile basin

Influence in the south means influence over the Nile basin and so directly threaten Egypt’s and Sudan’s security

It has been reported that the United States and Israel and have pressured Egypt to accept one of the following two options: Either to accept providing Israel with what is sufficient for it from the Nile water or to build huge dams in Ethiopia [which has a special relationship with Israel] in order to reduce the water falling into Sudan and Egypt to its lowest level.

In the past, Israel had asked Egypt to change the route of the Nile from the Mediterranean Sea to the desert of Al-Naqab (in Israel). Egypt’s foreign ministry revealed in October 2009 that Israel accepted to fund five dams to store water in Tanzania and Rwanda, Tanzania had four dams and one in Rwanda. The agreement by Israel came after the visits by its ‘foreign minister’ Lieberman to three of the Nile Basin countries in September 2009.

The establishment of a new state in the south of Sudan would be an ideal time to review the allotment of Nile water – since there would be a new country and its share would have to be defined.

On 31/5/2010 news agencies that the Egyptian water expert, Ahmed Mughawri said that Washington and Tel Aviv want to drag Egypt and Sudan into an eternal war over the Nile water.

The implementation of the Nifasha Treaty has shown without doubt the laxity of security in the south for tribal minorities. There have been individual and collective tribal massacres. The Al Sahafa newspaper [issue 6035 on 30/4/2010] that minorities such as the Moorly, Anwak, Dedenga and Barya in the south and west are endangered, because they are attacked by the biggest tribe of the south, the Deenka, who do so either to control the lands of the minority or as revenge for theft of their herds.

The Deenka are also poor as they have small representation in the government of the region.

Setting the precedent for self-determination

After the south of Sudan, the events in Darfur are the next on the table. Voices of rebel leaders rose there asking for right of self-determination and a settlement upon the lines of the Nifasha settlement.

A meeting held by SPLA in Al Kurmuk city in February 2010 has recommended the self-autonomy or co-federal rule to the Blue Nile province.

According to Akhir Lahza newspaper, sources revealed that a meeting took place between SPLA, Darfur military movements, and officials of French, Israel, American, and Uganda in early January 2010.

The fall of Sudan – through the separation of south first – and then a cycle of division would be devastating for this Ummah.

The Hukum Shar’i on separation:

Islam views separation as forbidden.

Dividing Muslim countries is one of the gravest crimes, to have more than one authority is forbidden, as there must be one ruler for Muslim countries (however large the area).

On authority of Abi Sa’eed Al Khudri said, that the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “If pledge of allegiance is given to two Khalifahs, then kill the latter”.

On authority of Arfaja he said: I heard the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم say: “Whoever come to you while you are united by one man (ruler) and he wants to divide you, then kill him”

Sudan was unified successfully for centuries under Islam

Sudan is an Islamic land, and was under Islamic authority for long years prior to and after the British colonialism. The land of the south Sudan including its three provinces was opened by Muslims and was under the Sultan of Islam in the time of Uthmani Khilafah and after that under the Mahdiya. Many Historians have documented the historical order of the south of Sudan under the Sultan of the Muslims. Dr.Muhammad Sa’eed Al Qadal in his book ‘The History of modern Sudan’ includes a map showing the borders of Sudan during the Egyptian state. That map shows parts of Uganda were considered part of Sudan – up to Lake Albert.

Dr Yusuf Fadl Hasn mentioned in his book: “Studies in History of Sudan and Africa and Arab countries” [Volume 2 1989 the first print on p.81 and 82] “The southern part of Sudan faced dangerous threats from some European states. The state had weak control over that region from Congo, and Belgium was heading towards directorates of Bahr al Ghazal and A’ali Al Neel. In 1884 they fought with the leader Arabi Dafa’Allah and as a result of a French Belgium treaty. A French campaign started by the leadership of Captain Marshand and it was heading to Bahr Al Ghazal and A’ali Al Neel, while the British controlled Uganda and were watchful over the Mahdiya state from the south.”


Separation of the south would be haram, and a political disaster. It would be a recipe for endless conflict and subjugation.

No referendum could legitimise such an action – not even under what is called the right of self-determination, because it is giving what you don’t own to someone who does not deserve it.

Rather Muslims must work to unify the whole Ummah under the Islamic Khilafah and so end the era of colonialism, instability, internal conflict and subjugation.