Lagos — Strife-weary Sudan has put behind it 21 years of civil war with John Garang, the leader of the Southern-based Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), being sworn in as the country's vice-president. It was epochal in the sense that Sudan has never had a Southern or Christian vice-president in a quarter century.
In the country's long-drawn civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian-animist south, power sharing was always at the centre of the conflict. The Muslim north had never been willing to share power with the south where most of the country's natural resources come from. The resultant civil war led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese on both sides.
With what has happened, Sudan could be said to have entered another phase in its march as a nation-state. And there is a lesson in it for other nations that are caught up in the type of crisis that ripped Sudan apart for more than two decades. That lesson is that no war is ever resolved through the barrel of the gun but at the round table through compromises by all sides.
Garang who waged a campaign for a more equitable federal system in Sudan has paid his dues. His SPLM stood for greater autonomy for Southern Sudan in the management of its own affairs, especially the natural resources. This did not jell with Khartoum where the central government is head-quartered. The conflict that resulted from that disagreement cost the nation a lot in human and material terms.
It was for this reason that the peace accord last January was widely welcomed by international observers. Major highlights of the deal include conceding greater autonomy to the South by the el-Bashir government in Khartoum, the appointment of Garang, the SPLM leader, as vice-president and a provision for a plebiscite for total independence for Southern Sudan in the years ahead.
By Garang's appointment, the Sudanese government has demonstrated good faith and a willingness to end the long-standing crisis in the country. We commend it and hope that it will remain resolute in abiding also by the other terms of the deal. In the end, the country may come out as a good example of how to hold a federation together.
The urgent task now before el-Bashir and Garang is to impress upon their people the need for mutual trust and co-existence. And this will be easier to do if both of them show good examples of harmonious co-operation in running the affairs of the country. Many are the challenges before them. Despite its enormous natural resources, the country remains poor, with average per capita income of less than $100. Ethnic distrust is still rife and so is the crisis in the Darfur province of Western Sudan.
To be able to tackle these problems, the country needs peace. Garang said as he took the oath of office that he would do all in his power to ensure that peace returned in all the flash-points in the country. He thinks that is one way his presence will be felt in the government. Good enough, the new power-sharing scheme vests him with some real power. With determination and sincere commitment, he, together with the President can transform Sudan and restore peace in Darfur where the Janjaweed militias are still killing innocent civilians, including women and children. In the months ahead, the world expects to see a new Sudan.