segunda-feira, 31 de janeiro de 2005

Sudan peace deal revives vexed issue of African borders

CAIRO - This year’s landmark Sudan peace agreement promising southerners a referendum on independence has holed a founding principle of post-colonial Africa as the continent’s leaders prepare to meet in Abuja this weekend.

Ever since European colonial powers began withdrawing from Africa in the 1950s, successive governments have always insisted that there should be no redrawing of the continent’s political boundaries, however arbitary the lines imposed by imperial mapmakers.

The founding charter adopted by the Organization of African Union on May 25, 1963 required in Clause 1c that its members “defend their sovereignty, their territorial integrity and independence.”

Secession bids by the Katanga province of southern Congo in the early 1960s and the Biafra region of southeastern Nigeria in the late 1960s both met with staunch opposition from the continent’s leaders.

And Somalia’s claims to Djibouti, the Ogaden region of Ethiopia and Kenya’s northeastern province on the grounds they were ethnically Somali were firmly rejected by other African leaders, even when Somali troops invaded Ethiopia in 1977.

But the January 9 deal signed by the Khartoum government and southern rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army raises the prospect of secession by the mainly Christian and animist south, if southerners vote for it after six years of interim autonomy.

Defenders of the deal argue that Sudan is a special case because colonial power Britain kept the two halves of the country separately administered virtually throughout its rule, and because the conflict there—Africa’s longest-running—has claimed an estimated 1.5 million lives since 1983.

But acceptance of the right of the southern Sudanese to self-determination raises the question of other regions that have long fought to break away, in some cases citing similar ethnic or historical pretexts.

The Somaliland region of Somalia broke away more than a decade ago amid anarchy in the rest of the country following the 1991 overthrow of president Mohammed Siad Barre.Its leaders argue that their administration deserves recognition, not only because it has established a level of security unseen in the rest of the country but also because, unlike the rest of Somalia, it was ruled by Britain, not Italy, before independence.

In Angola, separatist rebels continue a decades-old insurgency in the Cabinda enclave, which is geographically detached from the rest of the country but accounts for the lion’s share of its oil wealth.

And in the Western Sahara, the United Nations has yet to organize a referendum on self-determination promised for the past 15 years in the face of Moroccan claims to the formerly Spanish-ruled territory.

Morocco pulled out of the Organization of African Union in protest at the body’s admission of the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic proclaimed by the Algerian-backed independence organization Polisario.

Endorsement of south Sudan’s right to independence would not be entirely unprecedented as the the pan-African body has made some exceptions to the principle of the inviolability of colonial frontiers in the past decade or so.

Eritrea won independence in 1993 despite Ethiopia’s longstanding claim that the former Italian colony was historically a part of its territory.

And in 1994, newly majority-ruled South Africa ceded the enclave of Walvis Bay to Namibia even though it had been a British not a German colony like the rest of former Southwest Africa.

But secession by southern Sudan’s estimated 10 million people would be a more far-reaching precedent and the first since the continent’s leaders launched a more ambitious regional body, the African Union, in 2001.

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