Nimeiri bites the dust

It is un-African to be irreverent to the dead. I don’t intend to break this particular ancestral tradition. OK may be I will, just a little bit.

Jaafar Nimeiri, the man directly responsible for the start of the second Sudanese civil war, died last Saturday (May, 30). He was 79.

Nimeiri took over power in Khartoum in 1969 through a military coup. His authoritarian rule lasted until he was himself overthrown in 1985. The late Nimeiri will be remembered as the man who brokered and then broke the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement. After years of pretending to govern as per the 1972 agreement, Mr. Nimeiri (under pressure from Islamist extremists in the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood movement) finally decided, in 1983, to impose Sharia law on all Sudanese, including the non-Muslim South. In addition, he sought to redraw the borders of Southern Sudan and created new administrative structures in the region in an attempt to sap some of the newly acquired power of Southern Sudanese leaders. His actions led to rebellions in the South and the formation of the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) led by the late Col. John Garang de Mabior.

The almost certain secession of Southern Sudan in the upcoming 2011 referendum will be one of Nimeiri’s lasting legacies. His autocratic style of government and lack of spine in the face of extremist Islamism gave the South no option but to rebel against Khartoum, and win, more than two decades later. To put a positive spin on this, may be we should all be grateful that Khartoum’s extremism during his tenure exposed the non-viability of Sudan as one nation-state. The South and the North were never part of a single polity. It is probably a good thing that the South will secede from Northern Sudan and occupy its rightful place as an East African state.

May Jaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiri rest in peace.

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