Sudan Is A Warning To All Of Africa

One evening, some 40 years ago, a progressive north Sudanese was giving a lecture in Khartoum. He was talking about the problems posed by the chronic underdevelopment of south Sudan, and the need to entrench brotherhood and unity among all Sudanese if we were to develop as a nation.

A southern man stood up and brought the audience back to earth. “That is all fine, sir,” he said to the speaker. “But will you allow me to marry your sister?”

The prejudice to which he alluded has remained sadly relevant up to today, when the south of my country is preparing to vote in a referendum on independence. Late last year, my foundation held its annual forum in Mauritius, a beautiful country which has led our Index of African Governance for the past four years. Some 300 African opinion leaders came together to discuss the economic integration of the continent. The debate was not about whether we need integration: African markets, as well as African voices, are too fragmented to compete globally. Rather, the debate was about why we are moving towards closer political and economic co-operation so slowly.

In the evening, as everyone danced joyfully to the music of Youssou N’Dour and Angelique Kidjo, there was a cloud hanging over the Sudanese guests among us. A woman was crying as her colleagues tried to calm her. While other Africans were celebrating their coming together, we knew that in a few weeks our country would start to break apart.

Later that night I joined my Sudanese friends from all corners of the country, the north, the south and Darfur. The meeting was reflective, sad and awkward. Looking at my friends, I wondered how each would have responded to that 40-year-old question.

Sudan has been an experiment that resonated across Africa: if we, the largest country on the continent, reaching from the Sahara to the Congo, bridging religions, cultures and a multitude of ethnicities, were able to construct a prosp