"Do you think I can apply for asylum in a Western country on the grounds that my country, as I always knew it, no longer exists?" I bitterly posed the question to a friend of mine on the eve of 9 July 2011, the day Sudan's southern region formally split to form the independent Republic of South Sudan, turning boundaries into borders, citizens into foreigners.
My sense of loss, however, was not shared by the majority of people I know in the north, where I lived most of my life until about two years ago. "Good riddance" one of my relatives shouted over the phone. He was, like many others, bluffing in reaction to the embarrassing fact that southerners had voted almost unanimously for secession in the referendum that took place seven months earlier.
Many hoped that would be the end of it. The long story of a country at war with itself was finally over. Diplomats coined the phrase "peaceful divorce" to describe what they hoped would lead to the creation of two viable states living in peace with one another.
But, as the following months have shown, nothing could have been further from the truth. What the "peaceful divorce" produced instead is two troubled neighbors at war with themselves, and invariably with each other.
For Sudanese, the troubles began even before the official declaration of South Sudan's independence. In June, the government in Khartoum decided to exacerbate existing political tension in the Sudanese border state of South Kordofan by threatening to forcibly disarm South Sudan-aligned fighters of the indigenous Nuba population. Consequently, an armed conflict erupted, which later spilled over to the other border state of Blue Nile. Thousands of people fled their homes while those who stayed faced dire humanitarian conditions as a result of Khartoum's blockade of aid in rebel-controlled areas.
Shortly after the South declared independence, the Sudanese government stripped southerners of their citizenship and began deporting them en masse from what some of them consider the only home they've ever known.
Meanwhile, months of negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan over a host of post-secession issues, including oil transit fees and the status of the hotly-contested region of Abyei, floundered dangerously towards the end of April, leading to the outbreak of the worst fighting between the two countries around the oil-producing region of Heglig.
The war allowed the government in the north to mobilize people along nationalistic lines, further distracting them from its failures in governing the country. Ordinary Sudanese people have been grappling with worsening economic conditions. Government officials have attributed this exclusively to the loss of nearly 75 percent of the country's oil resources post- secession, omitting to mention rampant corruption, overspending on defense and chronic mismanagement.
For a while, it seemed that Sudanese people were going to lose the very peace and stability that their government had said they must sacrifice the unity of their country to defend.
Recent events are offering a kind of hope - for a different sort of future. Protests resembling those seen in some Arab countries have been spreading across Sudan following the announcement of an austerity package that ended subsidies on fuel and sugar commodities. Clearly, the patience with which Sudanese people have been enduring 22 years of under the rule of Omer Al-Bashir is wearing thin.
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