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Self-determination: self and sovereignty

Below are some quotes on self-determination from a speech by Mahmood Mamdani, professor and director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) on the independence of South Sudan. The full speech can be found here.


“Let me ask one question to begin with: who is the self in what we know as selfdetermination? In 1956, when Sudan became independent, that self was the people of Sudan. Today, in 2011, when South Sudan will become independent, that self is the people of South Sudan.


“That self, in both cases, is a political self. It is a historical self, not a metaphysical self as nationalists are prone to think. When nationalists write a history, they give the past a present. In doing so, they tend to make the present eternal. As the present changes, so does the past. This is why we are always rewriting the past.

“We need to rethink the relation between sovereignty and self-determination. Sovereignty is the relation of the state to other states, to external powers, whereas self-determination is an internal relation of the state to the people. In a democratic context, self-determination should be seen as the prerequisite to sovereignty.”

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