In what has been described as the most pivotal event in Sudan’s history since independence in 1956, the week long referendum will decide whether Southern Sudan secedes from the North. The vote is scheduled for January 9, 2011, as accorded in the 2005 Comprehensive Political Agreement (CPA) that effectively ended a 17-year civil war between the North and South.
Although the terms of the referendum may seem straightforward, there are a number of issues and complications that threaten to derail the fragile peace secured under the CPA. The issues impact on the political realm and the economic sector, with a general feeling of mistrust between the National Congress Party (NCP) leader, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leader Salva Kiir. This report seeks to identify these issues and look at possible scenarios that may play out following the referendum.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement
In understanding the importance of the upcoming referendum, it is vital to consider the context and implementation of the CPA. After months of negotiation between the northern and southern factions amid international pressure, an agreement was eventually reached that has been acclaimed in ending Africa’s longest civil war in 2005.
The terms of the agreement brokered the establishment of a new Government of National Unity that stipulated power sharing between the two sides. It also provided for a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Northern troops from Southern Sudan and the repatriation and resettlement of refugees. The CPA also stipulated that by the end of a six-year interim government-ruled period, elections would be held across all levels. The final stipulation, as agreed in the CPA, was a referendum to be held to determine the independence of Southern Sudan.
One of the major concerns prior to the upcoming referendum revolves around the country’s oil reserves a key resource for a number of stakeholders involved. While 80% of Sudan’s oil is situated in the southern areas and would be located in the South should the country divide, this crude oil is transported and refined in the northern territories.
The relationship that exists between the Sudanese factions around oil indicates one of mutual reliance. In other words, the one needs the other. A peaceful settlement would, therefore, benefit both sides. Although the oil question is of mutual importance to both sides and may be a threat to the fragile peace, it may also be a rally point to foster cooperation between the parties.
Logistics around voter registration remain an obstacle to a free and fair voting process. Final registration lists were originally supposed to be published about three months prior to the vote. However, that deadline has been cut to a month, which has given the people of Southern Sudan little time to register.
Before the referendum, about 3 600 registration centres had been established with United Nations support to register Sudanese in the south, as well as in the north and those in the diaspora.
At the close of registration, nearly four-million Sudanese had registered to vote in the referendum. The majority of voters are in the southern region, with only 60 000 registered in the diaspora and less that 120 000 in the north. Al-Bashir has since guaranteed the rights of Southerners living in the North should the territory vote for independence.
The region of Abyei is considered to be a historical bridge between Northern and Southern Sudan. Under the CPA and the 2004 Protocol on the resolution of the Abyei conflict, the region was accorded “special administrative status”.
The SPLA have spent years trying to negotiate the right for Abyei to hold a referendum to decide its administrative control. However, the Northern government has blocked these attempts, arguing that the 2004 Machakos Protocol had already delineated the border in favour of the North.
The deadlock was finally broken, with the creation of the Abyei Borders Commission (ABC) established with the goal of reaffirming the borders of the region. The final ABC report, however, was firmly rejected by the Northern government. Subsequently the region has been a point of major contention, and, as of December 2010, no border had been demarcated and there is still no agreement between the North and South on what constitutes a resident of Abyei.
There is a fear that international election observers are going to be deployed too thinly. The US-based Carter Centre has deployed 16 international observers. More observers are expected from the African Union, the European Union and other international bodies along with domestic observers. China has also committed to sending observers to oversee the process. The worrying factor is that there will not be enough observers to effectively monitor the process in Africa’s largest country.
Tribal conflict is a factor that is perhaps overlooked is the internal divisions within Southern Sudan. The International Crisis Group states: “South Sudan is crisscrossed by a web of competing ethnicities and clans, whose hostility toward one another manifests itself in tribal clashes and deadly cattle raids. Thousands of South Sudanese have died over the past two years in bloody internal conflicts.”
It is also feared that, with the Southern government focusing on independence, discontent may grow over the lack of service delivery, which is exacerbating the internal conflicts as tribes compete for scarce resources. The authorities should, therefore, not ignore the internal struggles and conflicts as they will be an important dynamic in shaping Southern governance and political culture.
Fears of fraud
In such sensitive circumstances, allegations of fraud, as a result of a lack of transparency in the voting process, remain a huge threat to the derailment of peace in Sudan. It is argued that fraud allegations, along with a rejection of the result by the North, are the single biggest threats to peace and stability in country.
It is therefore imperative to ensure that all measures are employed to ensure a free and fair election, to avoid irregularities that may plunge the country back into conflict.
Post Referendum issues
One of the critical issues centres around the Sudanese crisis is the humanitarian emergency that years of conflict and marginalisation have created, particularly in the Southern regions, as well as in Darfur, in the west. One of the key motives for Southern independence is to create independent governance for the territory and therefore provide services to the people within the region.
Darfur is one of the most critical areas. Plagued by dwindling resources and tribal conflict, this region is in a desperate state and in urgent need of aid and services. With independence, it is hoped that the government-backed Janjaweed attacks will stop and the Darfur suffering alleviated.
The region is, however, not the only place that has suffered as a result of the conflict. The whole of Southern Sudan is highly undeveloped and desperately in need of an improvement in basic infrastructure, a result of years of marginalisation by the north.
Throughout the postwar negotiations that bought about the implementation of the CPA, and the discussions around the Abyei region, Southern negotiators were often outsmarted and manipulated by their more politically astute northern counterparts. This is indicative of the lack of political experience and governance of Southern leaders. In the likely event that the South does secede, attention will be drawn to how the Southern leaders deal with governance issues, such as education, poverty alleviation, policing and housing, besides others.
The South African Government, along with the University of South Africa, has embarked on a training programme designed to train more than 1 000 Southern Sudanese officials. The programme aims to equip these officials with skills in leadership, diplomacy, public service administration, public finance management and legal affairs. Although the programme is noble, the effectiveness of the training is yet to be proven.
On the eve of Sudan’s referendum, the mood is tense and shrouded in uncertainty. Questions remain over whether the parties, specifically al-Bashir’s camp, will accept the result of the vote. There is also uncertainty regarding how negotiations will take place in a postreferendum climate. Obviously, this is dependent on the result of the vote, which will shape the dynamics of North–South relations for years to come.
It is widely expected that the South will vote in favour of seceding from the North and, hence, create a new independent state. The Southern aspiration of achieving their long-sought independence, however, is only the first step on a long road to reconstruction and nation building. Tribal conflicts and resource battles threaten to destabilise the social fabric of the South. Southern leaders will, therefore, have their work cut out in ensuring social stability and promoting nation building.
The nature of their relationship with the North is also yet to be determined, with the biggest factor being the sharing of oil revenues. Although the South is keen to promote an independent nationalist agenda, it is clear that, through years of conflict and a history of dependence, a new Sudanese State will remain economically tied to the north, and vice versa.
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