The South Sudan Referendum Commission made the final results of the referendum public in Khartoum on February 7, 2011. It reported that more than 2 million people voted for secession from the North while 1.8 million votes were needed to split Africa`s largest country into two independent states. This referendum was conducted in fulfillment of the requirement of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Kenya in January 9, 2005. The South Sudan referendum was the most vital element of the CPA. The CPA also ended 22 years of civil war, which caused massive destruction and suffering, as well as significant displacement of the different ethnic groups of North and South Sudan. Meanwhile, the two governments of North and South Sudan have begun the process of disengaging national institutions to form two separate and independent countries as well as to look to the challenges and expectations that lie ahead.
General fears are being expressed about what the political situation of the new state will be after it gains independence. Some observers call it a failed state in waiting that will be marred by political instability and ethnic tensions. The central question is now that the referendum is over, what is next on the agenda? What are the key issues that need to be ironed out before July 9, 2011 the timetable set in CPA as official disengagement and birth of newest African state? The main protagonists in the referendum from both the National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan People`s Libration Movement (SPLM) have not agreed yet on several post-referendum issues. Critical components of those negotiations will cover citizenship, foreign debt succession, currency, assets including oil revenues, Nile water sharing, borders and the status of civil servants.
The complex part, according to legal experts, is that the CPA did not clearly spell out the fate of Southerners living in the North in case of separation. According to some estimates there are over 2 million Southerners living in the North. It stands to reason that NCP will predictably argue that Southerners in the North will forfeit their Sudanese citizenship; hence rights of employment, ownership, residency and entry to North Sudan could all be revoked. More so the critical challenge is with regards to the many Southern citizens who are employed by various state institutions, particularly in the military and police force. How the status of Southern citizens will be settled and what are the mechanisms that will be adopted by both the NCP and SPLM to overcome some of these and other associated issues are questions that remain unsolved.
Another important contestation is the sharing of oil revenue. The conflict between the ethnic groups, government and militias was fuelled by the significant oil reserves developed by foreign companies. This exacerbated the conflict because the huge potential profits increased the incentives for control of the land, resulting in all kinds of human rights violations. The South is rich with almost 60% of the oil wells but the pipes run through the North. The South fully depends on the North to sell oil. Experts in this field argues that that for the next five years Southern Sudan will have to rent the Northern oil pipeline, refineries and facilities at Port Sudan to sell its oil. If not handled diplomatically this could trigger a wave of unrest, raids and attacks on the South.
Moreover, there is the Abyei issue, which is considered the key point to a lasting peace between North and South Sudan. Abyei is a fertile region that has oil deposits between North and South Sudan. But Abyei`s future is very much up in the air, and observers worry the region could again erupt in civil war. Fear is pushing the Ngok Dinka, the town`s dominant ethnic group, to consider declaring Abyei part of the South, even though they know that move might provoke the North to try to take Abyei by force.
Sudan`s predominantly Muslim and Arab North and the largely Christian South fought a war that led to the deaths of many people. If Abyei`s status is left unresolved, the area will be caught between two nations, possibly triggering a return to conflict in Sudan. The 2005 peace agreement, which ended the war, promised the people of Abyei their own referendum on whether to be part of the North or South. The Abyei referendum was supposed to be held simultaneously with the main Southern referendum, but the two sides failed to agree on who was eligible to vote. As a result, the Abyei referendum has been postponed indefinitely.
Nevertheless, what are the lessons that Africa could derive from the successful referendum? As a consequence of this, South Sudan will be the second country to obtain independence after the decolonization period and will become the United Nation`s 193rd member. Indeed the necessity for the future sovereign Sudanese states to cooperate and to build and maintain two economically viable states is fundamental in order for political, economic and social development to take place.
On the other hand, many African leaders and policy makers fear that the independence of Southern Sudan could trigger some old claims of secession across the African continent and inside Sudan itself. For example, years before Sudan`s south began casting votes for secession, the woes of Africa`s largest country were defined by the ethnic bloodshed in the western Darfur region. Now, international mediators and rights groups are calling for stronger efforts to settle the eight-year Darfur conflict, fearing that the breakaway of the South may push Khartoum`s leaders to clamp down harder on dissent and place stricter limits on an international role in Darfur and other areas that remain under its direct control. This may result in the Darfur rebels being inspired by the South and perhaps even potentially finding an ally in the new Southern independent state.
Indeed, other international actors’ interests could play a leading role not to allow North and South to return to war. China has invested heavily in Khartoum by supplying them with a military arsenal in the form of long-range attack missiles and other arms. Equally so, the United States is providing aid and other humanitarian assistance to the South. South Africa is another new player, using carefully orchestrated moves to enter the arena, already occupied by China and United States.
Finally, a complex range of issues including international treaties, currency, borders, foreign debt, oil revenue, Nile water sharing, property, citizenship and other economic issues must be addressed before July 2011, when the CPA interim period ends. Nevertheless, the Southern Sudan referendum processes were largely peaceful and gave a good start to the creation of a new nation.
Written by Debaye Tadesse, Senior Researcher, African Conflict Prevention Programme, ISS Addis Ababa Office