New start, old baggage
Southern Sudanese celebrate the outcome of the independence referendum
On 7 February, Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir announced his government’s acceptance of the outcome of the referendum on independence in southern Sudan. On 9 July 2011, the country will split into two separate states.
The first thing the two governments will have to do, however, is sort out a number of issues. Oil revenues are one example. Most of the oil fields are in southern Sudan, but the pipeline runs through the north. A conceivable solution might be for the north to charge the south for using the pipeline. The two governments also need to settle matters such as citizenship, currency and sharing national wealth.
Some parts of the future border are still controversial. The situation is most dramatic in Abyei. The referendum on whether this area should join the south or stay with the north was cancelled due to armed clashes between farm communities and nomadic groups over land use rights and struggles concerning voting regulations.
In the northern Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, referenda have yet to be held on the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). During the civil war from 1985 to 2005, both areas were controlled by the armed wing of the southern resistance movement SPLM/A. Due to raging violence, last year’s elections were not held in South Kordofan. In Blue Nile State, people attended “popular consultation” sessions on the basic issues raised in the CPA. Some raised demands for power- and wealth-sharing, minority rights, land rights and security. While al-Bashir’s National Congress Party wants to resolve matters through centrally controlled policies, the SPLM/A calls for partial autonomy.
Related conflicts will mark the future of northern Sudan, moreover. Large parts of the country are still marginalised, and their people are hardly heard in Khartoum. Al-Bashir’s government has managed to hold on to power for a long time by ethnicising and politicising conflicts, splitting opposition groups and using the secret service as an instrument of brutal intimidation. When the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir in March 2009, he used secession talks with southern leaders to divert attention. The SPLM/A promised not to cooperate with the ICC if al-Bashir made sure the referendum went ahead.
In this setting, the chances of Arabs’ recent spirit of revolt taking hold in Sudan are small. Opposition parties are divided. Large segments of the population are moving south from Khartoum, planning to start a new life in the newly independent country. Elections or referenda are pending in parts of North Sudan. The war in Darfur, furthermore, is not over, and many people live in refugee camps. Small-scale youth riots were recently fast suppressed with massive force in Khartoum. The ongoing transition process gives no scope for any alliance between opposition groups and the military or police.
To help make partition as peaceful as possible, the UN should now extend its mandate. Above all, blue helmets must make the border area secure. International creditors, moreover, could help both countries on the road to independence by writing off Sudan’s debts worth $ 36 billion. Donor governments need to focus on marginalised areas. In separate cooperation with the two governments, they should promote investments in agriculture, infrastructure and social services. They should also help to boost educational and income opportunities as well as safeguard land rights. This is what it will take to lay the foundations for two viable states in which civil society will then demand that governments do something to develop their nations and let people participate in decision-making.