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Southern Sudan Referendum on Secession: Pre-Plebiscite Report

- January 6, 2011

We are pleased to continue the return of our “election reports”:https://themonkeycage.org/election_reports/ with a pre-election report from “Cameron Wimpy”:http://people.tamu.edu/~cwimpy/, a doctoral student at Texas A&M University, on the Southern Sudan referendum on secession that will be held this coming Sunday. He is currently in Southern Sudan observing the referendum and conducting research. He is also “blogging about his impressions of Southern Sudan and the referendum process.”:http://people.tamu.edu/~cwimpy/blog

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This Sunday, January 9, millions of Southern Sudanese voters will go to the polls to decide the future of their region. The vote is simple: separation or unity. On one hand, they can become an independent state. On the other, they can continue the status quo and remain linked with Northern Sudan. Beyond the obvious implications of creating the world’s newest country, this referendum could have lasting effects on the landscape of Africa. Moreover, the stakes are high for stability in the region, and governments from China to the USA have an interest in the outcome.

The referendum is the culmination of the “Comprehensive Peace Agreement”:http://unmis.unmissions.org/Default.aspx?tabid=515 (CPA) that was signed in 2005. The CPA brought an end to a 22-year civil war that cost more than 2 million lives. In fact, other than a little more than a decade of peace between 1972-1983, Sudan has been embroiled in civil war since independence from Great Britain and Egypt in 1956. The conflict in Southern Sudan (“not to be confused with Darfur”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3496731.stm) has mainly revolved around a history of repression by the Arab (Muslim) dominated North on the African (Christian and Animist) dominated South, but a history of colonialism and tribal infighting cannot be discounted.

The south will likely choose secession, but any certainty of the future stops there. Following the vote, there will be a 6-month interim period that should see the writing of a constitution, and the formation of a government that will rule until the first elections (rumored to happen in 2012-2015). The ruling government of the currently autonomous south, the “Sudan People’s Liberation Movement”:http://www.splmtoday.com/ (SPLM), is currently embroiled in debates over government systems and divisions of power among the 10 states. To their credit, SPLM committees have finalized a national anthem and a new flag is also in the works. These tasks seem simple compared to the other challenges facing the region.

Southern Sudan is an oil-rich region, “the 3rd highest exporter in sub-Saharan Africa”:http://www.afrol.com/articles/21889, but you would not know that by visiting. Noticeably absent are the lush amenities of most oil-exporting states, and the region is one of the poorest and most under-developed places on Earth. For years the oil revenue has flowed one-way through pipelines to the North. Only after the CPA did the South get any share. Of the confounding variables in post-secession Sudan, this represents the most unpredictable. Without a revenue-sharing deal (which seems unlikely given the history) the north will be forfeiting a large portion of their income. So far the “Northern government has stated that they will respect the results of the referendum,”:http://edition.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/01/01/sudan.vote.bashir/ but with a “President wanted in the ICC for genocide,”:http://www.icccpi.int/Menus/ICC/Situations+and+Cases/Situations/Situation+ICC+0205/Related+Cases/ICC02050109/Court+Records/ it is difficult to take them at their word. Even if they allow the South to fully secede, issues like revenue-sharing, border demarcation, and “other complicated regional problems”:http://allafrica.com/stories/201012061088.html could revert the country back into civil war. It is also unclear what the fate of the North will be, as they too will “have much work to do in forming a coherent, post-secession state.”:http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2011/01/06/dispelling_myths_about_the_sudan_referendum.html There are, however, other players with an interest in stability.

The CPA was negotiated and supported in part by the Bush administration while the Obama administration has followed through on the final implementation. The US has an interest in stability in the region, and has offered the Northern government (labeled a state-sponsor of terror since harboring Osama bin Laden in the mid-nineties) “a range of incentives”:http://www.america.gov/st/peacesec-english/2010/November/20101109103204nehpets0.8532526.html to be a team player. China has also become deeply involved in Sudan, mainly in pursuit of its oil reserves. At first the Chinese were only involved with the power seat in Khartoum, but as of late they have begun to build relations with the oil-rich South. Egypt has long been a player in Sudanese affairs. The former colonial masters are deeply concerned about the water rights of the Nile River, a large portion of which runs through Southern Sudan. Perhaps the farthest reaching effect of an independent South is that it will “redraw colonial borders”:http://www.unpo.org/article/12097. Scholars of other regions may find this puzzling as an issue, but it has long been taboo in Africa to discuss changing the colonial boundaries. Particularly important for Sudan are at least three other regions with groups interested in pursuing self-determination. The referendum could set a precedent that inspires separatist movements all across the continent.

As for the referendum itself, there have been major “concerns that it would not happen on time”:http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2010/08/201081582042603226.html, and that could have led to war. The bulk of the planning and preparations have been in the last few months, and registration ended only three weeks ago. In Juba, the capital of the South, there are increasing droves of foreign journalists and observers, complete with a “Hollywood star and a former president”:http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110106/ap_on_re_af/af_south_sudan_the_vote. The ballots are all in place, and the Referendum Commission has declared 100% readiness. The voting will begin on January 9 and run through January 16. The official results will not be announced until sometime in mid-February.