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March/April 2011
Vol. 36, No. 2


Sudan: Post-referendum steps

When the results of the recent referendum in South Sudan were officially made public (98.83 percent voted for secession), John Ashworth, a well known and highly respected Sudan analyst, in explaining the somewhat muted reception of the news, wrote, "Perhaps yesterday's official announcement of the results was a bit of an anti-climax, as it has been clear for weeks that the result was overwhelmingly for secession. Perhaps also people have already digested the joyful reality of secession and are now beginning to come to terms with some of the immediate challenges of nation-building, including the constitutional review, making the government more inclusive, good governance in general, and the outstanding issues remaining to be negotiated with the north (Abyei, oil, borders, citizenship, national debt, etc). Practical problems such as the influx of returnees, the dire position of southerners in the north, and the fighting that broke out in Upper Nile when [Sudanese Armed Forces] units were ordered to relocate to the north might also be on people's minds."

By all accounts, the referendum was successful – an important event about which all South Sudanese should be proud. Independence is scheduled for July 9, 2011, but much work needs to be done between now and then.

In its Feb. 8 issue, IRIN News identifies several crucial challenges that must be addressed by the North and the South in the coming months:

  • Abyei - The contested border region was due to hold a separate referendum at the same time as the south, when its residents would decide whether to become part of the north or south. But progress on that vote remains in deadlock, with the largely northern-supported Misseriya community – who travel through the region annually to graze their cattle – demanding a right to vote. The largely southern-supported Dinka Ngok people reject that demand, and southerners say only permanent residents should be allowed to vote. The area's future is expected to be wrapped into the huge negotiations ahead, with the south demanding it be ceded directly to join the new nation.
  • Oil and water - A new deal must be agreed to renegotiate the current equal sharing of oil pumped in the south. The economies on both sides depend hugely on oil – forming 98 percent of the southern government budget. Oil reserves lie mainly in the south but all pipelines run north. For once, observers hope oil can provide a factor for peace, as for either to benefit, the future two states will be forced to cooperate post-secession. In addition, negotiations will have to be agreed on the future sharing of Nile river water, an issue that neighboring Egypt will be watching keenly, reluctant to see its share of the river cut.
  • Debt - Sudan's crippling debt, estimated at US$38 billion, remains a major concern. It is an emotional issue: the southerners say Khartoum spent the cash on arms during the 1983-2005 civil war. The north wants to obtain international debt cancellation to allow fresh loans, but that would still take many years. Persuading the south to take on some of the debt will be hard, but the north hopes that the south could then expect to have it written off more easily.
  • Borders - Sudan's giant north-south border remains un-demarcated, with progress slow on fixing the boundaries. Negotiations are based on colonial era maps as the border stood at Sudan's independence in 1956, but with the frontier crossing oil and mineral rich areas, the issue is contentious.
  • Returnees - More than 180,000 southerners have returned from the north in the past three months, adding pressure to communities already struggling to cope. Major humanitarian and development problems remain. According to Refugees International, 22,000 southerners are stranded in and around Khartoum still waiting for transportation to the south.
  • Conflict -The south proved the critics warning of war wrong: the voting period was peaceful. Acceptance of the result by the north's dominant National Congress Party has allayed fears of north-south conflict. However, tensions remain in the volatile south. Clashes in early February between armed factions in the south's oil rich Upper Nile state left over 50 dead, and showed the potential for violence. Southern Sudan has been accused of hosting Darfuri rebel leaders fighting Khartoum, while the north is accused of backing militias battling the southern army. Both deny the charges.
  • Economy - Sudan's economy is struggling, with high demands for foreign currency, rising inflation and a recent slide in the value of the Sudanese pound. Price hikes on basic goods are hitting the poorest the hardest, while Khartoum remains concerned about political unrest, following popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. The two sides must also fix their currency, and decide whether a replacement for the Sudanese pound will be introduced. Rumors in early February that the north plans to scrap the pound saw its value plummet.
  • Corruption - Southern Sudan will rely on international donors to rebuild a land left in ruins by years of war. But it will have to strengthen its efforts to curb corruption to avoid losing wider support.
  • Darfur - The war-torn western region remains a major concern with conflict continuing. Khartoum has pulled out of peace talks and returned to fighting against the only rebels they signed an agreement with, the Sudan Liberation Army faction of Minni Minnawi. Some fear that the south's preparations to break away will embolden rebels to increase their demands from Khartoum.
  • Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State - Key battlegrounds in the civil war, these transitional areas are in the north, but have strong support for the south's ruling Sudanese People's Liberation Movement. Ongoing "popular consultations" set up as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement are intended to allow the people to shape their future. However, unlike the south and Abyei, they do not have a referendum that could allow them to join an independent south. Many of those there who fought with the south during the civil war could be bitterly disappointed if they feel abandoned in the north.

Faith in action:

Read a new report from IKV Pax Christi (Netherlands) on Sudan, The Nuba Mountains: Central to Sudan's stability.

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