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Together with Africa

Sudan: Hope for a lasting and just peace

January 4, 2011

See Sudan: Peace processes in the November-December 2010 issue of NewsNotes.

On Sunday, January 9, the people of Southern Sudan will go to the polls to decide whether they will secede from the North, creating a new, independent country -- or not. A critical dimension of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the January 9 referendum has generated unprecedented attention around the world in recent months, after five years of neglect when global concern faded or turned toward the horrific situation in Darfur.

Dire predictions about the inevitability of violence if the South chooses independence have pointed to repeated threats from the North and to Khartoum’s failure to honor essential elements of the CPA or subsequent agreements. Despite a ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, borders remain an issue, as do voting rights in oil-rich Abyei, where a separate vote should take place, as well as wealth-sharing, grazing rights and a host of other issues.

But the people of southern Sudan are determined that this crucial step in their history will take place peacefully. Local communities and public officials in the South have been promoting civic education and conflict resolution skills. Civil society organizations have prepared election monitors and, with religious communities, have launched longer term projects in education, health care and economic development that will contribute to post-referendum progress. The Sudan Council of Churches has accompanied the process and pressed for international attention and involvement.

John Ashworth, Sudan advisor for the Sudan Ecumenical Forum, whose decades of involvement with Sudan give him a unique perspective, recently wrote, “The prospect of peace and prosperity for the people of southern Sudan appears closer in 2011 than ever before.”

But he added, “Sadly the prospects for the people in the north, particularly the transitional areas and Darfur, are less hopeful. There are signs of deterioration even for the general northern population following hardline statements by President Omar Hassan al Bashir threatening to expand Islamic shari’a and stifle ethnic and cultural diversity. The north effectively remains a police state driven by a particular ideological interpretation of Islam.”

The Sudan referendum on January 9 will be a milestone, but hardly the end of the Sudan’s need for attention and accompaniment. In the coming weeks and months, Together with Africa will follow the post-referendum process in southern Sudan, but even as we re-focus on other important African issues, we will continue to track the situation in northern Sudan and Darfur as well.

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