Sudan: Will Africa give birth to a new nation in 2011?

This post is part of our special coverage South Sudan Referendum 2011.

Will Africa give birth to a new nation in 2011? Southern Sudan will hold a referendum on whether or not it should remain as a part of Sudan on 9 January 2011 as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Khartoum central government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement. A simultaneous referendum will be held in Abyei on whether to become part of Southern Sudan. This is a roundup of posts discussing Sudan at a historical crossroad.

Wolfram Lacher, a researcher on Sudan and the Horn of Africa, discusses contentious issues related to the referendum and possible solutions:

The negotiations are structured into four areas, each of which is covered by a working group comprising representatives of both parties: Citizenship; Security; Economic, Financial and Natural Resources; as well as International Treaties and Legal Issues. Key negotiating points include an arrangement to divide up oil export revenues; the rights and duties of citizens across the common border (including rights of residence, work, trade and land use); the currency and national debt; water; and security arrangements. In addition, two issues that are not part of the negotiations in this context are nevertheless of major importance for future north-south relations: the delineation of the common border, and the status of Abyei.

He argues that the Abyei referendum might lead to violence. Abyei is an area in Sudan with “special administrative status,”

The preparations for the Abyei referendum have experienced even more delays than the independence referendum, and the criteria for voter eligibility are fiercely contested. As a result, doubts are growing whether the vote will be held on time, and the Abyei dispute is increasingly becoming a negotiating point. In September, the NCP suggested that the Abyei referendum should be cancelled and the area should be turned into a demilitarised zone whose residents would have dual nationality. The SPLM has rejected the proposal, not least because it would represent a departure from one of the key components of the CPA, and therefore could ultimately raise questions about the independence referendum itself. Nevertheless, a negotiated solution would offer an opportunity to defuse the Abyei dispute. The Abyei referendum would be very likely to lead to violence in the region. The conflict not only has a national dimension (related to the oilfields located in Abyei) but is particularly explosive at the local level, where the rights to residency and land use of two groups are at stake – the Ngok Dinka (a key constituency for the SPLM) and the Misseriya (a Baggara tribe).

Luke A. Patey, a Project Researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, writes about oil and the referendum:

Three months and one week remain until the people of Southern Sudan have the opportunity to vote for independence. Apprehension is growing that an oil war is in the making. But such fears should be tempered. War between northern and southern armies over the country’s oil-rich border region is unlikely. Instead, a messy mix of intraparty struggles in the South and local armed resistance in oil-bearing regions pose serious threats.

Oil had previously fuelled an over two-decade civil war between the North and South, leaving two million dead until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005. Since peace was established, the North’s ruling National Congress Party and its southern counterpart, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement have no interest in disrupting their yearly windfalls of oil revenue by returning to war. Even with southern separation almost assured, when it comes to oil, the North and South will be attached to one another for years to come.

He notes that oil might be a divisive factor in an independent Southern Sudan:

Oil may prove to be a highly divisive factor in power struggles in an independent Southern Sudan. The forces of high-ranking SPLM members, Unity State Governor Taban Deng and General Paulino Matip, clashed last October in Bentiu. Matip has close ties with a US oil outfit, Jarch Capital, which according to its Chairman Phil Heilberg is hoping to capitalize on ‘sovereignty changes’ in Sudan. Jarch’s claim to oil concessions stand in opposition to those of other companies signed up with the southern government. The former rebels may face their own rebellion soon enough in an independent Southern Sudan.

A Niger Delta scenario of entrenched conflict between local armed groups and government security forces is brewing in Sudan’s oil regions. Four Chinese oil workers were killed in 2008 during a botched rescue attempt by Sudanese authorities after the workers were kidnapped near the oil town of Heglig. Local populations have seen little benefit come out of oil.

“There is no question that the results of the referendum will be disputed,” says Reverend Sam Kobia:

There is no question that the results of the referendum will be disputed. The North will not accept the South as separate, the South will not accept any result that does not give them separation, and therefore there will be dispute. Currently, there are no clear mechanisms on how to resolve that dispute. This is one message we are putting to the Troika, who are the guarantors of the CPA; we are putting it to all other international actors.

The other area is security. Without security, people will find it very difficult to participate meaningfully in the referendum. At the moment, the troops of the North and the troops of the South are only 5 kilometers [3 miles] apart. That border needs to be secured; there needs to be a buffer zone so that we don’t have these soldiers facing each other. The information we are getting from the ground is that there is a mobilization of the troops — the people themselves are telling us that, as churches.

He describes hot spot areas in Southern Sudan:

Finally, we are seeing hot spots, where violence could flare up after, or even as we move to, the referendum. In the transitional areas, Abyei [is] supposed to have a referendum, but no referendum commission has been formed. With less than 100 days left, it’s going to be very difficult for that to happen. Secondly, the Southern Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile — these states are going to have popular consultations, which are supposed to be done by the elected members of the legislative assembly. But in Blue Nile, a majority of those elected belong to the government of Al-Bashir NCP [the ruling party in Khartoum]; they cannot represent the aspirations of the people.

Ola Diab observes that the referendum will shake the Afro-Arab's stability:

This referendum is shaking the Afro-Arab’s stability. If the south decides to secede then both regions will reach economic stagnation. Much of Sudan’s six billion oil barrels lie in the south but the distribution network is in the north, which makes the two parts of the country economically interdependent. The referendum is highly emotional for both northerners and southerners that could drag them into war again because of the lack of clarity on the status of citizenship, wealth sharing, borders and the oil areas. The severance of the south from the rest of Sudan could be the grounds for other regions in Sudan to ask for separation too. Regions like the Upper Nile, Abeyi, Southern Kordofan, and Darfur and the rest of the western region, like the South, have been criticizing the Sudanese government for decades for being negligent of them and discriminatory.

Ensent wonders whether Ethiopians are ready to accept a new neighbour:

The referendum that is to take place early next year in Southern Sudan is sure to give birth to Africa's newest nation, though there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome before this becomes a reality. But are Ethiopians ready to welcome a new nation-state to their west and all that it entails, both good and bad?

Finally, Andrew Heavens discusses the search for a new name in a post titled “Juwama vs. the Nile Republic – South Sudan searches for a new name”:

What’s in a name? An entire cultural and national identity if you are from Sudan’s oil-producing south.

The region of southern Sudan is now less than seven months away from a referendum on whether it should split away to form Africa’s newest country.

One of the biggest unanswered questions hanging over the vote is what the new nation should call itself if, as widely expected, embittered southerners choose to secede.

The easiest option would be to stick to what people call it now — South Sudan or Southern Sudan.

But there are some serious branding issues. Say “Sudan” to most outsiders and they will immediately think of a list of nasties — Darfur, the never-ending north-south civil war, military coups, militancy and crippling debt.

A new nation might be grateful for a new name with a clean slate.

This post is part of our special coverage South Sudan Referendum 2011.

1 comment

  • Taban

    pulling out from Qatar peace talks will not help khartoum to
    extend their selfish interest against south to separate instead it will
    add more fire into khartoum cancer which is defeating most their best Doctors like Nafie Ali Nafie who is among those who are to pay a heavy price for a crime against innocent people of Darfur .

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.