Analysis - Southern Sudan referendum and its implications: Managing the cesarean birth of a new state


"A deal that compromises on the territorial integrity of the South, gives the North unfettered and beneficial access to half or more of the oil proceeds for a decade or more, burdens the South with so much debt, and forfeits its share of the national assets of Sudan will be a serious mistake," writes New Sudan Vision contributor, Parek Maduot.

(Washington DC NSV) - The much anticipated election in Sudan finally confirmed what many prognosticators projected as an almost guaranteed perpetuation of the rule of the NCP in the center, ensured at it is by what international observers charitably called actions and practices that were below international standards for fair and free polls. The SPLM significantly consolidated its almost total control of the South, all amidst grumbling by Southern parties about cases of intimidation and voter coercion in some of the ten states. While it is fair to deduce that the SPLM candidate for the President of GOSS and many down ballot candidates convincingly won against their rivals, the claims of the other parties about some of the polls cannot be dismissed out of hand and deserve censure and redress by the SPLM as anathema to the very ideals of democratization and non-marginalization that it waged the struggle for.

Now that the election fever has abated, and the focus is now turning to the formation of the new governments in both the center and the South, it is worth soberly previewing the immense challenges that will face the two CPA partners and the collective Sudanese polity in the remaining months of the transitional period.

The environment as it stands now is severely poisoned in the center after the boycott of the elections by the SPLM and most of the credible Northern opposition. The NCP, as is its reflex, will attempt to exploit the feeling of despair and dejection among the opposition for its usual short term tactical gains, most likely in the form of inducements to get members of these parties to do its bidding in splitting their own groups. The favors are many, usually in the form of government positions and other types of patronage.

On a more strategic sense, it will activate its pan-Arab and pan-Islamic propaganda and coercion campaigns against the sectarian parties and other groupings under the pretext of protecting the interests of the North in the face of Southern self-determination and possible separation. These are all tried tactics very familiar to anyone who has followed the actions of this regime since it galloped into power in the dead of night on June 30th, 1989. In fact, if there is anything that can be added to that, it is that they have only perfected that perfidy and figured out how to survive in the midst of the roiling storms it creates by its own exclusionist and deceptive policies.

However, what concerns us more in this whole scheme is what the SPLM and the Government of Southern Sudan face (GOSS) in these seminal waning days of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The Movement has deservedly worn the badge of having waged a serious revolutionary struggle against successive central regimes, and achieved what no honest arbiter can discount or belittle. It advanced a political vision for a Sudan that can absorb all its diversity without conflict, a vision at once so simple and yet so intractably opposed by the forces of religious bigotry and exploitation. At the core of this achievement is the self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan, the biggest part of its constituency. This self-determination, to be exercised in an international plebiscite [in Jan. 2011], recognizes the perennial failure of the successive governments to incorporate the wishes of the South in the promulgation of what was supposed to be a united Sudan, and so those disenfranchised citizens now get to have their say for once.

The potential separation of the South must be seen within that context, and respected by those who believe in the vision of New Sudan, because it is clear now that the historic context and array of forces in Sudan at the present prevent the emergences of the new united Sudan on a new basis that we all aspire for. We can thank the duplicitous NCP for toiling successfully over the last 5 years to convince an overwhelming majority of the South that a unity with their likes around is undesirable and unworkable. While it may be theoretically true that the NCP is not the whole North, it is also conclusively true that the combined historical record of the other major Northern parties and the apathetic conduct of most of the North while their compatriots from the South and the rest of the country suffered marginalization and state terror suggest that they cannot be credible partners for immediate change.

Although the shape of the united democratic secular Sudan that we yearned for and was articulated by the vision and program of the SPLM is well known, it is critical that we also explore the character of this aspired-for new state in Southern Sudan, and how it can even feebly limp along given the challenges facing its birth. On that front, it is the height of folly to assume that the exercise of the referendum vote around January 2011 is the paramount objective, because it could set the stage for the emergence of a separate Southern Sudan that would be the subject of our collective buyer’s remorse. To forestall that, the SPLM will have to lead and be on top form across three parallel tracks; internally within Southern Sudan; along the procedural implementation track with the NCP; and finally as it interfaces with an international community that has divergent interests, both noble and selfish, and that is susceptible to skepticism about the wisdom of a new state in the region.

The internal front has gained greater urgency after the elections and the many complains about irregularities benefiting the SPLM, and so the need for uniting the ranks of the South politically cannot be overemphasized. The formation of the new government should give a good indication of the seriousness of the SPLM in recognizing its unique status, not just as another political party but as a real revolutionary Movement that embodies the collective aspirations of many people beyond its registered membership. Sharing power with other parties and incorporating them into the governing structures is a small price to pay for internal cohesion, and to forestall both NCP meddling and fears from the outside world about one-party rule and political marginalization.

The work on the partnership front for the implementation of the CPA with the NCP remains the most challenging track, because a full-blown negotiation of the terms of the potential separation and post-referendum arrangements will have to be undertaken and reasonably agreed upon within the next eight months. The SPLM must resist the impetus to give away the store in sensitive areas like the border and the oil sector, in return for the NCP agreeing to let the referendum proceed. It is an approach for the negotiation that is unfortunately being implicitly pushed by some quarters in the US. While the emphatic support for the referendum by the US Envoy, General Scott Gration, is music to the ears of many Southerners, it is always followed with gentle admonitions to the South to make sure they reach agreement with Bashir, especially on the oil sector.

I believe it is a monumental trap to make the South make concessions that are unwarranted and unfair to its future generations, all in the name of expediting agreements and holding the vote! The approach should be that the exercise of the referendum itself is not the subject of bargaining, and that instead the form of monetary compensation for the use of the pipelines, the rights of citizens in both parts, the borders, the division of assets and the allocation of debt obligations are the items that can be negotiated. This is not an unreasonable position, and does not mean a return to war, but rather recognizes that the South is not a supplicant begging the North to let it go at any cost, but a serious counterpart with a clear understanding of the leverage points that it also has.

A deal that compromises on the territorial integrity of the South, gives the North unfettered and beneficial access to half or more of the oil proceeds for a decade or more, burdens the South with so much debt, and forfeits its share of the national assets of Sudan will be a serious mistake. It will confirm the fear that some people have an overly emotional conception of separation that is just wrapped around going away from the North, even without securing the basic elements for a viable state in the South.

The last element is the management of the expectations and relations with the international community, and that goes beyond the donor governments. It includes the maddening mix of organizations, media and other institutions that help formulate public opinion in their home countries and around the region. The SPLM and GOSS must reckon with the deficit of confidence that the idea of a new state in the great lakes regions has around the world, and they must systematically address that as a challenge. It is inextricably linked with the efforts I enumerated earlier about establishing a more cohesive internal front, but it must also mean a robust campaign to address the insecurity problem around the whole region.

The SPLM and the government must proactively face head on the notion that the Southerners will slaughter each other if left to their own devices, and they must also address the similarly pernicious claim that they cannot run a transparent and corruption free government. Combined with a sustained campaign of dialogue with the neighboring states about their concerns for regional stability, it is possible to begin to push back and neutralize some of the developing nay-saying about the prospects of Southern Sudan.

**Parek Maduot is a regular contributor to The He can be reached at