Southern Sudan Referendum – Preparing for the day after (I)

South Sudanese rally for independence (AFP)
(Washington DC) - In about six months, the people of Southern Sudan will take to the polls to make their historical choice between seceding or maintaining the current unity of Sudan.  We have to foremost acknowledge that the very exercise of this referendum is not a foregone conclusion, given the multitudes of conspiracies and obstructions that are likely to be deployed by many quarters that are opposed to the right of self-determination for the people of the region as enshrined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). However, for the sake of this article, let us posit that the plebiscite will take place on the 9th of January 2011, and that the combined resilience of the people of Southern Sudan and the watchful involvement of regional and international governments and institutions will successfully beat back obstruction.

It is a widely acknowledged assumption that the dominant sentiment in Southern Sudan at the moment is for separation, and that prevailing public opinion is the culmination of decades of willful betrayal and suppression of the political will and rights of the people of the region by successive Northern-dominated regimes in Khartoum. When the colonialist left Sudan after having bolstered and placed at the throne a shortsighted political elite from a small sliver of the whole country, this clique saw fit to only perpetuate their rule and dominance of every sphere of the country’s life while actively marginalizing the periphery. The south was especially visited upon with extreme wrath and oppression when its people dared to demand their place at the table.

When the Southerners spearheaded attempts at political and constitutional reforms that would have ushered in a system that not only accommodated our religious and cultural diversity, but also used them as instruments of reconciliation and harmony, their initiatives were scorned and suppressed. Those calls for federalism in the 1960s and the more recent two-decade struggle for a New Sudan under the banner of the SPLM were either politically manipulated or militarily engaged for decades, and whatever accords reached with them were willfully abrogated or continuously stalled during implementation. We now find ourselves at this juncture with the South poised to walk away from the failed state that is Sudan, and with other regions like the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile and Darfur simmering with discontent and revolution.

The current regime in Khartoum must bear the main burden of precipitating the breakup of Sudan, notwithstanding all the last minute acrobatics about imminent development projects in the South. The writ of indictment for the National Islamic Front in its different incarnations runs long, starting from the cynical exploitation of Islam to escalate the civil war into a religious crusade, to its well documented atrocities while clearing entire villages for oil projects in the South, to the desperate employment of Arab tribes and Southern militias as proxies engaged in one of the least documented mass killing operations in Africa across the length and breadth of Southern Sudan. The last five years were another epoch in manipulation and trust busting, beginning with the opaque and deceitful management of the oil proceeds, to the marginalization of Southerners ostensibly employed as office holders in the central government. The reactivation of militias that were supposed to have been disbanded by the regime per the CPA and the active fomenting of racial animus through state-owned media organs represented more nails from the NCP hammer in the coffin of Sudanese unity.

The question that I wrestle with has to do with the day after, and whether what we are doing today optimally serves the objective of ushering in a brighter future after the conduct of the referendum, not only for the people of Southern Sudan, but also for the millions of Sudanese that will undoubtedly be entering a new era with multitudes of uncertainties. The way we talk and agitate for the right of self-determinations needs to be calibrated to place at the forefront the real reason for the vote. The vote itself was not the ultimate objective of the struggle, but an instrument for our people to democratically exercise and determine their destiny. The idea ultimately is that if the vote is no to unity, the South will have walked away from the current arrangement because it believes it has better odds of establishing a secular democratic peaceful state on its own, and away from a system indelibly dominated by radical Islamists bent on imposing their will on everyone.

Therefore, as we approach the vote, filling out the contours of the alternative system that will prevail in the South should be the rallying cry. This is important because the South also has much of the diversity that predominates all of Sudan, and it has many of the fault lines that will continue to complicate its local and regional politics. This reality means that the question of post-referendum coexistence and stability deserves our increased attention, and this should not wait until after the vote.

Framing the vote as an exercise for the sake of noble aspirations like democracy, peace and cultural diversity, and not just an angry divorce from the “evil” North is essential to the future of the South. The yearning for freedom and independence that is sweeping the South needs to be channeled by our leaders into a positive force for cohesion and purpose. The future will be fraught with many challenges, and will not be rosy as many people think just because the South will be a sovereign nation.

These future difficulties should not be swept aside in the mania for separation, but instead openly discussed and explored to prepare the populace for the bumps ahead. Initiatives by youth and other civil society groups to agitate for separation are laudable as exercises in advocacy, but it would also serve us even more if those initiatives incorporated reconciliation and nation building as themes with greater prominence. After all, if antipathy to the North and yearning to separate from it is the singular purpose bringing us together, we are bound to usher in a future full of recrimination, infighting and instability once that so-called “common enemy” is not there.

*Parek Maduot is a regular contributor to The New Sudan Vision. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.