by Mohamed Ousman (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 11, Muharram, 1432)
Barring some unforeseen problems, South Sudan will hold its referendum on January 9, 2011 and almost certainly secede from the North. The largest country in Africa would have been dealt a terrible blow whose consequences will reverberate for decades.
Barring some unforeseen problems, South Sudan will hold its referendum on January 9, 2011 and almost certainly secede from the North. The largest country in Africa would have been dealt a terrible blow whose consequences will reverberate for decades. The south’s separation will not only pave the way for Sudan’s further division but it will also open a Pandora’s Box in Africa. The borders of African states were drawn up by western colonialists during their “civilizing mission” in Africa. Cecil Rhodes will have to be resurrected from his grave if the borders are to be redrawn. This explains why some African leaders are apprehensive about Sudan’s break-up.
American officials and commentators have been quite candid about the US role in facilitating the South’s secession from the rest of Sudan. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dubbed the Sudan referendum issue “one team, one fight” while demanding all efforts be coordinated to achieve the desired result in the South. Former US President Jimmy Carter was equally ebullient in his praise of US efforts including those of his own centre. “The Carter Center has been deeply involved in this huge nation [Sudan] for more than 20 years, attempting to negotiate peace between the Islamic government in Khartoum and non-Muslim revolutionaries in the south,” wrote Carter in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on February 2, 2010. Those familiar with the region will immediately note the manner in which Carter describes the southern rebels: “non-Muslim revolutionaries.” While his description is an improvement on reporting in the western media that insist on calling it the “Christian” South, the reality is the southern majority is animist (75–77 %) followed by Muslims as the largest religious group. Christians make up only a tiny fraction of the population but facts are not allowed to intrude in the way of imperial designs.
Referring to the US role, Michael Gerson, a Zionist neocon who worked in George W. Bush’s White House, could not contain his glee when describing the emergence of South Sudan as a new country. “The Obama administration… is on the verge of a major diplomatic achievement in Sudan. Barring technical failures that delay the vote, or unexpected violence, South Sudan will approve an independence referendum on Jan. 9. Six months later, a new flag will rise, a new anthem will be played. It is a rare, risky, deeply American enterprise: midwifing the birth of a new nation” (Washington Post, December 10, 2010).
Interestingly, the South has not even chosen a name for itself unless it wants to settle for South Sudan or even “New Sudan”, as some have suggested. Following the referendum and assuming that the South will secede, a fate Khartoum seems resigned to as well, the two entities will be governed by an interim agreement that will remain in force until July 9, 2011. During transition, the two sides will have to resolve a variety of issues: borders, citizenship, security and the distribution of oil revenue although the latter was resolved through a ruling by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in July 2009.
The five-member panel affirmed, in a four-one decision, the northern boundary as set by a 2005 commission established under the US-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement but drew new lines in the east and west that placed the Heglig oil fields and the Nile oil pipeline under control of the Khartoum government. Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed, head of the Sudanese government delegation at the time, called the decision a victory. “We welcome the fact that the oil fields are now excluded from the Abyei area, particularly the Heglig oil field,” he said. The Abyei region, with its oil reserves and grazing lands used by nomadic herders from the north and south, has suffered flare-ups of violence since the 2005 peace deal. The region will hold its own vote to determine whether it wishes to remain part of Sudan or join the new entity in the south.
There are still many unresolved issues. For instance, the south is ridden by different factions and it is not certain they will be able to set their differences aside for too long. There are also 1.5–2 million southern refugees in the north. After the referendum, what will be their status? Khartoum has said if the South secedes, these refugees must leave. The southerners are not interested in refugees, even if they are from the South; they are only interested in power. But even that is not assured as Gerson warns in his December 10 opinion piece. “South Sudan will require considerable help to avoid the fate of a failed state - particularly to build its capacity to govern and fight corruption.”
How was the Sudanese government forced to accept the break-up of the country? Again, Uncle Sam resorted to his bullying tactics, under what was dubbed the “road map” (is it not interesting that the Americans offer road maps to those they want to pressure; the Palestinians, for instance, when the road leads nowhere but to absolute disaster). Sudan was placed on a list of states sponsoring terrorism (this is another favourite US ploy); Sudanese President Omar Hasan al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide and war crimes, the same court whose jurisdiction the Americans do not even recognize but want to use against other world leaders. In return for agreeing to a referendum in the South, Bashir was told that the US would review Sudan’s status on the list of state sponsors of terrorism (this has obviously nothing to do with reality); and begin lifting sanctions as well as start discussions on debt relief. In other words, Khartoum was blackmailed into accepting the referendum and, therefore, breaking up the country.
Will the referendum end Sudan’s problems or open the way for more? Equally important, will it solve the South’s problems or open it to more manipulation by the west? It should be borne in mind that the west has no love for the people of the South. After all, the blacks in South Africa languished under apartheid for decades without arousing any concern in the west or the US. In fact, Nelson Mandela, leader of the African National Congress was even placed on the US list of terrorists. This designation was lifted only in 2007. It may be premature for Southerners to hold victory celebrations. Separation from Sudan is one thing; being independent and managing their own affairs is quite a different matter, as they are about to discover.