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Analysis: Post-referendum fears for Southern Sudan
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Jul 20, 2010 - 5:28:44 AM

Analysis: Post-referendum fears for Southern Sudan

Photo: Timothy Mckulka/UNMIS
According to Enough Project, several flashpoints emerged in Southern Sudan after April elections and tensions have escalated (file photo)
JUBA, 19 July 2010 (IRIN) - The January 2011 referendum in Southern Sudan will mark a turning point for the region and could see the formation of Africa's newest state, but how will the south fare after the vote?

A report commissioned by the non-profit organization Pact Sudan and conducted by the London School of Economics in several of Southern Sudan's states (Eastern Equatoria, Greater Bahr el-Ghazal and Upper Nile), highlights issues that pose a threat to peace and security in Southern Sudan.

These include the successes and failures of peacebuilding efforts following the signing in 2005 of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA), which ended two decades of civil war; the challenges of decentralization; “tribal conflict”; changing motivations for cattle-raiding and the role of marginalized youth in this phenomenon.

Entitled Southern Sudan at Odds With Itself: Dynamics of Conflict and Predicaments of Peace, it found that increasing intra-South violence killed more than 2,500 people and displaced 350,000 more in 2009, while various peacebuilding, humanitarian and development approaches had “created some of the current predicaments of peace, and contributed to the dynamics of ongoing conflict”.

The unclear role of chiefs and traditional leaders had also increased rule of law and governance problems. Such uneven modes of local control, it said, could "shift readily towards the establishment of ethnic fiefdoms by equating ethnicity with government structures and access to resources”.

"The run-up to, and outcome of, the vote must be managed with extreme care," warned 26 NGOs and civil society groups in a 14 July statement. "The guarantors to the CPA have both a responsibility and an ability to help Sudan implement the CPA and prevent further conflict… It is imperative that the guarantors urgently redouble their efforts to ensure adequate preparations for the referenda [one in Abyei and one in Southern Sudan], and help secure agreements on sensitive issues such as border demarcation and oil sharing," they said.


Several flashpoints emerged after April elections, and tensions have escalated, the US-based Enough Project said. "The perception in some areas of the South that polls were rigged, combined with continued abuses by security forces and growing concerns that proxy militias are becoming more active, are making for a volatile stew in the countdown to the southern independence referendum," it said in a 14 July statement.

Religious leaders, who have formed the Sudanese Religious Leaders Referendum Initiative, say local people need to be made aware of the referendum process. “The people [of Southern Sudan] need to know the consequences of the vote and the challenges that come along with this historic transition,” Bishop Arkanjelo Wani Lemi told a news conference in Juba on 13 July.

Already, said Refugees International, displaced communities of southerners in Khartoum State had expressed serious concern about what their lives would be like if Southern Sudan separated. "In the worst case scenario, the January 2011 referendum could spark the forced expulsion of southerners from the north and northerners from the south," it added, noting that this could affect an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people.

But President Thabo Mbeki, chair of the African Union panel on Sudan, expressed cautious optimism. "The outcome of the Southern Sudan referendum, whether for unity or secession, will offer the first real opportunity since Sudan’s independence in 1956 for the people of South and North Sudan to restructure their relationship to define an equitable and mutually beneficial mode of peaceful coexistence," he told a meeting in Khartoum on 10 July. 

Photo: Peter Martell/IRIN
Many observers believe most southerners will vote for secession (file photo)
"If the Southern Sudanese choose secession, the tasks arising from this will not be less demanding," he said. "Should they vote to establish a separate sovereign state in Southern Sudan, the Southern Sudanese will not be voting to change the facts of geography, nor the direction of the flow of the Nile river."


According to the Enough Project, the clearest indication of the escalating tensions in the post-election period are three separate uprisings in Jonglei and Unity States by dissident former members of the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLM.

"The leaders of these rebellions - Lt-Gen George Athor, the defeated opposition party candidate David Yauyau in Jonglei, and Galwak Gai in Unity - have expressed their discontent with the Juba-based government and with the political leadership in their own states in particular through militancy," it said. "Aside from the threat of violence these rebellions pose, what is perhaps most alarming is that the southern government... and the SPLA itself, have proved incapable of resolving them, either politically or militarily."

Similar fears were raised by Human Rights Watch in a recent report documenting rights violations during the April elections. Those elections, it said, “raised the spectre of growing instability in such states as Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity, and Western Bahr el Ghazal, and they have set a worrying precedent for Southern Sudan’s forthcoming referendum on self-determination.”

Many observers believe most southerners will vote for secession.

"Regardless of the outcome of the vote, Sudan will be fundamentally changed once the interim arrangements set by the CPA lapse six months later, in July 2011, and the Interim National Constitution of 2005 is renegotiated," the NGOs warned. "Managing the final year of the CPA and the ensuing transition is a daunting task."

“I think there will be a lot of problems," Alfred Lokuji of Juba University told IRIN, adding that the southern leaders could turn out to be "dictatorial, autocratic, and ruthless, to show that the SPLM [Sudan People's Liberation Movement - a former rebel group now in power in the south] has the power to deal with internal threats.”

Assuming the region votes to form a separate state, the need for the SPLM-dominated government of Southern Sudan to consolidate its authority could also lead to abuses by the security sector that would increase popular discontent at the local level, he said.


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