South Sudan: The road to partition
Jubilation has swept through southern Sudan as millions line up to vote in a referendum to effectively separate from the north.
The polls opened this past Sunday and will continue until Jan. 15 to ensure that voting stations are accessible to all.
The decision to hold a referendum resulted from the ceasefire agreement in 2005, ending a 20 year civil war between the north and south.
The source of the conflict lies with the deeply segmented factions that reside throughout Sudan, one of the biggest countries in Africa.
John Laband, chair of the history department at Wilfrid Laurier University, explained, “Sudan is a typical colonial problem. The southern provinces were ruled very differently and the British were very conscious of the fact that northerners and southerners had all sorts of cultural and economic differences.”
“They tended to look to the Arab Muslim population in the north as the more advanced,” he added.
As such, southerners have deeply resented the years of oppression sustained from the north, which helped instigate two decades of violence.
“What changes everything is oil,” Laband explained. Sudan’s primary oil reserves lay intertwined along the border separating the north and south.
A large issue that will come under scrutiny when negotiating the terms of secession will be the division of the oil reserves.
“There is really no agreement in advance to work it out so that’s going to be a contentious issue,” explained Timothy Donais, professor of global studies at WLU.
“Its one thing to secede and its another thing to iron out all the other arrangements involving secession that will have to be negotiated with the north if the referendum is successful,” Donais continued.
Thus far, north-south issues have proved to be substantially problematic.
Apart from the pervasive socio-economic and ethnic differences, unclear border demarcation and extensive issues concerning the accumulated debt in the south further complicate partition.
In response to the problem, Bashir recently announced that his government is willing to acquire the south’s debt, an alarmingly uncharacteristic move given Bashir’s reputation in light of charges handed down by the International Criminal Court.
Despite these expectations, Bashir has claimed that he will allow the south to secede peacefully. Many have questioned his motives.
Mindful of Sudan’s history of voting fraud, there has been considerable concern with the integrity of the voting process.
However, the election is “not being run out of Khartoum so the scope for tampering and manipulations is relatively limited,” explained Donais.
The results of the referendum will be announced in four weeks from now.
Analysts have come to speculate whether Sudan will sustain further splintering should the south successfully separate.
Given Sudan’s diverse population, some fear that secession will inspire other ethnic or cultural groups to push for independence.
“One of the pieces of common wisdom is that partition is usually seen as a last resort for conflict resolution for a range of issues. It doesn’t necessarily always solve the underlying cause of the conflict and it often creates more conflicts than it resolves,” Donais concluded.