A referendum scheduled for January 9 to 15 gives them that option. That’s as par the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA, the government, and the rebel Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed.
Contrary to popular opinion, the 2005 CPA ended a longer conflict. Trouble started with a 1948 British decision to place the South and the North under one administration.
Anger mounted after the southerners got peanuts from 800 jobs Britons relinquished during self-rule five years later.
Outright war broke after the North reneged on a federal system at independence in 1956. Then for 10 years, Khartoum sabotaged a 1972 peace deal arrangement. War resumed. Then the CPA came, 21 years later.
The events explain why the southerners are almost certain to secede. Mr Salva Kiir Mayardit, the south’s president and national vice-president, is cheering them on. Last week he told them to “dream of our forefathers” come the referendum.
The BBC quoted a resigned Mr Al Bashir telling the southerners Tuesday, “If you want unity, you are more than welcome. . . If you want separation, you are also welcome.” He forgot, Inshallah!
If the southerners opt for secession, their leaders are to draft a new constitution and schedule elections. On July 9, the 55th African state will come into being.
Leaders, among them former US President George W. Bush and Kenya’s Daniel arap Moi, whose governments played a major role in negotiating the CPA and aren’t’ that modest, will thump chests. Only the flow of the White Nile will rival that of tears of joy.
That’s as far as the euphoria need go. Booby traps lie ahead.
Explosive issues remain pending. These include Abyei, a tiny oil-rich enclave. A referendum to determine if residents wish to remain part of Sudan or join the South will not take place due to disagreements.
Then there’s boundary demarcation, security arrangements, liabilities and assets, and citizenship. People have focused a great deal of attention on the South. Seemingly forgotten are changes the North needs.
These include re-arranging the structure of government, including a new constitution. It will lose resources and revenue.
That the shock of losing nearly a third of Sudan might lead to violence against resident southerners can’t be ruled out.
The same goes for political instability because “Al Bashir lost southern Sudan.” Generals loathe politicians who lose territory.
Resources endowed as it is—oil, fertile soil, minerals, including gold, and lots of water—the South remains, relatively speaking, a wasteland.
Even if well managed, and vices like corruption are taking root, it will take time for the new nation to become viable.
Moreover, the South isn’t homogenous. Additionally, 20 political parties aren’t a recipe for stability.
Add to that disgruntled former rebels who already have become a headache for the SPLM. Incidentally, uniformed elements in the North have mastered the art of using proxies.
For the southerners and supporters, it’s worth remembering the old saying: a deal isn’t one until it’s done.