After A Highly Decisive Sudanese Referendum, The Hard Part Begins

After nearly half a century of oppression by the Khartoum regime, Southern Sudanese turned out in their thousands to vote in a self-determination referendum.

With preliminary results from the polling centres in Sudan and across the diaspora showing that they voted almost to a man for secession, the possibility of a rerun initially slated to be held within 60 days now appears remote.

If the 60 per cent threshold has already been met as indicated by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission as well as a section of observers, then ceteris paribus, the creation of the world’s 193rd nation is now a fait accompli.

But it is not yet time to uncork the champagne bottles. Notably, the oil rich border region of Abyei where the referendum did not take place due to disagreements over whom, between the native Dinka Ngok and the semi-nomadic Misseriya, should vote.

The region remains a potential flashpoint, where the parties will resort to conflict to demonstrate their commitment to their local constituencies.

Nothing illustrates this better than the violence visited on the Dinka Ngok during the referendum period, resulting in the death of 30 people.

Whereas the SPLM will do everything possible to impress the Dinka Ngok, the inhabitants of Abyei, the National Congress Party is strongly behind the Misseriya nomads, who seasonally migrate through the region.

In fact, the deadly attacks in Abyei were blamed on the Khartoum regime. The dispute over Abyei did not begin today, however. Nor is it the first time that the referendum has failed to take place there as provided for in peace deals.

The 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended the first Anyanya war, included a clause for a referendum to allow “any other areas that were culturally and geographically a part of the Southern Complex”, including Abyei, to choose between remaining in the North or joining the new autonomous southern region.

The referendum was never held, and attacks against the Dinka continued throughout the 1970s, leading to the formation of a Dinka Ngok unit of the Anya-Nya II, in the small southern rebellion that began in Upper Nile in 1975.

Abyei, therefore, remains a thorny issue that calls for a serious negotiated settlement by both parties in the post-referendum period if a return to war is to be averted. It should not be left to degenerate into a Sudan Kashmir.

Besides that contentious issue which will have to be addressed jointly by the North and South, the latter still needs to put its house in order to avert a spiral of inter-communal violence largely linked to historic tensions between southern groups over cattle and other resources, coupled with growing discontent over the lack of “peace dividends” received by the majority rural population across the South.

Whereas the Khartoum regime has in the past armed local proxies to wage war on its behalf and sow instability in Sudan’s marginalised peripheral areas, the truth of the matter is that communities in the South are still holding onto the weapons they held during the war – in large part because they fear attacks by neighbouring communities.

It is, therefore, not uncommon to see individuals settling scores using deadly weapons. While disarmament will go a long way, the government of Southern Sudan must devise a strategy for guaranteeing the security of disarmed communities and put greater efforts into community reconciliation.

Finally, Southern Sudan still cries for reconstruction despite the little progress made after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But for this to happen, the government must give incentives such as tax holidays and rebates to attract foreign investors.

The current law requiring a foreign investor to cede at least 40 per cent of the investment to a local is the antithesis to investment, especially for a country just emerging from the ravages of war. It also increases the cost of doing business.

The government of Southern Sudan must also move fast to stem sporadic xenophobic attacks that have seen Kenyan businessmen die in mysterious circumstances.

This is the only way it can reciprocate the warm gesture accorded to its citizens by Kenyans at the height of the civil war.

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