It is heartbreaking to see South Sudanese themselves as the ones urging for postponement of the referendum in the South and in the Abyei region respectively for an unknown future date. The phobia is that the date 9 January 201 is not appropriate for the referendum to take place because the consequence would be war between the North and the South. It is claimed that adequate preparations for the referendum on 9 January 2011 have not been made.
This is, however, because the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) between the North and the South is behind schedule. It should be noted that this is not the fault of the South and so the South cannot be punished for the poor implementation of the CPA.
It is important to understand that the implementation of the CPA was to take place within a six year interim period with effect from 2005 to 2011 when a referendum was to take place in the South either to confirm unity of Sudan or for the South to separate to become independent.
However, to the North separation of the South is taboo. No northerner will accept the separation of the South from the North.
However, when by accident the word acceptance is pronounced it is only offered as a lip service or to suit the occasion. This may explain why the implementation of the CPA is behind schedule because the North does not want the South to separate. The North preoccupation with unity is predominantly for the resources and wealth in the South.
It is music to the North when a southerner talks eloquently and with conviction about unity and postponement of the referendum in the South.
The argument for the postponement of the referendum in the South is in fact in support of the northern position but disguised as a fear of war flaring up between the North and the South in the event the referendum takes place on 9 January 2011.
To strengthen the argument, the lack of North-South border demarcation, the lack of agreed terms of Sudan’s debt repayment, the perceived poor sensitisation of southerners in the North and the lack of clarity on citizenship after the separation of the South are all cited and being strongly emphasised as the justification for the postponement of the referendum.
What is obvious, though, is that those who are advocating the postponement of the referendum seem to be using the same language as that of the National Congress Party (NCP) hawks. It is not clear whether this is by coincident.
One thing that seems evident is that those advocating postponement of the referendum are too paternalistic, treating southerners as though they were a bunch of ignorant school children and childishly disruptive that they must be lectured to on the basics of behaviour. It is unfortunate that southerners are treated as though they were slow learners of history.
According to the CPA the referendum takes place on 9 January 2011. Nowhere is it stipulated that the referendum must be postponed when any of the articles of the CPA is not implemented in the specified interim period. Postponing the referendum will be in itself a breach of the CPA.
However, for the North known for dishonouring agreements, that is not a problem. As if to complicate matters the way the NCP does things the advocates of postponement of the referendum have not suggested when or the date the referendum must take place. Like the unity that is sung without elaboration, the postponement of the referendum is similarly sung without a specific date.
The advocates of postponement of the referendum are clearly playing into the hands of the NCP hawks who would like the referendum to be consigned to the dustbin of history of dishonoured agreements. Reading between the lines, it is the inclination to unity that seem to be the force driving the advocates of postponement of the referendum in the South.
The advocates of postponement of the referendum would have been valuable assets if they had concentrated their efforts on defusing tensions between the North and the South. They should have instead allayed northern paranoia of southern bad intentions.
The advocates could have been better channels of communication to address issues of distrust between the North and the South instead of representing the North’s position with regards to the referendum. In fact the advocates could have done a good job by concentrating on ensuring a fair and transparent referendum instead of working laboriously as the NCP hawks’ mouthpiece.
Southerners must be very careful not to be influenced unduly by being advised to march on the wrong foot. The referendum must take place as the implementation of the CPA has to be honoured in the specified interim period. The postponement of the referendum may see a vey negative reaction from the South which arguably has legitimate right to conduct the referendum in its own right through an international supervision and witness. After the interim period, what legal basis is there for the CPA to be recognised as binding?
The interim period for the implementation of the CPA is six years and should have ended with the referendum in the South on 9 January 2011. All the constitutions from the government of national unity to government of South Sudan and the States seem to be limited to the interim period as they are called interim constitutions. After the interim period the constitutions technically should have become invalid. What law is in place to protect the postponement of the referendum in the South after the interim period? What guarantee is there that the postponement of the referendum will not become a never ending political game of the NCP and indeed of the North?
Postponement of the referendum is a ploy for the referendum never to take place at all in the South. It is a calculated move by the NCP to push the South to the edge so that it is blamed for any failure in the implementation of the CPA. The North, which is already well informed of the loss of oil revenues in the eventual separation of the South, will do anything to sabotage the referendum taking place.
The strategy now is to torpedo the referendum and with it the South’s dream of independence would have remained a dream for the foreseeable future.
Southerners who are genuinely concerned may fall prey to the NCP influence on the postponement of the referendum. At any rate freedom of expression is a right. The advocates of postponement of the referendum are within their right of freedom of expression. However, their advice is not the panacea to the problem.
The referendum in the South should go ahead as stipulated in the CPA. One has not seen a law to protect the postponement of the referendum. Postponing the referendum may be a very reckless gamble. The referendum commission may be interfering with the CPA when it is influenced by the NCP to postpone the referendum. At any rate the commission is charged with conducting the referendum but not to postpone it.
The unity of the political parties expressed in the conference held in Juba should have been used to assure the North of no bad intentions from the South. A sensitisation campaign should have been launched to address the northern fears. The conference should have adopted a calendar of activities within the available period to sensitise southerners in the North not to take the law into their hands as it is the fear expressed by the advocates of postponement of the referendum. Conducting meetings with civil societies in the North and the South for harmony should have formed part of the calendar of activities.
In conclusion, those advocating the postponement of the referendum should not be unduly paranoid of perpetual northern negative perception of the South as having bad intentions and that the situation will explode into uncontrollable flames. Without the postponement of the referendum in the South, peace can still be achieved through dialogue. Some of the 23 southern parties that took part in the conference in Juba could be valuable in that endeavour.
It is the political will and concerted efforts in promoting good neighbourliness that are needed but not the postponement of the referendum in the South and in the Aby