Why Sudanese Referendum Promises To Be Peaceful

Voters in Southern Sudan went to the ballot yesterday in a referendum which will determine whether they secede from the North or not. In the past week, a number of foreign observers had began raising fears about a possible recurrence of civil war.

Contrary to what these observers think, and in spite of the high stakes involved, a peaceful referendum in Sudan is on the way as happened in the general elections of April, 2010. At that time, many international organisations and diplomatic missions started to withdraw their non-essential staff from Khartoum fearing for the safety of their nationals.

Many media houses sent their staff to Sudan expecting to witness a wide-scale flare-up of violence. But none of those fears materialised even in Darfur, and the elections were very peaceful. This experience will be repeated in the next week of the referendum, and this for a number of reasons.

Since 1953, the Sudanese have never experienced widespread, elections-related violence as has been the case in some countries. The referendum is regarded as a reflection of the will of the people of Southern Sudan. Even if it results in the secession of the South, the referendum is not going to be the end of history especially when one considers the various political, economic, social, cultural and geographical bonds that link the two sides.

A new generation will come in the future that will not be hostage to war-related emotions or historical grievances. Indeed, the two peoples may come together again as one nation or in the form of close co-operation. There are many challenges that need to be addressed by the Sudanese leadership after the referendum.

If the people of Southern Sudan choose unity, there will not be any room for conflicts since the whole country will be absorbed in sustaining peace and stability. On the other hand, if the referendum results in secession, the people of Southern Sudan will be engaged in the daunting task of building their infant nation while their Northern counterparts will be confronted with achieving just peace in Darfur and re-branding their country.

The civil war in the Sudan which continued for almost 40 years (1955-1972 and 1983-2005), was a political conflict between the central government and different rebel movements based in Southern Sudan; it never was a conflict between the two communities. During the conflict, some Southerners chose to live with their Northern brethren instead of crossing to neighbouring countries.

Southerners live in different parts of the Sudan as far as Wadi Halfa on the border with Egypt (more than 2,000 km north of Juba). Had they any fears about their safety in the North, they would not have moved there.

In spite of all these factors, both the central government and the government of Southern Sudan have undertaken additional political, administrative and security measures to guarantee a smooth and peaceful referendum.

Like their Kenyan brothers and sisters who held a remarkably peaceful referendum in August 2010, the Sudanese will prove the prophets of doom wrong.

Mr Mofadal is a diplomat at the Sudanese Embassy in Nairobi.

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