When the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, settling the long civil war between North and South Sudan, it offered hope that this troubled country could become a source of benefit to East Africa and not the constant drain and threat that it is now. Unfortunately, competition for resource control and ethnic divisions have kept this agreement from having the full positive impact that had been hoped for. We are now at the eve of its final prescription – the referendum on southern independence – and far from providing a final end to the war, it may lead to a resumption of armed hostilities.
The attention of the international community is increasingly pointing toward Southern Sudan and its January 9, 2011, referendum on independence, which also include a vote on whether the provinces of Abyei, Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile will join Southern Sudan in independence from the North.
The North faces the distinct possibility that it will lose not only a third of its territory in that vote in January, but also a significant portion of its income, which largely comes from oil. Approximately 56% of the North’s revenues are generated by oil, and 75% of Sudan’s known oil reserves lie in the South. The North does have some minerals, but agriculture is constrained by its largely desert terrain. There is about a two kilometer-wide swath of alluvial land in which agriculture is possible, and that depends on the annual Nile River flood. Consequently, Northern Sudan is definitely not looking forward to a successful referendum that frees the South from its control.
Of course, even if the referendum goes as anticipated, the North has several choke points to use as leverage over the South to force revenue sharing on oil. For one thing, some oil fields span the still-unresolved border between North and South Sudan. Currently, any oil pumped from southern soil must go through northern Sudan for export. As for water resources, the current international agreement on the Nile water allocates 80 billion cubic meters of water to Sudan, but only 18 billion cubic meters for the South.
Since 2005, Northern Sudan has refused to cooperate in implementing the CPA. The international community has been so focused on the continuing crises in Darfur, there was inconsistent attention on the failure of the CPA process. Rather like a magician, the North distracted from the CPA breakdown by maintaining the world’s attention to the West. The possibility of losing the South has far more immediate implications for Sudan than does the desert region of Darfur.
The demilitarization of the South has not been completed, and there is a significant force of northern troops and weapons remaining in the South despite the CPA plan. The North is ready for renewed war in the South and the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) is trying to catch up. As it has since the days of the long civil war, the North supports southern rebel movements to cause confusion and to create potential allies in any new conflict.
Right now, some of these rebels are busy leasing land in the South to foreign interests. One-time warlord Paulino Matiep Nhial’s family leased 400,000 hectares in Unity State last year, and in late October, militia leader Gabriel Tanginya entered into an agreement with Jarch Capital, the company that leased the Unity State land last year. The GoSS has not agreed to recognize these deals, though.
The most immediate threat to a peaceful transition lies in the voter registration process, which began in mid-November. This process is filled with possibility for voter challenges. There is no computerized registry. The entire process is dependent on hand registration using carbon paper. Given the many similar names and lack of street addresses, the likelihood of confusion, if not fraud, is rampant. Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party recently expressed its suspicion of the voter registration process and said its complaints to the South Sudan Referendum Commission have been unaddressed. Consequently, the Khartoum government has said it would not recognize the outcome of the registration process if problems are not corrected.
Furthermore, the Khartoum government continues to strongly urge that the referendum be postponed. For the South, that is a non-starter. GoSS President Salva Kiir calls the referendum date “sacrosanct.”
In order for the referendum to be officially recognized, a minimum of 50% of the voters plus one must vote for independence, and 60% of those eligible must have cast their ballots. Since there remains a serious gap in the estimates of southern voters living in the North, many of whom are not now registering to vote, there is a very broad loophole the North can use to disqualify an independence vote. Still, there is every sign that there will be secession no matter what the official vote tally records.
Despite a serious lack of governmental capacity, Southern Sudan has great promise for its future as an independent country. Approximately 80% of land in the South is arable, though only 10% is now under cultivation. A Japanese plan would create an oil pipeline to the port of Lamu, Kenya, with would be beneficial for the Sudanese and the Kenyans. Southern Sudan has the second highest per capita count of cattle. Gold, which supported the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army for years, is but one of its mineral resources. An of course oil will continue to provide 98% of the South’s revenue for some time.
China, Japan, Uganda, Kenya and even Iran are counting on the new nation to be born in the next few weeks. However, no one should be foolish enough to discount the strong possibility that that birth will take more bloodshed to occur. The United States, Great Britain and Norway – the triumvirate who negotiated the CPA – as well as the African Union, the United Nations and the World Bank are all engaged in a furious effort to make this process conclude nonviolently. At the same time, hardliners in Khartoum and Juba, the southern capital, won’t make that outcome so easy to achieve.
The next few weeks will tell whether the African Union will celebrate a new member or prepare to deal with yet another African war.