The end of Sudan (as we know it)
- 6 - 12 January 2011
Issue No. 1030Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
The end of Sudan (as we know it)As important as the result of south Sudan's vote is how the outcome will be handled, writes Asmaa El-Husseini in Khartoum
In statements issued in Khartoum and Juba in the run-up to the imminent referendum in south Sudan over whether or not to remain in a united Sudan, President Omar Al-Bashir said that he, his party and his government would accept the results whatever the outcome. His remarks came as a great relief to various Sudanese, regional and international circles who had feared that Al-Bashir and the National Congress Party (NCP) would take action to impede the realisation of secession, which appears to be the most likely outcome of the referendum in view of the growing nationalist spirit among southerners who seem impatient for their day of deliverance.
The Sudanese president also tried to alleviate fears over the status, rights and properties of southerners residing in the north and northerners residing in the south. He simultaneously delivered positive messages regarding solutions to pending differences between the north and south, urging cooperation between the two sides in the event of secession, which eventuality he has begun to treat as inevitable in spite of his continued support for -- and emphasis on -- the advantages of unity.
The present relative calm has alleviated widespread alarm aroused by spectres of possible tragedy should the north act against the referendum. US President Barack Obama warned that any such action would lead to millions of deaths while his envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration, said that renewed violence in Sudan would have repercussions from Cairo to Cape Town and from Djibouti to Dakar. In like manner, Ethiopian President Meles Zenawi cautioned that the return to warfare between the north and south would be like the Day of Judgement, while Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit foresaw catastrophic consequences that would drive more Sudanese towards Egypt.
Al-Bashir's positive messages were greeted with cautious optimism. Southerners were generally heartened by the Sudanese president's visit to Juba and his statements, which raised hopes of good relations between the northern and southern states in the event of secession. At the same time, officials from the south cautioned that attempts to undermine relations between the north and the south would lead to consequences that would prove costly.
Yet, Al-Bashir's fine sounding remarks on brotherly and cooperative relations with the south and the reciprocated aspirations voiced by southern leaders form only the surface appearance. There remain a number of outstanding issues that will have to be resolved after the referendum, not least of which are the borders that have yet to be finalised, the question of Abyei, debts, petroleum rights and questions of national affiliation. All of these could be solved with relative ease if both sides act in good faith and desist from conspiring against each other. In the absence of such constructive attitudes, each issue is a potential time bomb capable of destabilising the situation entirely.
Many southern leaders continue to regard the north with suspicion, pointing to the intrigues Khartoum has weaved in order to support rebels in the south or to create new rebel groups against the government in Juba with the purpose of showing that the southern leadership is unable to control the south. They also allege that Khartoum has attempted to spark disturbances in the south in order to prevent the referendum from going ahead on schedule. Khartoum, for its part, claims that Juba is supporting and sheltering insurgents in Darfur and demands that it cease this support and the support of any party that could create unrest in the north. Such mistrust will probably remain ingrained in both the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the NCP in Khartoum, the principal parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Naivasha in 2005. The mutual sentiment is not only the product of the last six years of the interim phase, but also the result of what the southerners describe as the north's "legacy of breaking promises and agreements".
Some observers take Al-Bashir's new conciliatory tone, which diverges radically from his previous rhetoric, as a clear sign that Khartoum has caved into enormous international pressures that made it understand that it had no choice but to accept the fact of the secession of the south, for to do otherwise would be suicide. Others counter that the NCP has not yet accepted the possibility of secession, adding that years of experience have taught us that this government will say anything and do the opposite, and that when told to turn right it will turn left. Those who share this view add that the situation is still very volatile and could explode at any moment in the south or along the borders as a consequence of actions by Khartoum, which will never bow to the will of the international community and allow secession to proceed peacefully, if only to evade the demands of the International Criminal Court that has asked for Al-Bashir to be handed over for prosecution on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur. A third camp of opinion maintains that the radical Islamist government in the north had sought the secession of the south even before it reached power.
Sudanese along with the rest of the world are still waiting with bated breath for 9 January. The results of the referendum and how they are handled over the following months will determine the fate not only of southerners who will be voting on whether they want to exercise their right to self- determination in a separate state, but also for people in the north who will not take part in the referendum but who, along with the people of the south, would be adversely affected by a resurgence of civil strife. As the clock speeds towards the vote, parties in both the south and the north are jockeying for position in anticipation of a new map that is in the making.
New alliances are being forged; old ones are collapsing. Parties that once could not see eye-to-eye are reaching understandings while erstwhile allies are quarrelling. While some parties are unifying, others are preparing to split on the basis of the new geographical divide. If some political forces are already manoeuvring to overthrow others, others are waiting for zero hour to start moving. Meanwhile, various regional and international powers are preparing for the emergence of two states, still troubled by the fact that fingers are on the triggers in both the north and the south, against the backdrop of a bleak economic climate and increased hardship in both regions. As for the people themselves, northerners residing in the south have begun to head northwards while southerners fearful for their lives in the north are moving in the opposite direction. Large numbers of both have flocked major roads and ports, while millions of others across north and south Sudan combined are haunted by the thought of becoming victims of spiralling violence.