Sudan: Preparing for a peaceful southern secession

December 17, 2009

francois_grignon_apr09_206[1]– François Grignon is Director of the Africa Program at the International Crisis Group. the opinions expressed are his own. –

Four years ago, the Sudanese people were promised a brighter future. A peace deal had finally ended the two-decades-long civil war between north and south, which killed more than two million people and devastated the south. But today, that bright future is looking decidedly tarnished, and Sudan is sliding towards violent breakup.

At the core of the current political crisis are delays in implementing key benchmarks laid out in the 2005 deal, known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The referendum on independence for the South, a key pillar of the arrangement, is due in January 2011. Before that referendum takes place, Sudan must hold national elections. These are now set for April 2010.

But President Omar al Bashir’s government has failed to pass key democratic reforms promised by the Agreement, and without these reforms, there is no way the results of the elections will be accepted and offer a milestone for the peace process.

On the contrary, fraudulent elections engineered to strengthen Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP), close the doors to political negotiations in Darfur and undermine the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) both in the South and in national institutions.

A sham poll would most likely lead to a new escalation of violence in Darfur and compromise the holding of the referendum. And if the referendum does not go ahead on schedule, the South will probably declare unilateral independence, plunging. Sudan back into civil war.

Tensions have been rising between the NCP in the north and the SPLM in the South. In October, the southern leader, Salva Kiir, for the first time openly called for the South to secede from Sudan. Both sides are rearming. Needless to say, another civil war would be devastating for the Sudanese people, as well as the entire horn of Africa.

The recent progress of NCP-SPLM negotiations on the South Sudan referendum law, the Abyei area referendum and the popular consultations in South Khordofan and Blue Nile regions are positive steps, but they remain largely insufficient to bring back genuine momentum to the peace process. While democratic reforms have been non-existent in the north and remain essential for the elections, agreements still need to be found on border demarcation, demilitarisation of the border areas, the census results, and oil revenue sharing, ahead of the South’s self-determination referendum.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Darfur parts of the peace process need to be brought back together and a new calendar of implementation negotiated. To prevent a new escalation of violence in the north, all Darfuris need to be able to participate in the elections: at present, more than two million Darfuris trapped in camps are unlikely to have the right to vote in Sudan’s first polls in 24 years. It is also essential for everyone to accept where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is headed and plan accordingly.

In 2005, unity between north and south was still a possibility. Now, secession by the South is almost certain. If so, it is essential to bring about a smooth separation and ensure that both states — in whatever form — can peacefully coexist after 2011. There is a great deal of work to be done, but the international community has some leverage. The NCP badly wants these elections to go ahead in order to relegitimise its rule and protect Bashir from the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant issued against him earlier this year.
In addition, Khartoum would like the U.S. to lift sanctions and normalise relations. The EU will likely fund a large part of the electoral process. Meanwhile, the UN has 30,000 peacekeepers in Sudan serving in its two missions.

The international community now really needs to start working together if it is to make a real difference in Sudan. The UN and the African Union should appoint a lead mediator who should then develop an all-Sudan strategy, reaffirming its commitment to Comprehensive Peace Agreement implementation and in particular to the holding the Southern Sudan referendum in January 2011.

The mediator should simultaneously propose to negotiate an addendum to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, reviewing the election calendar to give time to key democratic reforms and guarantee fair Darfuri participation.

The addendum should also include a genuine political settlement for Darfur and address the concrete modalities of the likely separation and necessary transition of sovereignty to a new state of Southern Sudan after the referendum.

Most regional actors and international players are terrified by the prospect of southern secession and would prefer a new institutional formula for unity. But it is too late for that. The right to self-determination has been given to southerners, and unity under the NCP means implosion.

The time for international confusion and hesitation over the Sudan peace process has lapsed, and the moment has come to both negotiate a peaceful secession and make sure Darfuris are not sacrificed on the alter of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.


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Posted by uberVU – social comments | Report as abusive

I want to thank the writer of this article for pointing out the problems facing the people of Darfur and Southerner.AS he said that it is too late for unity, he was right because the people who had seen reality of Bashir’s goverment that is to kill the insane people and rapin. We people in South Sudan would be better for new state where by it has a freedom of religion and peaceful with its neigbours.

Posted by David Majak | Report as abusive

There are several problemmatic statements in this summary; I’ll mention two. You refer to the NCP’s badly wanting elections in order to “relegitimise its rule”. The NCP came to power by coup overturning an elected government and subsequently managed the deaths of several million Southerners and Darfuris. . It never has been legitimate and therefore I encourage you to drop the “re”.
Secondly, proposing a delay in the Referendum provided for in the CPA is a very deadly recommendation and plays directly into the NCP’s hands. South Sudan and areas affiliated with the South in its liberation war negotiated the Referendum agreement in 2002, which was then incorporated within the CPA. It is not the party that has delayed the CPA, pursued its war in Darfur, and been responsible for some three million deaths between the South, Darfur, Abyei, Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile. Khartoum is the real failed state. Using your good name to give credence to Khartoum’s fondish wish is terrible. If they choose to pursue their rights, you’ve set them up as the bad guy.
I’m embarrassed for you.
Roger Winter

Posted by Roger Winter | Report as abusive

Independence for Southern Sudan is in the best interest for the region, the people in the South and the western world. A new nation to the South will help keep a check on Bashir, who is already trying to export the jangaweed to Chad. The SPLM is being trained by U.S. Special Forces and any clash between the North and the South will reaffirm that it is impossible fot Bashir to force the South to yield to his forces. It’s unlikely the Sudanese Military would risk losing their control of Darfur by throwing everything they have at the South, so independence, via referendum or not, will happen by 2011.

Posted by Vic | Report as abusive

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Posted by Southern Sudan secession is probably imminent | Report as abusive

I am a Northerner. Our government in Khartoum is bad, that is a given. But we have nothing to give Darfurians and Southern Sudanese and we can not change our ways as Northerners any time soon, even if we change our government. We are three categorically different nations in the Sudan, so please secede and good luck, let’s work in being good neighbours.

Posted by Amr | Report as abusive

[…] people of Southern Sudan would get to vote on whether to become independent. Here’s what the timeline looks like now: At the core of the current political crisis are delays in implementing key benchmarks laid out in […]

Posted by Noli Irritare Leones » Blog Archive » The upcoming elections in Sudan, and other Sudan/Chad/CAR news | Report as abusive