Is an independent south Sudan now inevitable?

November 4, 2009

So, is it now inevitable that Sudan’s oil-producing south will decide to split away from the north as an independent country in a looming secession referendum in 2011?

That was the conclusion of some observers of a bluntly worded exchange of views between two leading lights from the north and the south at a symposium in Khartoum on Tuesday.

Sudan’s Muslim north fought a two decade civil war with southerners, most of them Christians and followers of traditional beliefs. The 2005 peace deal that ended that conflict set up a north/south coalition government and promised a referendum on southern secession.

Sudan’s foreign minister Deng Alor told journalists at the symposium most of his fellow southerners, embittered by decades of northern oppression and imposed Islamic values, “overwhelmingly” wanted independence. Only a miracle would change their minds, he said, going on to appeal for a “peaceful divorce” should the south choose to split.

Two days earlier, southern president Salva Kiir shocked many when he openly told a cathedral congregation they should choose independence if they wanted to be free and unity if they wanted to be “second class” in their own country.

Powerful northern presidential advisor Ghazi Salaheddin countered on Tuesday by accusing southerners of paranoia, “living in victimhood” and mismanaging their own semi-autonomous region.
The comments were unusually blunt and personal for such a public venue. To many, their tone was a bitter reminder of the rhetoric routinely thrown around before the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

Sudan commentator Alex de Waal wrote on his blog that many of the comments echoed what had been said in earlier closed sessions in the U.N. sponsored conference.

“During the earlier sessions of the symposium, the same theme was repeatedly made: Sudan is entering its last days as a single nation. Among the northerners, there was immense regret, but also acceptance of the inevitability of the split. One well-known Islamist said that secession was coming and the important thing was to make it smooth.”

Managing a smooth secession would be a huge task for northerners and southerners weighed down by decades of mistrust and bitter grievance, poisoned by ethnic and religious divisions.

There are many good reasons for them to want a peaceful divorce, beyond avoiding another bloody conflict.

The biggest factor is that they both need each other when it comes to oil — the south has most of the country’s proven oil reserves while the north currently has the refineries and the pipeline routes to the sea.

But any managed separation needs planning, and plenty of it. So far there has been no sign that the two sides have got together for any kind of strategising on the implications of separation after the referendum.

The head of the U.N. in Sudan, Ashraf Qazi, tried to accentuate the positive when he summed up Tuesday’s discussions, saying both sides remained committed to the ideal of unity.

But there was a telling slip as he finished his summation.

“We are still at a moment of hope. And I believe that the leadership of the two countries which have ensured that the peace is maintained, that the ceasefire has not broken down, during the period of the CPA, they have already shown that responsibility. They can rise to the challenge even now.”


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They have tried, but with the glaring differences that have appeared, the north and the south look like an odd couple. Indeed, how can they reconcile things like sharia? With regard to resources, oil and water will be indeed major challenges as they need each other for efficient resource management. What will Egypt do? It depends on the south for its water supply. Will there be a rapprochement with Juba or will it back Khartoum? How about Kenya, also be key for the south, and other neighbours? The future will of course depend on great and middle powers policy: USA, Russia, China, France but also Iran. StrategiCo. currently rates Sudan l2/l4 (l4 = maximum risk).

Posted by Lydie Boka | Report as abusive

Unfortunately it is highly likely that Sudan will split. Both new countries will suffer enormously. They will both have their micro-civi war. It won’t be North against South, but it will be perceived marginalised minorities against the new central governments. The South will be worse since it has much more disgruntled jobless youth. If both parts of Sudan believe they want better future, they should look around them and learn from countris trying to unify in order to face global problems. Sudan should be aspiring to African unity, not splitting nations. Both parts should stop criticising each other. Yes, Northern government was involved in militant Islam in the past and were keen on Sharia law. But, this is history. Southern goverment is partially corrupt. But they have done significant good deeds trying to build their region from scratch. Yes, money was blundered in the South. But as we know, the blunderers and facilitatators are Ugandans, Kenynas and Ethiopians. The North should admire what the SPLM done during the past few years. The South should also acknowledge the good deeds that Northern govrenment has done, including partnering in peace. I hope the South can have an option of voting for extending the transitional period. A longer peaceful period may build trust and pave the way to keep the country unified.

Posted by Kuku Abdul Rassa3 | Report as abusive

I would like to comment that let south Sudan to look themselve as new state if we want peace, or if want another war let the rulling parties of Sudan talking about the unity Sudan. No peace at all for unity because we are the Sudanese we fail to done the attractive unity and to late this time, let the south declare their independent as new country. South and north are reality differents for everthing to live togathers with Arabas north. Thank to God to bring the CPA by westministers ideologies of saving life of all worlds

Posted by Raannaath | Report as abusive

i advocate the idea of divide the soudan in two part that’s a good idea the africa countries are bigger that why they have failed to gorvored the entire continent let the south sudan split from the north where the arabe a roued in evil way ofdiscrimmnation africa people

Posted by fidele | Report as abusive

Is Nigeria the next one to split? They too have a major Islam-Christian divide and plenty of oil to share

Posted by Hmmmm | Report as abusive

Arab countries historically wanted always to be united as long as long as one country rules the other(s). In Sudan, union with the South has always been with the North ruling the South. With such a difference in cultures and so much distrust, it will do no harm for them to separate. Thereafter, if they still need each other, co-operation could carry on for instance with the export of oil from the South and the refining in the North and hopefully other sectors. As for Sharia Law, the North could be freer to apply it if they so wish and the South would not feel threatened by it anymore. And maybe one day like in Europe, African countries may find a common ground to unite including the North and the South of Sudan whilst maintaining still that sense of independence.

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