Saturday, January 15, 2011

South Sudan Referendum: The Count Down to Independence

By John A. Akec

Juba, South Sudan

A Significant Event

Southern Sudanese call the 9th of January 2011 the day of deliverance. The US Secretary of the State, Hillary Clinton, described it as a 'ticking bomb'; the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Abul Geit, referred to it as the remaking of Sudan; President Barack Obama, during his address of the UN Security Council meeting in New York on 24 September, expressed similar sentiment when he said: "What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether a people who have endured too much war move towards peace or slip backwards into bloodshed."

Depending on how you look at it, this event is of immense significance to Sudan, and sometimes seems to mean different things to different people - in a way akin to the ten blind men guessing what an elephant looks like. Not surprising, given the far reaching implications the referendum outcome might entail for Sudan, Africa, and the Middle East.

In the last 7 days, South Sudanese at home and in the Diaspora went to polling stations in large numbers in order to cast their votes. The outcome of the January 9, 2011 referendum will determine whether or not the largest African nation will remain a unified country or split into two sovereign nations - one in the South and the other in the North.

The Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on January 9, 2005 in the Kenyan town of Naivasha brought to an end a 22-year conflict that had cost two million South Sudanese lives. The agreement, which was internationally brokered under the leadership of the Bush administration, was also recognized by UNSC Resolution 1574.
A core CPA provision is that 6 years from the date of its signing, namely on January 9, 2011, South Sudanese vote in an internationally supervised referendum to either confirm the unity of Sudan or opt for independent sovereign state.

Writing in New York Times on the eve of South Sudan Referendum vote, President Barack Obama captured the significance of the event: "Not every generation is given the chance to turn the page on the past and write a new chapter in history. Yet today — after 50 years of civil wars that have killed two million people and turned millions more into refugees — this is the opportunity before the people of southern Sudan." (Barack Obama, In Sudan, an Election, and a Beginning, New York Times, 8 Jan 2011)

South Sudanese have not missed this rare opportunity to write a new page on Sudan's history. They poured into polling stations: young and old, healthy and sick, men and women, farmers and pastoralists, students and traders, professionals, politicians and organized forces. The atmosphere was that of harmony and civility across the country.

With exceptions of a few incidents in Abyei and areas close to the North-South border, things have worked out very smoothly at polling stations across the country in a way that has given a lie to the many dire predictions that thought voting was going to be accompanied by chaos. It is a great achievement to which South Sudan Referendum Commission, Sudanese leaders in both the South and the North, non-governmental and civil society organizations, and the international community can lay a legitimate claim.

In order to be valid, South Sudan Referendum Act 2009 requires a minimum turnout of 60 percent of the registered voters. This quorum was exceeded in the first three days of voting when 2,360,900 voted out of total 3,932,588registered. As of 14 January 2011, those who voted reached 3,081,000, or 86 percent of registered voters (break down: 75% in the South and 56% in the North).

As of 14 January the percentages of those who voted in 10 Southern States were as follows:
Upper Nile (88%), Jonglie (88%), Unity (81%), Warap (85%), Northern Bahr El Ghazal (88%), Western Bahr El Ghazal (83%), Lakes (73%), Western Equatoria (73%), Central Equatoria (82%), Eastern Equatoria (74%).
The number of complaints reached was 63 so far.

Referendum in Pictures

President of Government of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayaridt was first to cast his vote

115 year Old Rebeka Kadi casts her vote in Juba

A Business Women exercises her right to vote

Member of Armed Forces taking part in referendum

The Leader of South Sudan Legislative Assembly James Wani Iga Tours Polling Stations in Juba

President Jimmy Carter and President Thabo Mbeki Arrive Juba to Observe the Voting

The Men Responsible for Referendum Process (From Left: Justice Chan Reec and Prof Ibrahim Khalil)

Women of Juba Engagged in Micro-Business - Future Bright?

Referendum Outcome
South Sudanese will either confirm unity of the country or opt for independence. The result will not be out until mid February 2011. A vote for South Sudan's independence is highly likely. And if the vote is declared credible and fair and is accepted by all, South Sudan will join United Nations as its 193rd member. However, the new government of an independent South will not assume office until July 9th, 2011, according to Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement. President Omer EL Bashir visited Juba 2 weeks before voting and he declared that his government will be the first to recognize independence of the South (if that is the outcome) and will provide logistical, technical, and economic support for the new nation. So far, the leaders of National Congress Party (The dominant and ruling Northern party) have issued statements in which they regard the referendum to be credible and fair by international standards. After declaration of the results, the coalition partners: Sudan People's Liberation Movement and National Congress Party will embark on post referendum arrangement to resolve any outstdanding issues that include the future of Abyei, an oil rich border region inhabited by Dinka Ngok that was annexed to the North in 1905 by the British.

Historical Background and Timeline of Sudan Long

1947 Juba Conference
South Sudanese chiefs agree for the South to be part of independence Sudan provided Sudan adopts a federal system.

1955 Torit Mutiny
On 17th August 1955, Satarino Oliu, Emilio Tafeng, Ali Ghabtala and others from Equatorian Cop, rebelled in Torit in Southern Sudan and let to the killing of 261 northern Sudanese (including women and children), and 75 Southerners. The rebellion was sparked by an order to move the Equatorian Cop to the North in an atmosphere of great mistrust, a few months before Sudan declared its independence on first January 1956. The rebellion was considered by Sudan’s rulers as a mere security issue and believed they had crashed it at the bud.

January 1956
Sudan declared independence in parliament. South Sudanese voted in favour of Sudan independence from Britain and Egypt and were promised confederation. This was later dishonored.

General Ibrahim Aboud military dictator rules Sudan. He pursued a vigorous and repressive Islamisation and Arabisation programme for the South as a way of imposing unity (a sort of reverse colonization). In 1962 all Christian missionaries were expelled from the South.

Sudan second democratic era. Marked by continued repression of the South. Important events: Popular uprising against military dictatorship and its ousting on 21 October 1964. Round Table Conference to discuss the problem of the South (1965). South Sdanese called for right to self-determination. This was rejected by Northern parties. Round table collapsed. Assassination of William Deng Nhial (one of founders of South Sudan Liberation Movement and leader of Sudan African Nationalist Union - SANU) in 1967, many massacres in South Sudanese cities by Sudan army.

May 25, 1969
Second military coup led by General Jafar Mohamed Numeri against the civilian democratic rule. Numeri's May Regime was born that ruled Sudan with iron fist for 17 years (until April 1984 when it was toppled by popular uprising).

February 1972 to June 1983

Addis Ababa agreement signed by May Regime with South Sudan Liberation Movement (popularly known as Anya Nya). South Sudan gained autonomous government led in succession by Abel Alier (1972-78), Joseph Lagu (1978-79), Peter Jatkuoth (1979-80), Abel Alier (1980-81), Gismalla Rassas (1981-82) and Joseph James Tambura (1982-83).

General Numerie abrogate Adis Ababa Agreement with the South in July 1983. Ended the autonomy and redivided power in the South into 3 regions accountable to Khartoum. Imposed Sharia Islamic Laws in September 1983 in whole Sudan.

May 16, 1983

Bor Mutiny led by former Anya officer, Major Kyerbino Kwanyin Bol followed by Ayod Mutiny in June 1983 led by William Nyuwan Beny.

Sudan People's Liberation Army/Sudan People's Liberation Movement was formed in Ethiopia led by Colonel Dr. John Garang de Mabior. It defined the Southern Problems as a Sudanese Problem whose roots are based in marginalization of peripheries by minority clique regime in Khartoum. It resolved to wage a protracted war for a united democratic and secular new Sudan.

May Regime was toppled by popular uprising in April 1984. Third democratic era began. Sadiq El Mahadi became the elected prime minister of Sudan in 1986.

June 1989

Omer El Bashir Islamic Salvation Revolution toppled the civilian rule. Political parties banned.

1991 Nasir Declaration

August, SPLM split. Riek Machar and Lam Akol led the breakaway wing (later formed SPLA-United). The break away called for self-determination of the South as a solution to North-South war. They held talks with the Sudanese Salvation Regime in Frankfort in January 1992.

SPLM conference in Chukudum resolved that self-determination will be part of its agenda.

1994 September
Nairobi Declaration of Principles signed. Acknowledged self-determination for people of South Sudan if need be. It formed the basis of Naivasha Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005.

1994 December
Asmara Declaration. Northern parties allied to SPLM accept the right to self-determination for South Sudan after giving unity a chance.

Khartoum Peace Agreement (KPA) was signed between the government of Sudan and South Sudan Independent Movement (SSIM). Two years later SSIM splintered and KPA began to collapse.

A famine devastated large parts of greater Bahr El Ghazal. The worst in its history.


Machokos Protocol signed by Salva Kiir Mayardit and Government of Sudan representative. Recognised the right to self-determination of the people of South Sudan. Other protocols followed until November 2004. Cease fire declared.


Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on January 9, 2005. July 10, 2005, Dr John Garang De Mabior sworn in as First Vice President and President of Government of South Sudan. July 30, 2005, John Garang killed in helicopter crash on way from Uganda. Succeeded by Salva Kiir Mayardit.


The Hague Arbitration Court ruled on Abei boundary on 22 July 2008.

Sudan multiparty election conducted in April 2009. Results dominated by National Congress in the North and Sudan People Liberation Movement in the South.


South Sudan Referendum takes place on 9th January 2011 and closed today 15th January 2011. Results will start to appear on 20th January 2011.

What impact will South secession have on Sudan neighbors, Africa and Middle East?
For Sudan, there is a widespread fear that a land of one million square miles will cease to be the largest African nation.

The secession vote may lead to formation of a hostile state in South Sudan that in turn works to undermine the North and pave the way for further disintegration of the country. Other regions in the West, East and North-South transition zone could decide to follow suit, as happened in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and previously in the Soviet Union. This view is prevalent among the northern Sudanese elite; it fears an international conspiracy, led by the US and its Zionist allies, to break up an Arab nation.

Others, however, particularly in the South, believe the independence of their region will end a half-century of irreconcilable differences over the political, social, cultural and religious orientation of Sudan, especially with regard to adopting a secular as opposed to an Islamic-theocratic constitution. Moreover, complete independence is seen as the only way South Sudan can rid itself of chronic political, cultural and socio-economic marginalization by the North.

A number of Sudan's neighbors, such as Chad, Ethiopia and Eritrea, shy away from openly endorsing secession of the South lest it provoke their erstwhile neighbor into supporting secessionist movements in their countries. Egypt fears that independence of South Sudan will strengthen the Nile basin countries that are pushing for review of the outmoded Nile water agreements that gave it and Sudan a lion's share. A new South Sudan may wish to use Nile waters for its economic development, making South Sudan's gain appear to count as a loss for Egypt. However, Egypt is striving to establish a good relationship with the new government in South Sudan in order to protect its interests. As for Uganda and Kenya, they see secession as the opening up of a new export market for their goods and services.

In the Arab world as a whole, many have committed to respect the choice of the people of South Sudan. Having been a witness to the signing of the peace agreement in 2005, the Arab League is not too vocal about the possible splitting up of Sudan. This is probably because many of its members have not recovered from the scars left by the polarization of public opinion surrounding Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent western-led Gulf wars that eventually resulted in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Therefore, it is unlikely that many Arab countries, some of which fear the influence of Sudan's Islamist movement, would shed tears over the South's secession. That many Arab countries have launched development initiatives for South Sudan bears witness to this hard reality

What does Independence Implies for the South?

South Sudan is one of the poorest spots on Earth. Its population ranges between 9 and 10 million of which 90 percent live on less than one dollar per day, 33 percent are classed as chronically hungry, only 6 percent have access to improved sanitation, 85 percent of adults don’t read or write, there is only 1 teacher for each 1000 students, 1 in 6 mothers dies during childbirth, and 135 out of 1000 children die before the age of five
What's more, 98 percent of government income comes from sale of its share of oil. The infrastructure (roads, bridges, and electricity) is poor or nil. Landlocked and with no productive industries of its own, South Sudan imports everything from the Northern and East Africa, while exporting nothing in return.

The government of South Sudan will therefore be faced with the task of improving on these heart-wrenching indicators in a timely manner. At the moment, the ruling party in the South (SPLM) has been successful in supervising the implementation of CPA. It is, however, yet to show it [SPLM] got strategy for a comprehensive economic development of the South.

Hopefully, these young kids will not need to fight another war


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