Tuesday, March 30, 2010

South Sudan Referendum: between readiness, securing civil divorce, and striving for marriage makeover afterwards

By John A. Akec

A recent internet poll conducted this week by Sudan Tribune (which I believe is credible), asked readers to choose between independence, confederation, and unity. Those who chose independence were 59%, 32% selected confederation, and only 9% chose unity. I assume the majority of Sudanese readers who visit Sudan Tribune website come from South Sudan, because this site is a prime source of news and analysis on Sudan with English language as a medium of communication. Still, the likelihood that there could be a good mix of readership from all over Sudan cannot be dismissed. And interestingly enough, even if my vote was counted in the 59% who chose independence, I regard 32% in favour of confederation to have very significant implications for deciphering the Sudanese mind on issues of unity or independence for South Sudan.

And this is why. Other polls in the past that offered only two choices between unity and independence ended with more than 91% voting in favour of independence while only 9% favoured unity. What does all this tell us? It says an awful lot. It means a sizable number of South Sudanese do not regard independence to be the ideal solution to Sudan political ailments. Yet offered a choice between independence and being locked into an open-ended unity (for better or for worst), Southerners will rather secure the divorce certificate, and try a marriage makeover afterwards.

Independence has both its pros and cons. There is a price tag attached to any choice. Needless to point to those 2.5 million lives already paid just to get to where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has brought us. The most obvious advantage of independence is being able to set one's own rules for living and to do things as one sees fit. Your own tent in which you have all freedom is a thousand times better than a decorated room in king's palace with so many constraints imposed on your freedom. Yet, going it alone too soon has its own perils. Missing the synergies of a shared house (pooling of resources with attendant economies of scale) is independence price worth noting. And the more "ready" we are, the less stressful the transition is going to be.

There are two components to readiness. One being the post-referendum arrangements between the North and South; and the other is the capacity of the independent South to stand on its own feet without being a burden to international community.

In terms of post-referendum arrangements, a report by !Enough Project released in March (entitled: Preparing for Two Sudans, March 2010) expressed concern about peace partners (the National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM)) giving too much attention to elections on the expense of implementing outstanding issues in the CPA, negotiating and agreeing on citizenship rights, post-referendum wealth-sharing, sharing of Sudan liabilities (national debt), and agreeing on policies that will regulate the movement of people between two parts of Sudan after January 2011. In January, 2010, the Government of South Sudan announced the formation of Referendum Task Force. Details of its membership have not been revealed. In February, 2010, the chair and deputy chair of Referendum Commission were appointed. With election now dominating everything, no visible progress will be seen in this respect until well into June 2010; by which time Sudan would be left with six months to referendum. !Enough reports urged international community (US, EU, AU, China, Egypt, Emirate, and other players) to step up pressure on peace partners to speed up the implementation of outstanding CPA provisions (North-South demarcation, residence status and citizenry in Abyei, and formation of Referendum Commission), and to come up with a consistent framework for negotiating post-referendum arrangements.

Church Leaders' Forum convened recently in Juba from 23rd to 26th March. The Forum was attended by 60 representatives of 14 churches inside and outside Sudan (including church leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, and South Africa).

Inspired by a Bible verse from book of Micah (6:8): "Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God," the leaders resolved to "re-engage with burning issues of the day… and to roll out a new People to People Process of Dialogue…to engage with national and international bodies, and to increase [Church's] role in civic education, and monitoring of elections, popular consultation, and referendum…".

It is worth noting that the Church's voice has been relatively dimmed in recent years following the signing of CPA in 2005. Therefore, this re-engagement with pertinent issues facing Sudan at this juncture by the Church with its local, regional, and international dimension is a tremendous boost to the efforts being exerted by stakeholders to achieve a peaceful, just, and democratic transition for Sudan.

Regarding readiness of the South to govern itself, much concern has been expressed about the inability of the independent South to manage its own security in the face of spiralling ethnic violence. In 2009 alone, 2,500 people were killed and 35,000 others displaced by inter-tribal violence. Analysts see the situation worsening after independence that may undermine the viability of the newly born nation. Therefore, voices have been heard calling for delay of referendum until such time when the South has better capacity to run itself. Apart from outright rejection by the majority of people of South Sudan, one is bound to ask: how long is long enough until referendum?

A USAID report published in December 2009 does not advocate for delay of referendum as a relief to capacity problem, but recommended a robust intervention by the international community that is estimated at US$ 373 per year for ten years in form of financial and technical assistance, and social services at appropriate level of the government. The report estimates that South Sudan would need between 3,000 to 5,000 expatriates to beef up its capacity, based on USAID's past experience in countries in post-conflict reconstruction situations like Botswana, Mozambique, and Timor-Leste. That South Sudan will continue to need long term support of varying level and intensity for at least 20 years or more.

In conclusion, it is inevitable that South Sudan will vote for independence in January 2011 as predicted by many polls. Hopefully, doors will not be closed for future economic and political reunification of Sudan through mutual agreement. In short to medium term, the two new Sudan entities will continue to be interdependent to the extent that makes it absolutely necessary to cooperate fruitfully for their citizen's interests. That South Sudan can fail if not given a helping hand by international community is real. With so much needs identified and facts provided in hand, it is understandable that South is suffering from serious shortage of capacity and can do with robust intervention by the international community.

On South Sudan part, their government will need to be seen as doing the best with what it already got. By doing so, the South will be sending out a positive signal to the international community that will hopefully be willing to come to our rescue in the mid river.

Good leadership, prudent management of South Sudan scarce resources, and a helping hand by the international community will make the hugely challenging task to be within the grasp of the stakeholders.


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