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Dr Musa A Keilani: Southern sudan — On the path to recognition
January 23, 2011
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It is all but official now. The people of southern Sudan have voted to break away and set up the world’s newest country. It is the culmination of several decades of conflict in Africa’s largest country that was rooted in what the British colonial power left behind when it “magnanimously” granted independence to Sudan.

The colonial power cared little for the southern Sudanese despite that the people of the south were largely Christian. And the Arab Muslims who took over Sudan when the Britons left could not care less for the south.

It was indeed a heavily mismatched marriage. But the northern regime in Khartoum countered the south’s bid to assert itself by sheer military force and sought to silence all voices of dissent. In the meantime, the south was totally neglected in national development. Even in the 1980s and 1990s, life in the south was no better than how it used to be in Africa in the 18th century.

In the conflict where the southerners wanted to assume and exercise their right to self-determination, three million were displaced and two million were killed, some reports say.

It is indeed a tribute to the southerners that they withstood the military assault by the relatively superior forces of the north and gave as much as they could in return for decades.

The conflict had a serious destabilising regional effect, upsetting vested Western interests that were keen to exploit the natural resources of the region.

It took until 2005 for the Islamist regime in Khartoum to understand and accept that it was waging a meaningless and ineffective war in the south. It succumbed to Western pressure and signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in that year and that accord led to the referendum on southern independence this month.

The officials result of the vote is not expected until February, but it is abundantly clear that it is a landslide yes vote for southern independence.

Vote officials have reported more than 90 per cent yes vote in the southern states of Central Equatoria, Unity, Lakes, Jonglei, Warrap, Western Bahr Al Ghazal and Eastern Equatoria, according to international news agencies.

The final result will set south Sudan on the path to recognition as the world’s newest state in July, as stipulated in the 2005 agreement.

Indeed, the world was sceptical that the vote would be held at all since indications were that the north was trying to delay the process by disagreeing with the south on almost every issue. It was indeed a miracle that the registration process was a success and even the ballot papers were printed just two weeks to spare.

Then came the repeated pledges by northern leaders, including President Omar Hassan Al Beshir, that they would respect the outcome of the vote, even it meant southern independence. It was no magnanimity either. The writing was clear on the wall the outcome of the vote would be independence for the southerners and the northern leaders had no choice to accept it in advance. They had no stomach for a new war with the south.

They obviously had an eye on the generosity of the West as well as the Arab World to grant Sudan debt relief, which would not have been forthcoming if they were to hold onto their hard-line stand against the south going independent.

The southern leaders responded with magnanimity, with southern president Salva Kiir joining thousands of faithful and praying to God to forgive the north for the deaths caused during the conflict.

“May we, like Jesus Christ on the cross, forgive those who have forcefully caused their deaths,” Kiir said.

However, the troubles in southern Sudan are not yet over. Of particular fear is the future of the oil-rich Abyei region, where a referendum on whether to join the north or south has been out off indefinitely.

The north and south have to demarcate their own borders and reach agreements on sharing natural resources.

Central to such negotiations is Abyei, where tribal rivalries threaten violence breaking out anytime.

The international community should remain focused on Sudan, with particular emphasis for a pea ceful agreement on the future of Abyei. For without a amicable agreement on Abyei, the entire referendum on southern independence would seem to have served no purpose.

On a different level, the Khartoum regime does not seem to have learnt its lessons from decades of popular unrest.

The way Beshir is handling the popular protests stemming from high prices, poverty and unemployment is typical of that of high-handed regimes which believe in putting down unrest through the use of force.

The outcry over the arrest of  opposition leader Hassan Al Turabi, who was detained after he called for a “popular revolution” over price rises and political demands, was an expression of popular anger with the regime.

Beshir would never be able to suppress the protests. Of course, his military would and could put up a fight that could claim hundreds of lives but not enough to silence the voices of millions who are frustrated by the denial of social justice.

The best option for Beshir to urgently release all political prisoners and convene a national dialogue leading to democratic reforms in the country according to the will of the people of Sudan.

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