As long as two-thirds of south Sudanese vote in a 2011 referendum for independence, the Sudan government under President Omar al-Bashir will grant south Sudan independence, it has been confirmed. South Sudan’s Vice-President Riek Machar returned from Khartoum with the news that has sent most of south Sudan to the streets in celebration. However, the accord still needs to be ratified by officials both in the north and the south.
“We have overcome the differences over the outstanding issues, and there is an agreement. I would have wished the turnout quorum to be a little bit lower, not that the south cannot meet the two-thirds registered voters… but because of the difficulties we have such as security, transport, logistics, movement of people,” Mr. Machar was quoted by reporters. Mr. Omar al-Bashir’s National Congress Party is yet to comment on the agreement that has been reached by both northern and southern vice presidents.
Even though the southern Sudan had pushed for a lower turnout requirement, many in the streets of the capital city of Juba, are content with the two-third condition, and are already celebrating what they see as an important step towards the referendum, reports claim. Mr. Machar added that all southerners will be allowed to vote, including those in the northern capital Khartoum and those outside Sudan. Southern Sudan has a population of more than 15 million, but given the lack of a census in several decades, this estimate may be severely compromised; it may rise to about 17 million.
Leaders of south Sudan have been locked in talks over secession, with the Arab-led government in Khartoum insisting that that 75% of voters must agree to independence, before south Sudan could gain its sovereignty. Observers and diplomats had expressed fears that the condition for secession initially given by Khartoum could resurrect the 22-year civil war that plagued the country, leaving some 1.5m people dead. The conflict was mostly between the Muslim north against Christians and Animists in the south, and was Africa’s longest running civil war. A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the warring regions in 2005, bringing the war to an official end.
But the agreement offered no right of continuation of the Khartoum concession agreements giving the Southern Sudanese government the right to practice their rights, freedoms, and sovereignty to declare its independence. Sporadic conflicts soon became an issue within south Sudan, as villages and ethnicities fought each other over grazing land and water. Southern Sudan is made up of different ethnic groups with entrenched tribal animosities against each other, and arguments were made in Khartoum that south Sudan could develop a cohesive governance system that could keep those tribal inclinations stable.
At least 2,000 people have been killed in such ethnic clashes in South Sudan, notably Jonglei state, this year alone. However, southern politicians and leaders have always accused the northerners of perpetrating the conflicts in south Sudan, to stir up unrest ahead of the national elections due in 2010, and referendum in 2011.
Looming foreign relations and business
In recent years, a significant amount of foreign-based oil drilling has begun in Southern Sudan, raising the land’s geopolitical profile. China, Malaysia, India, and France have begun to court south Sudan President Salva Kiir to protect their respective country’s oil interests. British companies have also been courting the Southern Sudanese government with regard to mining exploration, specializing in cobalt and copper. Zimbabwe Vice President Joice Mujuru said on Wednesday said that Zimbabwe will open a consulate in Southern Sudan to strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries, soon.
“The history of co-operation between the Government of the Republic of Zimbabwe and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLM) is well documented.We would want to underline that when the SPLM, under the late charismatic John Garang took up arms to fight, what they were fighting were the relics of injustice.Because the fight in Sudan was aimed at eradicating all forms of oppression we found common ground with them as we had also fought to unshackle ourselves from the yokes of colonialism,” said VP Mujuru.
According to historical report on Sudan profile: When the British ran Sudan as a colony they administered the northern and southern provinces separately; the south was held to be more similar to the other east-African colonies — Kenya, Tanganyika (now, Tanzania), and Uganda — while northern Sudan was more similar to Arabic-speaking Egypt. Northerners were prevented from holding positions of power in the south, and trade was discouraged between the two areas.
However, in 1946 the British gave in to northern pressure to integrate the two areas. Arabic was made the language of administration in the south, and northerners began to hold positions there. The southern elite, trained in English, resented the change as they were kept out of their own government. After decolonization, most power was given to the northern elites based in Khartoum, causing unrest in the south.
In 1955, southern resentment of northern Muslim Arab domination culminated in a mutiny among southern troops in Equatorial Province. These troops were upset that the Khartoum government had failed to deliver on its promises to Britain that it would create a federal system. For the next 17 years, the southern region experienced civil strife, and various southern leaders agitated for regional autonomy or outright secession.
Another factor in the second war was the natural resources of Sudan, particularly in the south, where there are significant oil fields. Oil revenues make up about 70% of Sudan’s export earnings. Due to numerous tributaries of the Nile River and heavier precipitation in southern Sudan, the south also has greater access to water, and is therefore much more fertile. The north of the country is on the edge of the Sahara desert. The northern desire to control these resources, and the southern desire to maintain control of them, contributed to the war.