The upcoming referendum in southern Sudan to decide the region’s political future must be “free, fair, credible and transparent” to ensure lasting peace and stability for the whole nation, and that is a goal the U.S. government is working hard to achieve, says U.S. Presidential Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration.
“We might have a new country” in six months, Gration said. So there is an urgent need to prepare for a possible independent south if a majority of southerners vote that way next January. “We’re not prejudging the referendum,” he added, but must plan for such an outcome.
The retired U.S. Air Force major general gave a countdown to the referendum at a July 13 briefing sponsored by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Africa Program. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn and Sudanese Embassy Charge D’Affaires Dr. Akec K.A. Khoc attended the event moderated by CSIS Africa Program Director Jennifer Cooke.
In 2005, the United States, along with international and African partners, facilitated an agreement between the government of Sudan and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) ending a decades-long north/south civil war that had killed or displaced millions. The resulting Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) provided for a referendum to be held in the south no later than January 2011 to decide whether the region would become an independent nation or remain a part of Sudan.
Gration said the U.S. government was working “on the ground” in the south with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community members helping to prepare for the vote, which includes organizing the “diaspora vote” of southerners living in eight foreign countries.
“While the time is short” before the critical ballot, Gration said he was optimistic about Sudan’s future. Since being named special envoy in March 2009, he said, “we have accomplished a lot. And looking forward, we will make a difference” toward a lasting peace for the war-torn nation.
With the southern referendum looming, Gration said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “has taken a very positive role” in areas like overseeing a diplomatic expansion that tripled the State Department’s presence in the south.
On the multilateral level, Gration said, “we are building a [diplomatic] team of countries like Norway and the United Kingdom” to help ensure provisions of the CPA are implemented. In addition, other countries and organizations including France, Russia, China, the African Union and United Nations “partnered with the United States to make a [positive] difference in Sudan.”
One such group — “the Envoy Six” — planned to meet in the region July 17 to discuss the southern referendum, and Gration said he would attend. He said he would also meet with Sudanese government representatives in Khartoum and rebels groups in Doha on his trip to the region beginning July 15.
On the economic front, Gration said, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is devoting personnel and millions of dollars to help forestall famine that threatens 4.3 million people in southern Sudan. The agency will host a regional conference in August with experts and implementers on the ground to discuss better ways of ensuring food security, including improving seed quality, fertilization and better planting techniques.
But “we can’t just focus on the south,” Gration told his CSIS audience. While the CPA cease-fire between north and south has held, fighting in the Darfur region continues.
Declaring “justice and accountability are critical … [to] a lasting peace in Darfur,” Gration said his office was working on a two-track approach to the problem involving peace talks with the Khartoum government and rebel groups in Doha and “working in Darfur itself” to protect its vulnerable residents.
The son of missionaries who worked in the Congo and Kenya, Gration said, “To me it’s just really terrible” that more than 2 million people are living in crude huts in Darfur “where they are subjected to gender-based violence” and to other injustices and inhumanities.
Crime must stop and security must be restored in Darfur, Gration said. “We’re working very hard with the government of Sudan, UNAMID [The African Union/U.N. hybrid operation in Darfur] and NGOs to come up with a plan for Darfur security and stabilization.”
“I’m pleased to say we just got the basic outline of a plan from the government of Sudan and it is a very, very good plan,” Gration added.
During his July visit to the region, Gration said, “I will work with these officials in Khartoum and Darfur, NGOs and members of the community to make sure we put into place a system of security and stabilization” that ends the violence and provides a framework for lasting peace.