Is the deadline for South Sudan’s referendum to determine self-governance is winding down, with just three days to go, The Voice newspaper’s Modou S. Joof looks at the hopes and fears that engulfed the run up to the referendum and the aftermath of the votes.
In May 2010, the Executive Director of the Africa Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), Osman Hummaida, told The Voice newspaper that the April 11 to 15, 2010 Elections that were held in Sudan as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), was a mechanism to addressing key causes of conflict in Sudan.
This, he said were the first multiparty elections in 24 years for Sudan and that it was an essential benchmark of the CPA, which brought the 22 year civil war to a halt.
According to him, the CPA provides a framework for legal and constitutional changes to take place over a six-year interim period, ending with the 2011 referendum for self determination in the South of Sudan and Abyei.
He admitted that the elections represented a significant step forward, giving Sudanese who never had the chance to exercise their voting rights to do so, whereas the campaign offered a unique opportunity to engage in political issues that are critical to the nation.
However, in the build up to the referendum slated for January 9, 2011, administrative government of the oil rich South Sudan has been optimistic to have the opportunity to taste self-governance.
They have since set out a blue print development agenda and have worked earnestly to the successful but tough task of registering millions of voters. "With or without the collaboration with the North, the South said it was determined to go through the process of holding a referendum once and for all."
In September 2010, South Sudan announces that it is planning to change its major cities into "shapes of Fruit and Animal", that is, restructuring cities to take the shapes of a Rhino, Zebra etc. wherein the administrative government will be situated at the head of the Zebra. It’s an interesting initiative but such can only be visible on an aerial view.
Prior to President Al Bahir’s visit to the South on January 4, 2011, he stressed that he will be the first to accept the decision of the south when votes are cast on January 9.
His comments took skeptics by surprise, especially those who have always seen a gloomy atmosphere towards the build up to referendum.
Al Bashir, who was accompanied by Sudan’s second Vice President Ali Osman Taha, reiterated his earlier comments when he visited the south on Tuesday. "If you choose to remain a united Sudan, we will welcome it. If you choose to be independent, we will still work together and we are ready to support you to achieve peace in the area", he said.
The South felt it has been marginalized for so long and now its citizens are determined to be the architect of their own destiny. Thus, the referendum has brought hopes for many, as many of its citizens living in the North has chosen to return and take part in this historical election. It remains to be seen whether the South will secede or not, but a breakaway is more likely, analysts say and second Vice President Ali Osman Taha is likely to become its president when the region is accorded its full independence.
In an interview with The Voice newspaper in May 2010, the Associate Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative, Olivia Bueno expressed fears that violence may erupt in Sudan in the build up to the 2011 Referendum. "In fact, there has been violence in Sudan for the past years, leading to the displacement of many citizens," she said. "Even the demarcation is likely to spark conflict given the fact that South Sudan is very rich in oil resources." However, Bueno said a structure has been put in place with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to determine how such resources could be utilised without sparking conflict between the North and the South.
Will internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the South live permanently there or will have to return to their original lands provided that the South secedes from the North? Bueno said: "It is a question we do not know at the moment, there have been policies that were formulated on the issue but are so restrictive, we are trying to see how other policies that will be flexible and favourable to the IDPs can be formulated."
On January 5, 2011, the International Rescue Committee said increasing displacement from violence and a steady stream of Southern Sudanese returning home ahead of the January 9 referendum on secession are straining communities already facing dire shortages of food, water, health care and sanitation.
"We have an unfolding humanitarian crisis, layered on top of an existing and forsaken one," says Susan Purdin, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Southern Sudan. "And then there’s the potential for mass displacement, an upsurge in political and ethnic violence and a larger scale humanitarian emergency."
Hundreds of thousands of displaced Southern Sudanese have gradually returned home since the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a 22-year civil war between Sudan’s North and South. But the pace has dramatically accelerated, with some 106,000 returnees arriving from the North over the past three months.
"The returnees are largely settling in former frontline states along the border that could be flashpoints again. They arrive with little if any money or support. Thousands are camping out at makeshift transit centers, unable to reach their final destinations. Some have nowhere to go," IRC said on Wednesday.
"These regions are struggling to recover from the last war," says Purdin. "They lack basic services, food, infrastructure, and the means to protect their civilians, and have little capacity to absorb returnees or displaced populations given the already bleak conditions."
Self-governance for South Sudan has been seen by many as a major step to curb the long standing conflict in Africa’s largest country; however, the post referendum era will determine how crucial the decision (that is if the south secedes) will be to bring lasting peace in Sudan. In a country affected by terrible suffering, the will of its citizens, if not respected, could serve as a major catalyst to the bitter experiences for people who felt marginalized.
The author is the News Editor of The Voice newspaper in Banjul and publisher of The North Bank Evening Standard blog:http//:thenorthbankeveningstandard.blogspot.com/