From 9th-15th January history will be made: it is now beyond doubt that the people of Southern Sudan will vote to secede – dividing Africa’s largest state and forming the world’s newest. The most recent polling suggests data that up to 97% of the territory’s four million registered voters will cast their ballot in favour of independence, indicating not only a victory but a landslide for those seeking to break from Khartoum's rule. The polling stations are prepared, the papers are printed, the observers are arriving and the head of the electoral body has declared the infrastructure 100% ready.
This is meant to be the final chapter in a six year long peace process following the North-South civil war. That conflict dragged in religion, race and resources. It also dragged in men, women and children –with more than two million loosing their lives. Unfortunately however, the suffering may not be over. As whilst secession is inevitable, the birth of independent South Sudan looks set to be a turbulent one.
Indicted war criminal and current Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir has publicly announced that he will be the first to recognise Southern independence; yet he has silently built up a force of 20 000 troops along the line where the border will be drawn, in direct violation of the post-war peace agreement. The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)- the party that fought in the Civil War and has since led the South as an autonomous state -has responded in kind, sending large numbers of its own forces North over the past few weeks. It is not beyond comprehension that Al-Bashir, a tyrant currently overseeing a genocide in the Western Sudanese province of Darfur, would rather incite a fresh war with the South than letting it smoothly secede along with the majority of Sudanese oil reserves. Although fears of a fresh conflict have decreased significantly since last year, in Sudan nothing is certain.
A further and perhaps greater danger is the prospect of internal insurgencies against the Southern government once independence is declared. The SPLM has many enemies aside from Al-Bashir and local or tribal grievances could relatively easily descend into violence, causing early instability in the new state.
Of course there are also positive signs. 52% of registered voters are women, suggesting a degree of gender-equality that has been unarguably absent in the united Northern-dominated Sudan; whilst the SPLM’s de-mobilisation of child soldiers and creation of a protection unit to prevent further underage recruitment indicates a welcome break from this barbaric practice that has long blighted central Africa.
Small though such developments may seem in the grand scale of regional and inter-state politics, they are nevertheless encouraging signals for the international community’s newest member. With independence now the only certainty we can only hang onto these and hope the new state’s birth- though turbulent- is not so painful.