Sudan, both Africa and the Arab world’s largest state, is a mere month away from a referendum, which will not only determine its future but that of many other nations in the region; from the countries of the Nile Basin to Palestine. We are about to witness one of the most important moments in modern history, and no one is quite sure what to expect.
Common across the nation is nothing but feelings of unease. Tensions are running higher by the hour, and expectations of a relapse into war are increasing accordingly. Should such expectations materialise, standing by are 30,000 peacekeepers ready for any flare-ups. Yet, in the case of a serious return to conflict, these peacekeepers might prove insufficient. Many now, including Former Sudanese Foreign Minister Mansour Khalid, view Sudan’s past few decades as a honeymoon period compared to the future that lays ahead. According to a report by Frontier Economics, Sudan could suffer a loss of $50bn in GDP if civil war breaks out again, costing its neighbours $25bn. Kenya and Ethiopia are predicted to lose over $1bn.
Abyei, which lies on the border between the North and South, could be another trigger for bloodshed. Until now, there has failed to be any agreement on whose rule the oil-rich region would fall under. As a result, Abyei is scheduled to have its own referendum on January 9th, to decide whether to associate itself with the Northern capital, Khartoum, or the Southern centre, Juba. However, preparations for both referendums seem to be running behind schedule, and there have been several talks about their postponement, especially considering the recent one-week extension for voter registration to December 8th. Even so, the South requires 60% voter turnout to ensure the referendum’s validity. Though, with the North inflating the numbers of Southerners living in the North, it seems like their chance for independence might just slip away.
Pushing for a Southern secession is none other than the usual ‘triumvirate’ of the USA, the UK, and Israel. The US seems to be particularly keen on promoting a peaceful referendum. However, once again, it seems to be completely oblivious to the nature of politics in Sudan, despite the failure of its many years of economic sanctions to yield any policy changes. It is difficult to imagine how the Obama administration’s promise to take Sudan off the US ‘list of states that sponsor terrorism’ – if Khartoum cooperated with the referendum – would alter a government that has been disapproved of by the US for a decade already, and is comprised of men wanted by the ICC on charges of genocide and war crimes.
Furthermore, no amount of US agricultural aid will replace a loss of 80 per cent of oil revenue, which makes up 95 per cent of Sudan’s total revenue. “Oil has become the livelihood of this government…and they got used to lavish spending”, says Former Interior Minister Mubarak al-Fadil al-Mahdi. “Our information is that the National Congress Party will not let go of the oil”, he adds. More so, it fears that should it let go of the South, other regions in Sudan will push for their independence, particularly Darfur.
Sudan, a country at a crossroads: A country on the verge of independence…or war? In which direction will it steer? Throughout Sudan’s post-independence era, its North and South have always been in a tug of war. Decades have passed, and the rope is wearing thin. The rope will break, and the country will fall into chaos if neither side lets go. But the question remains, who will let go?
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East
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