the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of January 2005 brokered chiefly by the UN and IGAD – that sought to end decades of violent and divisive conflict.
Whatever the final outcome of the referendum, expected to be announced between the 07th and 14th of February, the fact that it has happened at all is already a triumph for the Sudanese people. Many observers - including Head Down Eyes Open - feared the worst but thankfully the dominant, dire predictions of a return to war and violence have been largely disproved.
The mostly trouble-free lead up to the referendum did bring with it some unforeseen developments however, including a larger-than-expected movement of Southern Sudanese people from the north to the south which presented a range of logistical, health and humanitarian challenges. Masses of people decided to return for the referendum and will now possibly choose to remain to build the world’s newest country.
Returnees are reported to be still journeying south in a jubilant mood, sensing the historic era of a newly independent state, but with little else to sustain them. The end of voting is of course only the beginning. It is going to be a massive challenge to provide people returning to the South with the health and social assistance that they need, not to mention assisting them to secure ways of earning a living. The existing vulnerabilities of the local population also need to be factored in so a balanced support is provided that avoids triggering tensions between returnee and resident populations.
Strong Civil Society
Our partners working with the Sudanese Red Crescent (est. 1956) are quiet possibly the only civil society organization that has remained unified and operational throughout the entire territory of Sudan, including in the Red Sea State in the east and the troubled region of Darfur. Continued partnership and support to this national society will be a top priority now and, we would argue, should also be for the international community.
When, as expected, independence is chosen by the electorate, the process of transition will start – a period of some six months. Special attention will be given not only to the process of forming a new state but a brand new national society which is poised to become the latest member to the Red Cross and Red Crescent global network of 186 national societies.
Any future national Red Cross society in an independent Southern Sudan will need to be fully resourced and supported as they will play a grassroots role in building stability, supporting communities as well as being a key contributer to peace-building south and north of any future borders. There will be enormous legal, logistical, resourcing and political challenges but an ‘amicable divorce’ is certainly achievable.
Although indications at this stage are that we will not be facing a large-scale humanitarian emergency triggered by the referendum’s result, the situation remains fragile and unpredictable. This is Sudan after all - big country, big problems. Numerous unresolved issues between Sudan’s north and south – from citizenship to oil exploration - may lead to escalated crises or localized conflict, and violent tensions between some fifty tribal communities within Southern Sudan itself can also be easily exacerbated.
The people of Sudan are pointing the way forward. They have taken an incredibly difficult road to get to this juncture. The vital political milestone of the referendum has passed and this needs to be celebrated as a victory for peaceful dialog - of which, importantly, a regional organization (IGAD) played a major role. But it is only the start. We would be wrong to deceive ourselves into thinking that the toughest test is over – any complacency now would be a mistake. Let's hope, after the Jubalation calms down, that the world resolves to stick with Sudan - north and south - for the long haul.