For the outside observer, it seems that a lot of what is happening now in Sudan is taking place in preparation for the forthcoming elections which are set to take place in April 2010, and this is both confusing and exciting. The Sudanese President stepped down from his position as commander in chief of the armed forces, and the SPLM movement nominated a southern candidate to stand for the presidential elections, contesting this post with [SPLM] partner President Omar al-Bashir, whilst Hassan al-Turabi’s opposition party has also nominated a southerner to run for the presidency. Amidst all of this, a heated battle is being fought with parliament on laws related to the implementation of the fateful referendum that is set to take place next year [to finally decide the issue of the south’s secession] and which will be undertaken by the next government. At the same time the International Criminal Court’s [ICC] ruling with regards to Darfur hangs over the entire scene like the sword of Damocles.
Amidst this all, a senior official in the ruling National Congress party, who was also one of the negotiators of the peace agreement made between the south and the north, made a dramatic statement in which he said that the south’s secession from the north has now become a reality. He said that the timeframe leading up the referendum which is scheduled to take place on 9 January 2011 is not sufficient to promote unity, and that since secession is most likely to take place, he called for a fraternal relationship between the future north and south states.
Without going into too much detail on the internal political battles between the different parties and trends in Sudan, which undoubtedly have significant implications on the domestic situation in the country, as well as Khartoum’s external relations, the 2011 referendum remains the pivotal issue of concern for the region. This referendum will decide Sudan’s borders, and whether Sudan will remain one country or two. This also has regional and even international implications, and of course the situation that will emerge following the elections will also play a major role in deciding the direction of events later on.
The indications seem to be that the statement made by the ruling party official is realistic in anticipating the course of coming events in Sudan. Over the past two years the skirmishes between the two ruling partner parties have continued unabated, and in some cases these skirmishes have been extremely heated. In the south, institutes are being prepared [for independence] and northern politicians seem to have psychologically prepared themselves for the possibility of two states. A number of policies adopted during the previous years seem to logically prepare for this. Even regionally and internationally, there have been signs and indications of readiness to deal with the new reality that may emerge.
This does not necessarily mean approval for the south seceding from the north, as it would be better and in fact ideal if Sudan remains unified. Unification is also in the interests of both sides, whether this is politically or economically. Despite all the statements to the contrary, secession is not inevitable, and if following the elections a new situation emerges which is able to convince political parties that there is a better future in remaining unified then the current picture may change. However this may require political and economic aid from foreign and Arab parties.
Whatever the choice made by the people of Sudan, this will not signify the end of the world. We must be prepared for and accept the decision made by the referendum. Most importantly, there must be no return to fighting or bloodshed under any circumstances. For in the end, the geographic reality will prevail, and neither the north nor the south will be able to change the geography that links them together, regardless of the political form that governs them.