The reproach and criticism leveled at the Sudanese Foreign Minister who said that he considered the Egyptian role in Sudan weak and spoke about its lack of knowledge on local complexities there is just one indication of tensions in Khartoum that have appeared recently. One of the most important achievements after the elections that further consolidated the two ruling partners in the north and the south is the referendum that will take place to determine what will happen in the south; whether Sudan will remain united or will become an independent state in the south.
All the signs give the impression that the result of the referendum will incline in favor of secession and the establishment of a new state in the south, the army and institutions for which were prepared years ago. In addition, the movement of regional and international forces suggests that they are preparing for dealing with this new situation.
The comments made by the most senior officials to the low-level officials of the Sudanese government give the impression that secession is expected and that if this is the option then it must be conducted in a peaceful and civilized manner in the same way that the former Czechoslovakia peacefully divided into two states.
No matter how reassuring the statements about a peaceful transformation are, the tension in Khartoum is natural considering what could happen as a result of the new situation if secession does take place. It is not easy for a state – whether it has been unified geographically for a long or short while – to lose a large part of its geographical entity and to deal with a new reality, borders and an administration of a new form.
For anyone who is watching what is happening from the perspective of Sudanese and Arab interests, the option of secession would have been the least acceptable but perhaps it was inevitable. Therefore, each country will have to deal with the new reality according to its own interest and from its own perspective, whether it is a close neighbor or a remote country.
It was clear that it was far too late to avoid proposing this strong option that received international approval for purely Sudanese reasons. The phrase “attractive unity” in a country that enjoys ethnic and religious diversity required long-term policies so that the interests of the country’s different regions could fuse into one geographic entity and one that combines all parties and can reassure everyone that each party has its own fair share. Without going into detail, many policies from the early days of the Salvation era, when the country was ruled according to a hard-line ideology, alienated people rather than bringing them together by resorting to the methods of war and armament on religious bases against a specific segment of the population. This continued until the peace agreement was signed after a split emerged in the current regime and so the country was ruled with a pragmatic rather than ideological vision. But it was too late to maintain the attractive unity option.
Today, instead of weeping over what happened, a constructive way of thinking needs a cohesive vision to be adopted over the next period until the referendum and the post-referendum periods are over. This vision requires us to be ready for what the referendum will bring to us whether it is secession, which is highly likely, or remaining within the framework of the unified state, which is less likely.
At the end of the day, secession does not mean that southern Sudan will pack up and move to another continent as the borders will still remain, water will keep running from the south to the north and people’s relations and interests will remain the same. As a result, activating the “attractive unity” slogan can be achieved through cooperation, joint projects and freedom of movement. Who knows, this could produce a different kind of unity in the future. This also applies to the other scenario if the referendum result is in favor of remaining within the framework of the current political scheme. Despite its political problems, Khartoum has its own attractive playing cards and this is evident in the number of investors flocking there.