South Sudan Referendum: First Things First

By Dr. Lam Akol

September 4, 2010 (SSNA) — Sudan is passing through the most critical stage of its modern history and is set to undergo the hardest trial ever. In less than twenty weeks, its will would be tested: either to remain united or its southern part secedes in accordance with the procedures of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).  I do not intend here to discuss the pros and cons of each of the two options because it is premature to speak about that as long as we have not carefully set the political stage for it, that is, if as I believe, the target audience here is the people of South Sudan. This call is addressed to both supporters of unity and those of separation which could be likened to the call for the supporters of two teams playing a final football match that must not end in a draw.

The coaches of the two teams are keen on seeing that the stadium or the playing field is leveled in such a way as not to be in favour of one of the two teams; and that it is also spacious enough to take in the supporters of the two teams besides the majority of neutral spectators whose passion is only for nice play. The players and fans of each team, notwithstanding their ardent enthusiasm to win the match, are careful not to make mistakes that might result in the cancellation of the match which they worked hard to win. The supporters of the two camps of unity and separation are equally requested to insist on creating the conducive environment for a free, fair and transparent referendum. However, I see a different environment prevailing at present. In the absence of this conducive environment, the legality of the result of the referendum would be contested, and this in turn would drag the country into a bottomless abyss whose depth only God knows. We implore God to spare Sudan home-grown calamities; suffice the afflictions nurtured n us by others.

This article tackles the concept of the right of self-determination and the reasons which made Southerners to opt for it. How it fits into Sudanese politics, how is this right expressed in the CPA, and how the governance during the transitional period contributed to the realization of the objectives of the CPA in this respect. Finally, I suggest the requirements for making the exercise of the right of self-determination a free, fair and transparent process in order to ensure recognition for its result, whatever it might be.

I would begin by quoting two veteran Southern politicians who played a great role in Sudanese politics, separated by a span of almost half a century. The first quotation is from a speech made by Rev Fr Saturnino Lohure before the second parliament in Khartoum in 1958, and the second was made by Dr. John Garang. Father Satrinino said:

“The South has no intention of separating from the North, for had that been the case nothing on earth would have prevented the demand for separation. The South will at any moment separate from the North if and when the North so decides, directly or indirectly, through political, social and economic subjugation of the South.” Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, 2nd Parliament, Khartoum, 1958.

This statement was made by Fr Saturnino when he, along with his colleagues, was calling for federalism. Of course, some people accused him of being a separatist. This speech was in response to the accusation. As for Dr. John Garang, whose commitment to the unity of Sudan is not in doubt among northern politicians, he said:

“I and those who joined me in the bush and fought for more than twenty years, have brought to you CPA in a golden plate. Our mission is accomplished. It is now your turn, especially those who did not have a chance to experience bush life. When time comes to vote at referendum, it is your golden choice to determine your fate. Would you like to be second class citizens in your own country?, it is absolutely your choice”. Dr John Garang de Mabior, Rumbek, Southern Sudan, May 15, 2005.

These two oft-quoted statements reflect the extent to which impression and reality are confused when dealing with the cause of South Sudan, a matter which complicates understanding the root causes of the problem, hence rendering prescribing realistic solutions difficult to attain.

Background to Southerners’ demand for self-determination

The demand by Southerners for the right of self-determination could be attributed to two reasons. The first is the colonial policies towards South Sudan and the second relates to the practices of the Sudanese central governments towards South Sudan. It is known that the administration in South Sudan during the colonial era had passed through three stages. The stage of government stabilization (1899-1920) in which colonial administration depended on tribal chiefs in what was known as native administration. The second stage was the separate administration of South Sudan in the 1920s until the Second World War. Following the Second World War, the colonial power changed policy in favour of the unification of the two parts of the country. This policy started with the meetings of 1946, followed by the Juba conference in 1947. Each of these three stages had its contribution in shaping the perceptions held by Southern citizens in regard to their rights. Under national governments, certain developments and practices strained relations between the South and the North. This period can be sub-divided into a number of stages as follows:

(a). The stage of non-representation of South Sudan (1953-1955), whether in the political or administrative spheres, or civil service, including Sudanization period.

(b). The stage of centralized rule from 1955 up to 1964.

(c). The stage of recognition of the Southern Question (1964-1965):

The government of Sir Al-khatim Al-khalifa which came to power after the October Revolution, was the first government to recognize that South Sudan had a cause, when it issued a statement that contained recognition of the problem. The statement indicated that the problem was political with causes that ought to be tackled in order to arrive at the required peaceful political solution. Before that, previous governments used to describe the problem as merely masterminded by colonial administration. The October government followed words by action by holding the Round Table Conference for the resolution of the Southern problem in Khartoum in March 1965. However, the traditional parties aborted this national endeavour.

(d). The stage of repression of Southern intellectuals and Southern cultures (1958-1964, 1965-1969). This stage spans two periods:

The period during Abboud’s regime and the period that followed the elections of 1965. Deep bitter feelings prevailed during this stage, particularly during the period 1965-1969 as the government adopted extreme repressive measures including massacres in Juba and Wau (July 1965) and in other parts of South Sudan in which Southern intellectuals and Southern cultures were targeted. These practices impacted adversely on relations between the South and the North. During Abboud’s dictatorship, the regime insisted on imposing Arabic and Islam in South Sudan in the mistaken belief that the unity of the country could only be achieved within one culture and one religion. That was the period during which it was circulated that Southerners were targeting Arabism and Islam. It is known that when the war erupted, it was neither a religious nor a racial war. However, these practices had made people claim that Southerners were fighting against Arabism and Islam. The call for the separation of South Sudan gained momentum during this stage.

(e). Recognition of the problem for the second time (9 June 1969, 1971-1972):

This stage was ushered in by the Declaration of the 9th June 1969, less than one month after May military coup. The Declaration was shrouded with ambiguity as it contained a clause which linked the solution of the problem of South Sudan to the emergence of a democratic cadre in the South that would converge with its Northern counterpart. The Communists in the Revolutionary Command Council construed the phrase “democratic cadre” as denoting the Communists. This question was only settled after the demise of the military coup of Hashim Al-atta in 1971. Then serious talks began between the Anyanya and the government culminating in the Addis Ababa Accord in February 1972.

(f). The stage of regional autonomy for South Sudan (1972-1983):

It was the first time Southerners had ruled themselves by themselves. It also showed that South Sudan is not less diverse than the whole country. During self-rule, the notion that Southerners constitute a homogeneous bloc, as was the case during the war, came under challenge. During the war, it was taken for granted that Southerners constituted one bloc, being ethnically and culturally different from the North. However, when they attained power for 11 years, some Southerners started to complain about injustices meted out by their own brethren.

(g). The stage of the abrogation of the Addis Ababa Accord and the second war (1983-1985, 1985-1989, 1989-2005):

During the first part of this stage, Southern frustration and loss of trust between the South and the North had reached its climax. The events that took place nurtured the feeling of injustice and in the process gave birth to the demands of Southerners to get their rights that would guarantee them a better future, politically, economically and socially. What were these Southern demands?

Evolution of Southerners’ demands

Southerners started with simple demands limited to the civil service. Firstly, they asked for equal wages between the South and the North as Southerners received less wages than Northerners for the same jobs. That was during colonialism, especially in the 1940s and the early 1950s. They asked for a fair share in civil service during the Sudanization stage in 1955. When 800 jobs were Sudanized, Southerners asked for 40 jobs but they were given only 6 jobs. The common characteristic of these demands was that they were confined to civil service though in the 1950s, they were coupled with some political demands. Then came the demand for participation at the political level. This started with the talk about provision of guarantees that would ensure South Sudan would not be put at a disadvantage by the unity of the two parts of the country because education was hardly available in South Sudan. In the 1950s, Southern politicians came to call for the implementation of federation as the best solution to the problems of government. However, the call was met with fierce opposition by the successive national governments as they equated federation with separation.

The first time the idea of self-determination was put forth was in late 1964, after the October Revolution, by the Southern Front, as the Anyanya came to call for separation since 1963 whereas other Southerners, like Santino Deng and Phelmon Majok, had been calling for centralized unity. The Southern Front believed that the only democratic way to reconcile all these views was through the exercise of self-determination so that the people of South Sudan could choose the system they deemed appropriate for themselves. The Southern Front expressed its demand for self-determination at the Round Table Conference in 1965 but it was totally rejected by the Northern parties who were acting as one bloc in that conference.

The period of autonomous rule (1972-1983) was the zenith of the Southerners commitment to the unity of the country, and it can be termed as the golden era of unity. It was the first time that the Southerners became associated with unity and were involved in its defence. This underscores the organic relationship between participation in government and defending that government. Southerners at that time were the most vocal in defending unity. They glorified unity at every public occasion to the extent that oilfields, banks and squares were named unity. Even leaders of the Anyanya maintained that Nimeiri was the best president they had ever got and that he was God-given. They were the same persons who before Addis Ababa Accord, stated publicly that “the best Arab is the dead one”. The Sudanese opposition at that time (the National Front) was active against the ruling regime. However, despite all this, it did not hold a different view with regards to unity. Therefore, we can say that both the government and the opposition were congruent on the unity of Sudan.

From the aforementioned, we conclude that Southerners were calling for just representation which grew from equality of wages, through to guarantees up to federation. The designation of war as being against Arabism and Islam was a mere reaction and not an original position as explained above by Father Satrinino with regard to separation. The demand for the right of self-determination by Southerners emerged at a later stage in the 1960s as an inevitable result of the harsh policies of the central government at that time vis-à-vis the Southern demands.

A Crack in Southern Unity

The period of self-rule in South Sudan had proved wrong the theory that the Southern problem was against the Arabs and that Southerners represent a cohesive bloc united by one culture and one political orientation. It was proved wrong during that period by the demand of the Equatorians in 1982 for the expulsion from Equatoria of non-Equatorian Southerners, a process known as Kokra in the Bari language. Eventually, non-Equatorian Southerners were forced to relocate and some of them died en route due to adverse climatic conditions. However, the Arabs were not expelled, so the Arabs had become closer to the Kokorists than the other Southerners from the regions of Bahr El Ghazal and Upper Nile. Therefore, portraying the problem as only between the North and the South is grossly inaccurate as there are differences among Southerners themselves. So, within the framework of the referendum, we should tackle the relations between the South and the North as well as the relations among Southerners.

The rationale of the agreement is the ending of the war and that any of the two options (unity or separation) will result in the sustainability of peace. It follows that if we revert to war, this means that the purpose of the agreement is defeated. Therefore, the concern should not be only about the conduct of the referendum as if the separation of South Sudan or unity oof Sudan were the end of the problem. The question which deserves our profound thinking is whether our choice would achieve the required peace, be it South-South peace or South-North peace. Regrettably enough, the same mistakes which led to Kokra in 1982, are being replicated by the present government of South Sudan led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). It will be remembered that the advocates of Kokra were speaking about the hegemony of a certain tribe over power in the South. Their leader, Joseph Lagu, published a booklet containing tables showing the number of ministers and directors-general at the ministries from that tribe compared to the other tribes of South Sudan. He came to the conclusion that the said tribe exercised hegemony and marginalized the other tribes. Such a booklet can now be written much more easily and more clearly than that of the Kokra in 1982. Therefore, when we speak of self-determination for South Sudan, it is important to know it is a destination of the people and the unity of Southerners must be guaranteed in this respect.

The lesson to be learnt from the experience of self-rule is that Southerners must sit down to discuss their affairs and agree on the future of South Sudan regardless of the outcome of the referendum, as banking on the theory of common foreign enemy is no longer useful. This theory, though effective in whipping up emotions for ephemeral support, it cannot withstand the test of reality. Separation, if it is the option, is not meant to get rid of the North, it is rather to get rid of wrong practices which the experience of government in the South has proved can be made by Northerners and Southerners alike. During the last five years, the North has not intervened in the South, despite recurrent accusations that the north is the source of every problem happening in the South. However, the reality is different. Is the North responsible for the rampant corruption in the South? The government of South Sudan received huge funds, but is lack of services in the South a Northern conspiracy? Is denial of democracy in the South a Northern making?  We should be more realistic and objective in dealing with our problems and avoid seeking scapegoats for our failures. Countries are not built by running away from reality, but rather by confronting it. There are the experiences of other nations we can draw lessons from. In May 1947, the Indian Subcontinent (Pakistan and India) was on the threshold of independence. Pakistan separated from India on the grounds that it was an Islamic country different from the Hindu India. However, religious homogeneity did not prevent the separation of Eastern Pakistan in 1971 in the aftermath of a fierce war to become the present Bangladesh. The same applies to Somalia which does not have any sort of diversity. Somalis hail from one tribe, with one religion and one language. Despite this homogeneity, Somalia has not known stability since the overthrow of Siad Barri’s regime in early 1990s. From all that, it is evident that Southerners should develop their own roadmap for their future an avoid being driven by dictates from overseas. The roadmap is to address the reality in South Sudan, not the imaginations of “the friends”.

Self-determination and the SPLM

Self-determination is the democratic means for conclusively settling the issue of unity and separation once and for all. In other words, the right of self-determination could not be exercised in the absence of democracy.

At its inception in 1983, the SPLM declared that it was a unionist movement as stated in its manifesto. This unionist trend received tremendous support in the North which did not expect a Southern movement to demand unity with it. However, the SPLM did not make any effort to enhance this unionist trend on the ground. It has not carried out intensive political work among the fighters to change the separatist conceptions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) whose elements were drawn from farmers and pastoralists. The main focus was on military work. Moreover, the political struggle was subjected to the military wing and ever since the latter has exercised hegemony over the former. It was the first time that the military guided political thought, unlike the case in all known revolutionary movements.

At that time, the leadership and the army were talking different languages as the majority was supporting separation while the leadership was calling for unity. The SPLA was expressing its separatist tendencies in songs and over Radio SPLA. By the end of the 1980s, it was crystal clear that separatist tendency gained the upper hand but the leadership of the SPLM turned a deaf ear to this. The only leadership body, the Political-Military High Command, had not held a single meeting its formation. For instance, since we (Dr. Riak Machar, James Wani, Daniel Awet, Yousif Kuwa, and I) were appointed to it on 1st July 1986 up to the split in 1991, the Political-Military High Command had never held a meeting. The Southerners in the SPLA were saying that they could not liberate the whole Sudan and could not also offer their children to liberate the North as was the case in the wars in Kurmuk, Geisan and other areas. Moreover, since Northerners had not joined the SPLM/SPLA, they concluded that the Northerners did not approve of the SPLM and its unity enterprise. Such talk was going on within the ranks of the SPLA, which we were hearing as their field commanders. At that time, the number of Northerners from the core North who joined the SPLM was not more than the fingers of two hands. The sizeable number of Northerners came from areas neighbouring  the South,  like the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile, and this was no real representation of the North. The SPLM did not discuss such issues in order to take decisions because the only institution responsible for that was rendered idle as mentioned above. This was the real cause of the split that took place at Nasir in 1991. We meant to give opportunity to all the members of the SPLM/SPLA to express their views on those crucial issues. Therefore, we believed that the only way to accommodate the unionist and separatist views was through the exercise of the right to self-determination for South Sudan. It is the democratic mechanism which enables people to choose the appropriate system for themselves. Due to the absence of democracy inside the SPLM, the split had to happen then. This is the background for the demand by the SPLM for the right of self-determination.

It is known that the prime mover of any liberation war is the desire to achieve democracy and install a government that is responsive to the interests of the people. The American Revolution against the British in the 18th century was not caused by diversities between the Americans and the Britons. On the contrary, the revolution was waged by people from the Eastern Coast, known as New England, i.e., a version of England proper. They were ethnically the same as the English as both hailed from the Anglo-Saxons. The revolution was waged against Britain because the Americans did not want a remote government that was not responsive to their desires. So, the problem was not about ethnicity or nationalism as the American nationalism emerged later. In the same manner Southerners felt that Khartoum governments were remote from them and not responsive to their demands, so they took up arms against them. The right of self-determination was a desire of the Southern people which the successive governments in Khartoum did not respond to. The right of self-determination, it must be emphasized, could only be exercised under democracy. Two objectives lie at the core of the demands for the right of self-determination. The first is the search for self-expression and self-awareness while the second is the creation of a government that represents the various communities that constitute the population of the country and respond to their demands.

When historical factors or deliberate government policy weakens other communities while allowing only its supporters to organize themselves, as was the case in the post World War 1 Nazi Germany, the foundations of democracy would be weakened. Social diversity is a sociological factor that is fundamental for democratic rule.

Accordingly, the government in the South should be representative of all communities in the South in order to be acceptable to all. I believe that the same questions of diversity raised between the North and the South would also be raised with the same force if the South separates because separation would not do away with diversity.

The Sudanese Consensus on Self-determination 

The first agreement on self-determination between the government and the SPLM was made in January 1992 in Frankfurt, Germany. It was between the SPLM-Nasir and the Salvation government. Then recognition of self-determination by others followed. The two factions of the SPLM agreed on it in Abuja in 1993. This resulted in division between William Nyuon and Dr. John Garang over this issue as the former agreed to self-determination while the latter favoured unity. In 1994, Umma Party and SPLM-Torit signed the Chukudum agreement which included recognition of self-determination. In 1995, the Asmara Declaration also incorporated self-determination as all parties under the banner of the National Democratic Alliance adopted this right. Thus all the Sudanese political forces agree on self-determination for South Sudan and no party can deny recognition of self determination. Therefore, it has become an acquired right for South Sudan and no body can deny the South exercising this right, no matter whichever party is in power if they honour agreements.

Self-determination in the CPA

The right of self-determination is not a mere date, when due, people go to vote and everything will be over. Those who called for the right of self-determination did so with a vision that the people would have to be made fully aware of the meaning of self-determination and the consequences of each of the two options so that they make an informed choice. We must explain to the people these two options: why unity option and why separation option. When the CPA dealt with the right of self-determination, it mentioned specific things which must be realized before referendum. First, the self-determination in the CPA was an attempt to break the deadlock over the issue of separation of religion from the state or the relation between religion and the state. So the CPA stipulated that Northerners shall have the right to apply Islamic Sharia in the North provided that Southerners shall have the right to self-determination. Therefore, the call for a secular state as the only condition for the realization of unity implies a call for re-negotiating the agreement as the two parties had already agreed that the North applies Sharia while the South applies laws that are derived from the people’s consensus and customs including religious beliefs. The CPA has never provided for secularism, the word “secular” is not mentioned in the whole agreement. Second, the agreement was designed for the SPLM to rule the South single-handedly to give it full opportunity to put in practice its ideas to prepare the ground for either equitable unity with the North or separation on a solid foundation. Third, the two parties agreed to work together to achieve the unity of the country and to make it attractive to Southerners. There are certain procedures stipulated by the agreement to realize this which will be mentioned later.

What is unique to the CPA compared to similar agreements in the world is that agreement on self-determination was made without having a party standing for the other option, which is separation. However, the agreement does not deny others the right to advocate for separation. Any party, group or individual, other than the SPLM and the National Congress Party, has full right under the CPA to work for any of the two options.

Two Projects Abandoned in Machakos

Based on the aforementioned, the project of the SPLM to build the ‘New Sudan’ was abandoned in Machakos as secularism represents the core of the concept of ‘New Sudan’. In Machakos Protocol,  the SPLM  sacrificed the ‘New Sudan’ and chose self-determination. The SPLM agreed that the North which accounts for two thirds of the country be governed by Sharia and this means that two thirds of the country are outside the umbrella of secularism. It is clear that the ‘New Sudan’ project was abandoned. Somebody may argue that this was only a temporary abandonment. Such an argument is not true because the unity option of the referendum is actually accepting the sustainability of the CPA. This agreement can only be amended by the approval of the two parties before the approval of three quarters of the National Legislature.  In other words, if we are to introduce secularism, the agreement has to be amended which in turn requires the approval of the NCP, which is out of question. Similarly, the ‘civilizational project’ was also abandoned in Machakos as it sought to apply Sharia all over the country and then extend it beyond Sudan. If the Sharia were to be applied in South Sudan, the agreement must be amended and this requires the approval of the SPLM, a very distant dream even to the most indulgent optimist.

The Ground is not set for the Referendum

The present environment is not conducive for the conduct of the referendum as the transitional period is drawing to a close while the Government of Southern Sudan and the Government of National Unity have not fulfilled the requirements necessary for the exercise of self-determination.  Article 7-1 of the Power Sharing Protocol of the CPA sets out that the two parties agreed to initiate national reconciliation and healing process throughout the country as part of the peace building process to be led by the GoNU. Up to now, after five years since the CPA was signed, people have not seen the two partners together enlightening them about the agreement in such a way as to realize the hopes of the people and make unity attractive. On the contrary, the opposite took place. The SPLM succeeded in mobilizing the people in South Sudan against the NCP by portraying it as an enemy rather than a partner to the extent that any one in the South who speaks of the NCP as a partner is branded as a traitor. This runs counter to the stipulations of the CPA. Another matter ignored by the two partners was stipulated in sub-section 3-12-2 of the Power Sharing Protocol of the CPA, that is, the two partners undertake to ensure that their members and institutions under their control abide by and implement the provisions of the agreement. How many members of the NCP and the SPLM are committed to the agreement and its implementation? Thus, the two partners have not behaved as partners as provided for by the agreement and also have not done any joint work to make unity attractive. The opposite took place: polarization.

The SPLM which has ruled the South for five years has not come up with tangible achievements that would suggest the realization of its ideas of ‘New Sudan’.  If it was in possession of a project and political programme, that was a golden opportunity to implement them.  However, that has not happened and South Sudan has hardly seen a worthy achievement by the SPLM, despite the flow of huge funds to GoSS. The share from oil revenue alone amounted to more than $ 10 billion, besides the share of the South in the national budget allocations in addition to the assistance provided by sisterly and friendly countries and peace funds. Actually, the South has hardly witnessed development. It has instead reeled under rampant corruption, insecurity and incessant intervention in the affairs of the State governments. For instance, 90% of the general budget is expended in Juba while the rest of the South’s ten states receive only 10%. On the political side, there is lack of a democratic environment for political parties to exercise their political activities. As for security, insecurity prevails and during the last elections, the rigging of the elections by the SPLM was exposed. The SPLM, by force of arms, rigged the elections and imposed a certain reality, a matter which has brought adverse results including the mutiny of a number of SPLA commanders who are currently fighting GoSS in protest against election rigging. All these factors render the ground not conducive for a free and fair referendum.

The Double-Speak of the SPLM

It is indisputable that both partners to the CPA made mistakes and failures regarding the implementation of the CPA. However, what draws attention is the fact that the SPLM insists on blaming its partner for all the setbacks. Throwing blame on the NCP was not accidental but a well considered SPLM strategy from the outset of the implementation of the agreement. In less than a month since the GoNU took the oath of office, the SPLM started accusing the NCP of not implementing the agreement! Hereunder is an example of this.

On 25th September, 2005, we took the oath of office as new ministers in the GoNU. In October, the Bar Association elections were conducted. In preparation for this election, the then head of SPLM’s Northern Sector, Abdelaziz Adam Alhilu, recommended to the leadership that the SPLM should ally with the opposition, “Democratic list”, in those elections.  Alhilu said the SPLM could not ally with the NCP for two reasons. The first was that the NCP had not implemented the agreement and the second was that the NCP was a political outcast. A heated discussion arose in the meeting. The most important point raised in that meeting was that the CPA states that the Bar Association nominates two of its members to the High Judicial Council and that it was impertinent that the opposition fills the two seats in such a sensitive body. Another point was that the SPLM was a partner of the NCP in the implementation of the agreement. Therefore, it would be natural for it to ally with the NCP. Moreover, if it were to be accepted that the SPLM should not side with the NCP, why not run in the elections of the Bar Association alone?  How can the SPLM ally with the opposition while it was in the government? Ultimately, the meeting resolved that the SPLM allies itself with the NCP on the grounds that it was a partner of the SPLM to the CPA. The question here is: how did the Northern Sector official come to the conclusion that the NCP had not implemented the agreement in less than a month since the government took office?

Days passed by and there was a shift in position of the leadership; those who called for cooperation with the NCP to ensure the smooth implementation of the agreement were branded of being separatists lacking concern for the cause of freedoms in the North and solely focused on maintaining good relations with the NCP to secure smooth separation. The duplicity of the SPLM by putting one foot in the opposition and the other in the government had become the norm. It was no secret that the SPLM ignored the national role it could have played in the North. Its ministers in the GoNU, except for one or two, were not active and little heard of, and the First Vice President of the Republic, the second most senior person in the state, abandoned the duties of this office and marooned himself in South Sudan. The participation of the SPLM in the GoNU was mainly to give it opportunity to prove itself as a national party.  That was a golden opportunity for the SPLM to play a national role that could have enhanced its call for the unity of the country. This shift in position was not to serve the interests of the SPLM, let alone the interests of the people. It was to serve the interests of others who were bent on regime change. However, when they failed to achieve that through the opposition alliance in the elections, they shifted to plan (B) whose actual implementation has started immediately after the general elections. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the very people who were unrivaled in their enthusiasm for advocating unity are now equally fervent in their call for separation of South Sudan!  They talk about separation and come up with justifications for the change of heart. They find a lending hand in this hypocrisy from some Northerners.

It is mindboggling to hear people, particularly Northern parties, claim that the uncompromising position of the NCP motivated the SPLM to opt for separation. First, if the position of the SPLM on unity was a matter of principle, then it should not be affected by the position of the NCP or others. Second, these Northern parties which now find excuse for the separatist position of the SPLM forget or feign forgetting that they mainly allied with the SPLM to topple the NCP. Then how can the SPLM change its principled position in reaction to the tactics of the NCP which was from the outset its opponent if not its enemy? Third, unity of Sudan was the only issue that had brought the SPLM and the Northern parties together to forge an alliance. So, if the SPLM had turned separatist, there ceases to be a common ground between these former allies. Fourth, did the SPLM think that by signing the CPA, the NCP would concede the dismantling of the Salvation regime to make unity attractive? It seems that the hostility towards the NCP has made some people oblivious to the ABC of politics. The SPLM should bear its share of blame for not making unity attractive during the interim period. Most importantly, the SPLM owes it to the people of South Sudan to explain to them how it claims to lead the separatist camp now whereas it been bragging and boasting that its first bullets were shot at the Southern separatists before fighting the enemy in Khartoum.

We now move to the much trumpeted warning that the option of unity is tantamount to Southerners accepting to become second class citizens. The quotation from Dr John Garang reproduced above makes reference to this point. In reply to that, it must be noted that the unity option enshrined in the CPA, affirms acceptance of the sustainability of the arrangements set out by the agreement concerning the system of rule in the South and at the national level. This has been provided for in the national constitution and the constitution of Southern Sudan. In other words, the South retains at its present semi-autonomous status and will simultaneously have a sizeable share in the national government which now stands at 30%. Therefore, the talk that Southerners, by choosing unity, are opting to be second class citizens, implies that by having accepted the CPA from the outset, the Southerners have settled to be second class citizens, as the country had been run during the last five years in accordance with it.

What is to be done?

There are certain issues which must be settled ahead of the referendum. The issues of freedoms, security situation and creation of Southern consensus concerning the future of the South must all be settled ahead of the referendum.

Article (7) of the South Sudan Referendum Act 2010 provides for the requirements of a conducive environment for the conduct of the referendum. Article (7) includes seven items in this regard. All this is to safeguard the freedom for the people of South Sudan to express their opinions regarding the two options. The various levels of government should work to bring about a conducive environment including the security situation and the provision of freedom of expression for all the people as well as freedom of assembly and movement. Added to this is the involvement of IGAD countries, its partners, organizations of civil society and registered political parties in addition to registration of voters and raising their awareness and ensuring their right to vote in a secret ballot without intimidation. All this could hardly be seen on the ground. Therefore, unless these circumstances are redressed, conducting the referendum at this time would be a violation of the agreement itself. The agreement stipulates that the choice shall be made consciously and the non-availability of the right circumstances for the conduct of the referendum will open the door wide for challenging the result, whether by Northerners or Southerners or even by others. The referendum must be conducted to the satisfaction of all so that the result could be acceptable to all. There is no sense in conducting a referendum whose result will be questionable or disputed.  It is known that the ultimate goal of the agreement is to realize sustainable peace, therefore, if the agreement ends up in a situation that may ignite war once more, we would have compromised the goal of the agreement. The target of the debate on unity and separation is the Southern citizen, therefore, we must approach him/her, dialogue with him/her in order to persuade him/her.  But how can we approach the citizen when he/her does not enjoy the freedom of choice. Moreover, there is absence of a democratic climate which allows people to advocate for the choice they believe in. From the experience of the last elections, citizens are aware that the SPLM would do what it likes. Since it had rigged the elections with impunity, it can likewise rig the referendum. Unless these adverse circumstances are reversed, the great efforts exerted by all political forces for a free debate will absolutely futile. Therefore, it is necessary that all efforts be streamlined to produce a conducive environment for the referendum. This is the sole guarantee for a free, fair and transparent referendum that will meet the acceptance of the people.

All should look for the right procedures that will bring about the conducive atmosphere necessary for the conduct of the referendum. If there is good faith, the remaining time would be enough for preparing the ground for the referendum hence enabling the people to freely express their opinion without coercion or intimidation. The present circumstances do not meet the requirement of a free, fair and transparent referendum that would be to the satisfaction of all.

Within the drive for producing the conducive atmosphere for a free, fair and independent referendum in South Sudan, the following three issues must be addressed:

1. provision of freedoms and democratic action

As mentioned previously, the right of self-determination cannot be exercised in the absence of democracy. Since democracy is non-existent in South Sudan, freedoms should be provided and political forces be allowed to participate in the referendum under a healthy democratic environment. The SPLM is not expected to do this on its own initiative, so it should be pressured into doing it by all political forces and the civil society.

2. Provision of security

The security situation in South Sudan is unstable for various reasons, most importantly, tribes are fighting each other, the SPLA is fighting against the civil population in some areas and more seriously, some SPLA commanders rebelled against their army after the elections and they are now fighting GoSS. This security problem must be addressed.

3. The South – South dialogue

The South is for all Southerners and should not be the private domain of one party. Accordingly, all people have their concerns about its future. Under the current circumstances, all those concerned with the interests of Southerners are worried over the absence of consultation regarding issues of concern, top among which is how to approach the referendum with unity of purpose. Therefore, it is crucial to hold the South-South dialogue ahead of the referendum in order to reach agreement on the post-referendum future of the South irrespective of whether the choice is unity or separation. This dialogue should involve all Southern parties, organizations of civil society and public figures. A number of crucial issues must be agreed upon particularly if the choice is separation. These issues include transforming the present regional constitution into a national one, ensuring that the South will not be used to destabilize its neighbours including the North, not allowing any foreign military base to be established in South Sudan, a code of honour for provision of freedoms and democracy, neutrality and professionalism of the civil service, etc.  South – South dialogue would be the safety valve which would slam the door in the face of people with hidden agendas concerning the referendum and the future of South Sudan.


The fundamental issue currently is that under the present adverse circumstances in South Sudan, there would be no way for a free, fair and transparent referendum. Therefore it would be in the interest of the advocates of unity and separation alike to unify their ranks and join efforts to impose the favourable climate for the dissemination of their ideas about unity or separation so that they reach the Southern citizen, the voter in this referendum. It is also in the interest of both camps to ensure a free, fair and transparent referendum in order to make its result acceptable to all, hence, obtain recognition of the international community. This entails that the pre- referendum arrangements must be discussed in order to reach consensus about them and thereby ensure equal opportunity for the two camps of unity and separation. If the two parties to the agreement possess enough political will, the required favourable circumstances for the referendum can be created within two months. The South – South dialogue is crucial to the referendum on par with the provision of security, freedoms and democratic environment in South Sudan. As there are differences between the North and the South, there are also differences within the South itself. Therefore, if separation occurs, the situation of Southern differences must be dealt with prudently.

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