By Paan Luel Wel (Washington DC, USA)
Forewarned is forearmed—English proverbs.
October 10, 2010 (SSNA) — Currently in Southern Sudan, there are two prevailing moods regarding the referendum: hope and fear. These two distinct dispositions concurrently existing in the region, like two poles of the magnet, are highly repulsive and contradictory. For one, there are high expectations about the referendum outcomes, somewhat unparalleled since the heydays of the CPA. This is mainly because a great number of Southerners are so certain and confident about how they will cast their votes come January 9th, 2011. And yet, contradictorily, the very people who can’t wait long enough to usher in a new country and/or to start celebrating the referendum results, too, exhibit a sense of great uncertainty over the looming high stakes in the Sudan forthcoming referendum. How does one go about explaining this perfect co-habitation of super-optimism and super-pessimism amongst the Southern populace?
Numerous antecedents may explicate why most Southerners might be optimistic about the future. Historically, Southerners spot only prolonged oppression and extreme exploitations at the unmerciful hands of both foreigners and present day Khartoum ruling class. Economically, they reason that it is their own Southern resources that have not only been sustaining the economy of the entire country but the very ones constantly being used as a tool to suppress and enslave them. Whereas others see prosperity in having plenty of resources, Southerners only see and experience resources curse.
Socially, the state sponsored policies of Arabization and Islamization have long been the interminable impetus of their cultural subjugation and humiliation. Politically, the pent-up indignation over the imposition of Sharia law as the ultimate law of the land, the disenchantment over underrepresentation of their equally neglected region in the national leadership and the bitterness over undisguised incessant sneer of racial supremacy have turned any more concerted agitation for change within—The New Sudan Vision—like flogging a dead horse to many Southerners. Consequently, on the one hand, the prospects of breaking free, at long last, from Khartoum demonic bondage could be the logical explanation for the presence of optimism alongside pessimism.
On the other hand, the seemingly indomitable hurdles the SPLM is confronting in their endeavor to fully implement the CPA demonstrates why many Southerners are so melancholic about the plebiscites in particular and their future in general. Southerners have numbers on their side. Their voices, votes and preferences count whether the opposing camps like it or not. In addition, the SPLM, along with nearly all the other Southern political parties, agree on the path of separation. Furthermore, all Southerners vividly remember and recognize that their right to exercise and make decisions regarding their future through the referendum is enshrined in the Comprehensive Peace agreement (CPA). Thus, they are more than certain of the irreversibility of their onward march toward a brighter tomorrow. Yet there is still great uncertainty and looming despair over what might happen, and especially on how the situation might look after January 9th 2011. Why has it to be this way, particularly now?
It is said that in order to make sense of the present and to somehow accurately forecast the future, one must strive to understand the past. Let’s get back to the past a little bit, at least since the inception of the CPA, and see what intriguing happenings have transpired that might both interest and help us to comprehend why Southerners are so despondent. Recall the unparallel euphoria that greeted the signing and welcoming of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement? What followed then? Serious of misfortunes and utter failures (on part of the SPLM) that have both confounded and instilled unprecedented uneasily among the Southerners ensued.
After merely three weeks in office and before he could even pay a visit to Juba, the main Southern City he had spent two decades trying to capture from the government’s forces, Dr. Garang, the former SPLM/A chairperson, was abruptly killed in a helicopter crash on July 30, 2005 on his way back from Uganda. And down into the grave went not only his charred body but also the high hopes and almost the aspirations of Southerners. The SPLM, in response, made an ideological U-turn in its policies and long established objectives from a national liberation party into a regional outfit where it remains today. That earlier, unexpected devastating death of Dr. Garang ushered in the beginning of countless others.
Although the sudden death of Dr. Garang was such a tragic and untimely event, many ordinary people were consoled by the tantalizing dividends of the document he left behind—the CPA. However, that optimism in the full implementation of the CPA by both peace partners only lasted till the beginning of the constitution of the first Government of National Unity (GoNU). From the outset, there was much squabbling over the control of the oil ministry despite the fact that the National Congress Party (NCP) had taken all the juicy ministries and more than half of the cabinet portfolios in GoNU. After long gamesmanship in the battle of the wills and wits, the SPLM gave in, much to the dismay of Southern populations.
Whereas the then, and still, prevailing reasoning in the SPLM think tanks was that it was done in the spirit of partnership—give and take strategy, the NCP and many critics of the SPLM saw it differently. Critics saw unwarranted weaknesses that should have never been permitted in the first place while the NCP saw a general loophole to be exploited for further political gains.
As if to underscore that view, the NCP, after successfully pinning down the SPLM on similar wall akin to the oil ministry debacle, went on a rampage that saw the removal of Edward Lino as the chief administrator of Abyei, the dethroning of Pagan Amum as a minister for cabinet affairs in Khartoum, the late recall of Yasir Arman as SPLM’s presidential candidate against the NCP’s, the SPLM’s humiliating acceptance of a bogus result from a poorly conducted census, and to top it all off, the recent blatant imposition of a Northerner as the secretary general of the referendum body.
To the average Southerner, these events were neither a cause for congratulating the Southern leaders nor their highly anticipated implementation of the CPA as per the stipulations. Consequently, resentment toward the NCP’s attempt to rescind the terms and spirits of the peace accord and disappointment over SPLM’s apparent weaknesses set in and people started resigning themselves to fate. This was the genesis of the general malaise being witnessed today among the Southern populace.
But others, especially those who made a living of out criticism, would wonder: what were the SPLM leaders thinking when they endlessly surrendered to NCP’s cantankerous pressure? Arguably, the SPLM leaders did pretty well, for, by looking at the bigger picture of the struggle, they are sacrificing a lot now in order to realize the bigger objective on January 9th, 2011. That is, the successful conduct of the referendum that would, if successful and free of drama, put an end to this overdue struggle. Had they not made those concessions to the NCP, the CPA would have long died from continuous political bickering and impasses. If you acknowledged that continued sacrifices have to be made till Southerners arrive in the Promised Land, then it is logical to assert that the SPLM beat the NCP at its own game, quite to the contrary.
Of course, it would be tempting for anyone to allege that I am doing nothing more than rationalizing a pathetic situation that Southerners wittingly or unwittingly found themselves in over the years. That assertion, however, is true as far as anyone has not calmed down enough to figure it out how the situation would have been today had SPLM not given up the oil ministry; had they not accepted the spurious outcomes of the bungled national census; had they not swallowed their pride in recalling Pagan Amum, Edward Lino and Yasir Arman or that they had insisted on having the post of the secretary general to the referendum committee, which, by the way northerners should have little to do with. Any adamancy on the part of the SPLM would have translated into outright indeterminate altercations that would have successful crippled and killed the CPA. In other words, the CPA would have long been as dead as a dodo due to political stalemate over CPA implementation.
But here is the catch, the very dilemma that graces the title of this article, for how long would this concession tactics by the SPLM to save the CPA continue? Not forever, everyone would doubtlessly acknowledge, lest the CPA would naturally die from the very process meant to resuscitate and prolong its lifespan. To repeat myself, I have been arguing that the SPLM was/is basically justified in their concessions to the NCP’s demands because it ensures the lifeline of the CPA. But this method, many would concur with me, must never go on forever because the NCP might ultimately demand the abrogation of the accord, of which the concession strategy would be useless.
Therefore, the million dollar question then become: when and where exactly would giving in (not giving in) mean one more breathing day for the embattled document and not giving in (giving in) mark the death of it? If this question is the SPLM’s dilemma on their exertions to see to the full fulfillment of the CPA, then the puzzle to provide a satisfactory answer is the futility of saving the CPA from itself!
Talking of rescuing the CPA from itself, and especially in the context of the strategy deployed by the SPLM, I have in mind many unresolved contentious issues in the few remaining days before the agreed referendum date. Prominent among them are the question of border delineation and demarcation; the delayed voters’ registration; the questions over sharing of the odious debts; the political, social and economic arrangements between North and South for the post-referendum era; the uncertainty over Abyei; the question over citizenships; the holding of free and fair referendum that could reflect the wishes of the majority; whether or not the outcomes of a peaceful referendum would be bitterly contested as usually the case, and most importantly still, if they would ever get implemented accordingly in case the referendum process do occur as envisaged?
The composition of the top officials of the referendum body further complicated the matters. The Chairperson, Mohammed Ibrahim Khali, and the secretary general, Mohamed Osman Al-Nijoumi, are both Northerners who might not be impartial in the event of any contested results of the referendum. If the NCP instruct the two gentlemen at the helm of the referendum commission not to announce the plebiscite outcomes until contentious issues are iron out or to announce them contrary to the facts or even to claim that the threshold of the required 60% quorum has not been met, what would happen given that any unilateral declaration of independence would be a breach of the CPA even though imposed on the Southerners? The promised dividends of the CPA, it appears, may not be attainable unless there is a profound realization on the part of the North to let go of the South without quagmires.
War is not on the table because that is where we came from and neither is "doing nothing" since that would be like aiding the enemy. But there is little doubt that a botched outcome of the plebiscite would mean one and only one thing: war. Judging by the current events, none of the parties would benefit from the excesses of the war. The North, nonetheless, might be reluctant to let go of the South and might invade, in the likelihood of a unilateral declaration of independence, either for economic gains, or because of fear of losing a quarter of the country that might instigate Darfur to secede or just for reputation—saving face in the Arabs world. Any renewed conflict, though, would be a much deadly protracted war with no clear winners or losers in sight.
In conclusion then, there is a clear dilemma on the part of the SPLM over how to navigate the implementation process particularly when the NCP is bent on obstruction. SPLM cannot afford political impasse to kill the CPA nor can they go on making concessions to the NCP forever without eventually destroying the very treasure they are protecting. And yet, a renewal of the war would be unsettling to both sides, hence out of question. In this dilemma, facing the SPLM, lies the futility of saving the CPA from itself. Forewarned is forearmed!
Mr Paan Luel Wel, a concerned Sudanese student studying in the United States, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog: http://paanluel2011.blogspot.com