By PaanLuel Wël (Washington DC, USA)
“Let the referendum process proceed with God’s good graces as well as our commitment which we now reiterate to the scheduled date and to accept the outcome resulting from the desire and choice of the citizens”—President Omar El Beshir.
January 11, 2011 (SSNA) — Within and outside Southern Sudan, as well as in the North, the first day of the Referendum exercise, which is slated to last about a week, has gone and passed peaceably. More optimism, than anything recorded before, is all over the country, in the air, like the snow of the long winters of the Icelanders.
It is not longer if, not even when, South Sudan will get freedom from the North; rather, it is an inescapable deduction, with celebration being mooted for the final day when the concluding results, expectedly hovering around 97%-99.9%, would simply confirm the ultimate culmination of the protracted perilous stride to freedom.
Anyone who has been profoundly following the struggle and the push to have this plebiscite conducted timely and fairly would, however, recalls that it has never been as rosy as it is today. Optimism was dented, though never smothered, by the overwhelming sense of uncertainty in the face of unrelenting National Congress Party’s malicious manipulations of the CPA’s smooth and opportune ratification.
The NCP’s concerted onslaught on the CPA, and by extension on Southerners, was led by, among others, President Omar El Beshir. First, it was the thwarting of the SPLM over the constitution of the post-CPA government—the GoS, where the NCP took a lion share of the fat portfolios of the cabinet. Secondly, the broad-spectrum national census was biasedly conducted to deliberately disadvantage the South in the distribution of the national resources which are allocated in direct proportion to the inhabitants of the regions.
The same road-blocking tactics were employed during the formation of the South Sudan Referendum Committee that almost stillborn the organization before it becomes operational. This is in addition to the unsettled issues over Abyei, the boundary delineations, the question of citizenship, allotment of national resources and debts, and other relatable provisions that need to be addressed to circumvent any would-be flare up of vicious clashes between the two future independent countries destined to live, in peace, side by side.
Infamously considered as the champion of Southerners’ subjugations, President El Beshir has, of late, astounded many people, this author included, by making a huge about-face on the Southern Secession. Though he has oscillated frequently between mumbling unreasonable vitriol and articulating occasional assurances of respecting Southerners’ aspiration during the referendum exercise, it was not until his recent visitation to Juba, the main Southern city, on January 4th, 2011, that it finally dawned on most observers that El Beshir is no longer playing his typical game of hide and seek with the Southern populace.
But why did President El Beshir had a hasty change of mind over his long held position of detaining the South in bondage? Several dynamics would elucidate this enigma. On top of the list, is the tangible peril of renewed war between the SPLA and the SAF in the event of the breach and termination of the CPA. Having been bogged down, since the signing and promulgation of the CPA, by the Darfur’s war which has scandalously placed Sudan on international radar and El Beshir on the most wanted list of the ICC, the NCP carefully weighed their available options and easily figured out that the last scenario they want is another fresh warfront in the South.
This is principally the case with other warfronts seething and impending in the East, Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile, all of which won’t be neutral should the Khartoum-based administration pronounce war on the SPLA. With the menace of NCP’s war machine cornered and neutralized, El Beshir had no choice but to give in and endorse the Southerners’ voice. Moreover, bearing in mind that the NCP single-handedly and stubbornly staffed the South Sudan Referendum Committee with their apologists, the NCP discovered, much to their dismay, that the likelihoods of rigging the plebiscite by giving it the impression of “people rightful wishes” are absolutely nil.
Even the “catch” of mandatory 60% of the registered voters turnout was rendered obsolete by the fact that majority of the registered voters are all within the precincts of the South under the dominion of the SPLM/A. Hence, they can’t be tempered with. With the confirmed registered numbers in the North in their uttermost insignificance, it is no longer logically possible for the NCP to continually rely on the 60% benchmark to advance their subversions of the on-going process.
Consequently, El Beshir made a sudden change of heart and become a champion, not of Southern Oppression as historically the case, but as an advocate of Southern Separation, to an extend of invoking Allah’s will. Ironically, it is the very Allah that has been the motivation, the fuel and the justification of and for South Sudan deep-rooted discrimination by the North.
International elements performed critical starring role here too. China, Russia, the EU and many neighboring countries in Africa took an impartial position and call for a free and fair conduct and conclusion of the referendum. The USA in particular, under President Obama, since September of last year, had, like President El Beshir, made another important about-turn in their policies of flattering El Beshir. The Obama’s administration inaugurated direct confrontation with El Beshir’s government by explicitly making the successful conduct of the Southern Referendum a requisite for the resumption and attainment of good relationship between the USA and the Sudanese government.
But it was not only the USA government that made importance difference on the ground; private American citizens did their part too. George Clooney, one of the preeminent actors of Hollywood and a co-founder of Not on Our Watch, and his counterpart, John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project, joined hands to successfully launch an entirely new system of robust open air surveillance diplomacy. This system is aimed at denying the culprits and violators of international norms a chance of committing atrocities in the dark and later denies them in the open when call to account for their heinous actions.
Conscious of the fact that any renewal of the war would first burst forth at the borders between the South and the North, Clooney and Prendergast place satellites on the border regions to pick up any apprehensive signs such as that of troops movements, clashes, or all-out-scale hostilities launch on the South from the North. Whereas the world only witnessed the ashes of the Darfur Crisis, months after all killings, raping and destructions had been committed, George Clooney and John Prendergast envisaged and implemented a situation where future genocide would be witness live on the ground as they occur to deny the perpetrators any chance of hiding their atrocious foot tracks.
In my judgment, the last tribute goes to President Salva Kiir for playing it “cool” in the face of belligerent El Beshir. President Kiir’s solemn approach of persistence and tested imperturbability not only outlast El Beshir’s combativeness but also afford him little pretext to declare war, to disrupt and to disavow the CPA, thus, killing the referendum dream prematurely. Although not a gifted orator like his predecessor, the late Dr. John Garang, President Kiir make up for oratory by the amount of endurance he has strikingly display and make the most of in the last six years since his ascension onto the helm of power.
Of course, it is debatable to proclaim that the tranquility of the voting process would be replicated later on during the totaling and subsequent pronouncement of the plebiscite’s absolute outcomes. Some would dispute, fervently, that El Beshir has a secret weapon in place, and all that he is, and has been, exhibiting is a façade. Others would contend that the main barrage of the NCP’s muscle is reserved for the inevitable conflict over the unresolved issues of Abyei, border demarcation, sharing of national wealth, among others.
My response would be that there is no question that El Beshir has broken a taboo in the North for his openly and heavenly backing of the Southern Cause. Historically, it is uncharacteristic of the Northern official to parade such overtures even if for a cover up. It is an open solicitation for a fatwa. That El Beshir has not of yet receives any fatwa nor got killed speak volume of the magnitude of the Northerners’ resignation to Southerners’ aspiration under the intense pressure from the irked international community.
Whether or not the remaining issues to be determined would spiral into Ethiopian-Eritrean style of border clashes would remain to be seen with time. In the intervening time, the government of El Beshir has been compelled, for the second time in a row, first being the ratification of the CPA that pledges the referendum clause, to accept the actualization of the concluding part of the CPA document. To me, that is a ground for festivity in itself!
Mr PaanLuel Wël can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his blog: http://paanluel2011.blogspot.com/