North vs. South

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Sudan votes to split or remain as one

Ed Kapp
News Writer

After two brutal waves of civil war that first gripped Sudan from 1955 to 1972, and later from 1983 to 2005, last month’s referendum – in which southern Sudanese citizens voted to either remain intact or secede from their northern counterparts – has the Republic of South Sudan poised to become the world’s newest nation. Still, many outside observers worry that southern Sudan may not be out of the woods, yet.

Prior to 1946, the British government and the Eygyptian goverrnment administered north and south Sudan as two distinct regions. North Sudan was viewed as similar to the predominantly-Muslim, Arabic-speaking neighbour to the north, Egypt, and southern Sudan as more similar to the other East African colonies – Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda – whose population predominantly practiced Christianity and animism.

In 1946, however, the British government gave into northern Sudanese pressure to integrate the two areas. From that point, Arabic was made the administrative language in the south, while northerners began to hold positions of power in the southern region, much to the chagrin of the English-speaking southern elite who felt that they were being kept out of their own government.

To further fuel the south’s resentment for their northern counterparts, after decolonization, the majority of power was given to the northern elites in Khartoum, the former capital city of Sudan.

Furthermore, when the British government moved towards granting Sudan independence, many have argued that they failed to take southern Sudanese needs into account as their leaders weren’t even invited to negotiations with the British and Egyptian governments during their transitional period throughout the 1950s.

In August of 1955, southern Sudanese resentment of what they perceived to be northern domination manifested in a mutiny among Sudan Defense Force troops. The troops were upset that the Khartoum government had failed to deliver on its promises to the British that it would implement a federal political system across Sudan’s Equotorial Province in Torit, Juba, Yei, and Maridi.

After 17 years of civil war between the north and south, in 1971 former Sudanese army lieutenant, Joseph Lagu, gathered the numerous south Sudan guerrilla bands under his Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) banner – the first time in the history of the war that the southern separatist movement had a unified command structure to fulfill their objectives of secession and the formation of an independent state in South Sudan. 

Acting as a representative of the south’s interests and objectives at the negotiating table, mediation between Lagu’s SSLM, the World Council of Churches, and the All African Conference of Churches eventually led to the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 –the south was granted a higher degree of both religious and cultural autonomy. Thus ended the first Sudanese Civil War, a conflict that resulted in the untimely deaths of over 500,000 Sudanese nationals and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands more across Sudan’s southern region.

Although the Addis Ababa Agreement accords were drafted into the Sudanese constitution, a pair of violations of the agreement led to the beginning of Sudan’s second civil war in 1983.

The first violation occurred when then Sudanese president, Gafaar Nimeiry, attempted to take control of a number of newly-discovered oil fields that stretched across the nation’s north-south border. The second such violation occurred when, after growing discontent with the Addis Ababa Agreement,  Nimeiry declared Sudan an Islamic theocracy – further marginalizing southern-Sudan’s predominantly Christian populous.

In 1983, as a response to Nimeiry’s violations of Sudan’s constitution, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel group that fought against Sudan’s central government and worked to establish an autonomous southern Sudan, was founded.

Amazingly, the effects of Sudan’s second civil war were even more damaging to the already-fragile African nation than that of the first 17-year conflict from 1955 to 1972 – resulting in roughly two million deaths, four million southern Sudanese nationals being displaced, and the highest civilian death toll of any conflict since World War II.

Although relatively minor incidents persisted sporadically in parts of southern Sudan, negotiations for peace between the southern rebels and Sudan’s government made substantial progress throughout 2003 and early 2004.

On Jan. 9, 2005, in Nairobi, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the two parties. This granted southern Sudan autonomy for six years, laying the groundwork for a subsequent referendum that was to be held in 2011.

Unsurprisingly, according to figures posted on the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission’s website on Jan. 22 – after over 98 per cent of the votes in southern-Sudan were counted – 99 per cent of the southern citizens who cast ballots during January’s referendum voted in favour of withdrawing from Sudan rather than remaining one cohesive nation.

Although Sudan’s referendum has concluded with a very low amount of election-inspired violence, many outside observers are worried that southern Sudan may have a series of very real problems to contend with on their way to prosperity.

The first hurdle will be whether or not the will of southern Sudan’s electorate will be honoured – it has actually been nearly crossed already. Last week Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, said that he would accept the results of the referendum, even if the south chooses to secede, and pledge to help build a secure and “brotherly” southern state if its electorate vote for independence.

The second such hurdle is perhaps even more daunting than the threat of civil war breaking out between north and south Sudan. If southern Sudan hopes to one day prosper as a nation, the state will need to work tirelessly to ensure that its population is not impoverished. Instead, it must be healthy, fed, educated, and have access to clean water.

A United Nations report released in November of 2010, appropriately titled “Scary Statistics,” paints a very grim picture for the development of the world’s newest nation. The findings of the report said that more than 50 per cent of the population live on less than five dollars a day; fewer than 10 per cent of Sudan’s children are fully vaccinated; 4.3 million southern Sudanese nationals required food assistance in 2010; less than 50 percent of all children receive five years of primary school education.

For every 1,000 primary school students there is only one teacher, and more than 50 per cent of the population do not have access to “improved drinking water.”

As for what all of this means from a Canadian perspective, John Schram, a Canadian ambassador to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan from 1998 to 2002, is weary. Although Sudan’s referendum has concluded, important issues have been brought to light, and the war-torn nation will inevitably need a great deal of international aid to ensure a degree of stability.

On Jan. 23, Schram told the Toronto Sun that Canada’s next military deployment will likely be in Sudan.

“We’re going to come under pressure from the Americans who have been in the lead all along,” offered Schram, who is a senior fellow in international relations at Queen’s University.

“However, we also have a skeptical public and a non-interventionist government and there’s a sense of weariness and reluctance to do what the Americans want us to do,” Schram noted. “After Afghanistan, do Canadians have the stomach for another nation-building program?”

Schram insists that Canada – who already has nearly 40 officials stationed in Sudan monitoring the situation and providing intelligence and logistics support, which nearly always precede military intervention – is more than prepared to deal with Sudan’s situation after the nation’s extended peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

Schram noted that a mission in Sudan would likely resemble Canada’s plight in Afghanistan, where the Canadian military supports and helps to protect vulnerable towns and areas while assisting in reconstruction and negotiations. Currently, Canada has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to Sudan and is behind only Norway in terms of supplying international aid to the north-east African nation.

Although the Republic of South Sudan is poised to become the world’s newest nation, a cause for celebration in itself, the coming weeks, months, and even years may very well be a trying time for the citizens of southern Sudan as the nation works towards achieving stability and prosperity.

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