Southern Sudanese leaders have called for locals to warmly welcome Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir as he visits the region five days before a referendum is held to secede. Bashir is visiting former enemy and now Southern Sudanese leader Salva Kiir in the run-up to the vote. Barnaba Marial Benjamin Bill, Southern Sudanese minister of information and broadcasting service is calling for a “massive reception” for Bashir when he visits Juba on Tuesday. Marial and others are welcoming Bashir because they said he has been courageous in announcing he would be one of the first leaders to accept the new nation if the result is secession. (photo:Reuters)
Bashir made the call on 28 December at a party rally in Gezira state, southeast of Khartoum. Bashir said he would be "the first to recognise the south" if it chooses secession in a free and fair vote on 9 January. "The ball is in your court and the decision is yours. If you say unity, welcome. And if you say secession, also welcome, and welcome to a new brotherly state,” Bashir said. "We are going to cooperate and integrate in all areas because what is between us is more than what is between any other countries."
The January 9 referendum is a major plank of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement reached in 2005 which brought an end to 22 years of civil war which left two million people dead. The Islamist north has much to lose if the animist and Christian south decides to split. Southern Sudan produces over 80 per cent of all Sudanese oil, which contributes to a little over 70 per cent of all Sudanese exports. Under the terms of the 2005 CPA, the two sides will equally share oil resources from Southern Sudan in the short term.
In the aftermath of the CPA, the Northern Sudanese leaders played down the prospect of splitting and advocated a “no” vote in the referendum. However as the vote nears, and the likelihood of a landslide vote of “yes” approaches, the Bashir administration has started to take a more realpolitik view of events. As the BBC reports senior northern officials have started to say publicly what many have believed for years - the south is almost certain to split away.
For the vote to be declared valid, at least 60 percent of the population must take part. International observers will be watching out for "potential spoilers". John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project said they wanted to avoid the referendum potentially triggering a renewed civil war. "We have to keep our eye on those potential spoilers that will attempt to undermine the process and the aftermath of the process in order to keep Sudan united and the oil flowing from southern Sudan to northern Sudan,” he told CNN.
The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission said it is ready to process the vote of more than four million people. The SSRC deputy chair Chan Reec Madut told Al Jazeera the vote would be a week-long process ending on January 15 but did not rule out extending the number of days if mobility in remote areas is a problem. He said it could take three weeks after that to get a result. Vote counting will be done on a daily basis and results will be displayed at individual centres. Permanent residents of south Sudan since 1956 when Sudan gained independence are eligible to vote as are those elsewhere who can trace their ancestry to an established south Sudan tribe.
Not everyone is favour of secession with the Misseriya tribe dead set against it. The Misseriya are one of two dominant tribes in the province of Abyei while the other, the Dinka, want to go with Southern Sudan. Bishtina Mohammed El Salam of the Misseriya is threatening war if the Dinka get their way. The status of Abyei is one of the most contentious elements of the CPA. An international court in The Hague redrew the border to give important oil fields to the north but some Misseriya on the wrong side of the fence are still not happy. But the south holds a symbolic attachment to the region, as many of its leading figures come from there, including Salva Kiir.
One Southern Sudanese intellectual is warning of the danger the new nation could become another Somalia, riven apart by ethnic strife. Zechariah Manyok Biar, writing in Allafrica.com said Southern Sudan could descend into chaos if it abandoned the principles of democracy “that brought us this far”. Biar warned against returning to the old way of doing things in Sudan. “This old way of doing things is coup d'état,” he said. “When leaders take power by coup, they disregard the views of citizens because citizens do not have a say in who should be their leader when leaders take power by force.”
With the Abyei region, border demarcation and other post referendum arrangements still up for grabs, it is just as well relations between Kiir and Bashir are cordial - the difficult task of nationhood will need all the help it can get. As the Algerian revolutionary leader Larbi Ben-M’Hidi warns in the classic post-colonial film The Battle of Algiers said. “It’s hard enough to start a revolution, even harder to sustain it, and hardest of all to win it. But it’s only afterwards, once we’ve won, that the real difficulties begin.”