Courtesy Reuters

Sudan's Secession Crisis

Can the South Part From the North Without War?

Under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the 2005 deal that ended the lengthy civil war between the north and the south of Sudan, voters in the south are supposed to vote on January 9, 2011, to decide whether their region should secede and form the world's newest country. The civil war, which lasted 22 years and during which an estimated 2.5 million southerners died, was fought over several issues: the central government's long-standing neglect of Sudan's periphery; the excessive concentration of jobs, wealth, and public services in the region known as the Arab triangle, along the northern part of the Nile River valley; the government's brutal attempts to impose Arab culture and Islam on the south, where Christianity and traditional religions prevail; its persistent refusal to grant the south any autonomy (except for a brief period in the 1970s); and its exploitation of the south's resources, particularly its oil, to fill government coffers. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was signed by Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, and John Garang, the leader of the southern rebellion, who was killed in a helicopter crash soon after the deal, was intended to correct some of these problems. It gave the south its own semiautonomous government and an independent standing army and required the upcoming referendum on secession. But now Khartoum's stalling tactics are threatening to delay the vote, with potentially disastrous consequences.

During a visit to southern Sudan in late September and early October, we met nearly 100 people, including the south's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and vice president, Riek Machar, civil-society groups, church leaders, international humanitarian workers, UN officials, and many others. We traveled outside Juba to the southern cities of Malakal and Rumbek but were denied permission to travel to the north. In the course of our conversations, we came to see clearly that Garang's vision of a unified, democratic Sudan died with him. Given the depredations and atrocities that the southern Sudanese have suffered for two centuries at the hands of the northern Arabs, getting southerners to a'bid, the Arabic term for low-caste black slaves. For them, the south's revolt during the civil war was no liberation struggle; it was an uprising of slaves that needed to be crushed. Now, these northerners cannot abide dealing with southerners as equals. The southerners, for their part, wish to be rid of the Arabs and Islamism once and for all.

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