Last week, thousands of Southern Sudanese, eagerly anticipating the final results of January’s referendum on South Sudan’s secession from its northern counterpart, waited to hear President Omar al-Bashir announce the status of the remaining votes. Despite the population having generally surmised the overall outcome of the vote to be in favor of the secession, the announcement generated a sense of relief among the anxious crowds since it signaled al Bashir’s almost uncharacteristically cooperative acceptance of these results. In this vote, 98.83 percent of Southern Sudanese, an overwhelming majority, supported an independent South Sudan, which will be formally declared as the world’s newest country in July, according to The New York Times.
Though the announcement of the future partition was met with a resounding celebratory reception, there are evident points of discord and matters for hard deliberation that will need to be addressed during the six-month wait until South Sudan is permanently established. The most obviously basic of these concerns is the creation of a new government. South Sudan will need a president — and he will come in the form of the cowboy hat devotee, Salva Kiir, the current vice president of Sudan and leading proponent of Southern secession. Admired for his role as the unifying voice among different Southern ethnic groups, Kiir, with his highly militarized background, has yet to be tested out in presidential waters. Accordingly, an accountable and competent new government is not automatically ensured.
A second, more dramatic issue relates to the North and South’s heavy dependence on oil revenues. However, it is only the South that possesses the majority of the oil fields. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, that engendered the recent referendum, also calls for equal oil distribution between these two regions. Noting the aridity of the North and the visibly and comparatively lush greenery of the South, the paucity of oil in the North becomes more apparent and teeters on precariousness. This friction is demonstrably reflected in the currently contested oil-rich area of Abyei. The CPA initially proposed a joint referendum for the vote on Southern secession and the decision of Abyei to stay with the North or join the new South. Yet, since voter eligibility in this area is still being disputed, Abyei’s referendum is attached to an undetermined date.
The latest wave of violence that challenged the mood of jubilation in South Sudan was in the Jonglei state; clashes between Southern Sudan army and a rebel group has left 211 people dead, many of whom were civilians ensnared in the fighting, according to an Associated Press report. Nevertheless, no where is the conflict more pervasive than in Darfur. The paramount reason for the insurrection in Darfur involves ethnic clashes between the government-backed Arab militia, the Janjaweed, and the rebel forces comprised of Christian and traditional Southern Africans.
Stephanie Sobek, a third-year in political science and Middle Eastern studies and president of the Ohio State chapter of STAND, an anti-genocide coalition, explains that the incumbent president of Sudan, al-Bashir, “hired the Janjaweed militia and they systematically killed all the African descendents in Darfur.” She goes on to elaborate on the scale of the atrocity: “It’s so brutal. The Janjaweed militia would burn villages, and rape the women and children, and run the men off the villages. A lot of those refugees moved to Chad.”
Recently STAND held a fundraiser to help raise awareness for the ongoing conflict in Darfur. Sobek, sporting a shirt with the club’s motto, “don’t stand by, stand up,” introduced the comically radiant 8th Floor Improv troupe as it helped generate a commendable amount of donations that will go directly into assisting people displaced by the Darfur genocide. Still, since Darfur will remain a part of Northern Sudan, the prospect of a dissolved insurgency seems grim.
As South Sudan’s secession moves forward, a changing paradigm may take hold in Africa. Sudan has redrawn its own borders — the first to do so in a continent encumbered with the arbitrarily defined borders of its colonial past. Countries, such as Niger or those in the Ivory Coast with similar tensions, may look to Sudan as setting a precedent; secession could become the go-to solution. However, partition is no panacea: It does not ensure ethnic homogeneity, fair resource distribution or transparent leadership.
Last week, The UN Security Council met to discuss the ongoing situation in Sudan. In the presidential statement released, the Security Council encouraged “the international community to lend its full support to all Sudanese people as they build a peaceful and prosperous future.” With a complementary stance, Sobek urges OSU students to get involved as the conflict ensues in Sudan. Outlining a primary goal of STAND, Sobek says “we educate ourselves about different areas and spread that education.” Though, as Sobek advises, a good starting point for all students “is just becoming aware of the problem.”