The spectre of famine haunts parts of Africa again, with more than 20 million people facing starvation across Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan.
Barring some unforeseen problems, South Sudan will hold its referendum on January 9, 2011 and almost certainly secede from the North. The largest country in Africa would have been dealt a terrible blow whose consequences will reverberate for decades.
Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in 2005 between northern and southern Sudan, the latter is expected to vote for secession in a referendum in 2011. But the traditional competition between nomadic groups in the south for the best cattle and grazing land has developed into a serious ethnic conflict in recent months, so the region could be too unstable to hold either the elections due next year or the referendum.
Since the conflict in Darfur began three years ago, about 180,000 people have died, mainly because of hunger and disease; about 2 million have been displaced. Clearly, the conflict is too vicious and costly to be allowed to continue, but the current efforts of the African Union (AU) to resolve it are not equal to the task. But the so-called international community cannot seriously be concerned about the fate of the people of Darfur or of Sudan as a whole.
The peace deal signed last January for which the late John Garang fought for more than two decades secures for southern Sudan the right to secede, which it will exercise through a referendum to be held in six years’ time. There is little doubt that Garang would have insisted on the referendum being held, had he lived, and that the southerners will vote for secession because of their strong hostility towards the north and their backers’ keenness to have the “largest Muslim-dominated country in Africa” broken up.
The agreement signed between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, on January 9 has been hailed as a “historic peace deal” that ends a long-drawn-out and ruinous war between the “Muslim north” and the “Christian”-animist south.
The Sudanese mediation game is beginning to look more like the Middle East ‘peace process’, now that president George W. Bush has appointed a ‘peace envoy’ to bring “sanity and compassion” to a land ravaged by decades of civil war; there is even talk of the US being the only country that can bring ‘peace’ to southern Sudan.
For the first in the history of the Sudanese conflict, Khartoum has conceded to southern rebels the right to exercise self-determination through a properly-supervised referendum.
Daniel Koat Mathews is a veteran of Sudan’s southern rebel politics. It goes back 34 years ago, to 1963, when he helped to found the first Ananya rebel movement. He had since been an active member of the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM)...