On January 9th, Southern Sudanese will vote on whether to secede from the North and form a new country. This vote was promised in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005, which ended a devastating 22-year civil war that claimed more than two million lives. Additionally, citizens in the disputed boarder region of Abyei—which is rich in oil reserves—will vote to join either the North or South if secession succeeds.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the situation in the Sudan as a “ticking time bomb”. There is concern within the international human rights community that Southern Sudan is ripe for mass killings and possible genocide.
What does the referendum mean for the people of Sudan?
The referendum process has already been fraught with threats of violence and renewed conflict as North and South remain suspicious of one another, fearing that the other side is trying to derail the process
Tension between the two regions is expected, as the referendum has several substantial implications:
- Mass Displacement — If the South votes for separation—which observers believe it will—both sides must come to agreement about how to treat northern Sudanese living in the south and vice versa, as well as the country’s nomadic groups who travel between the two regions. It is estimated that about 1.5 million southern Sudanese live in the north—all of whom have been threatened with expulsion if the south votes for independence.
- Oil Crisis — South Sudan is rich in oil; it is estimated that more than 70 percent of the country’s oil reserves and production take place there. However, the oil pipeline that carries the oil to port runs through North Sudan. Oil revenue makes up 98 percent of the government’s budget in South Sudan and 60 percent of Khartoum’s budget. A vote for secession would mean further negotiations on how to define oil production and revenue sharing between the two countries.
- Fear of Violence — If the vote is seen as unfair, forced or is unpopular with militia groups, there is a major concern that violence could erupt between the two countries, resulting in a return to civil war.
Why is the referendum important?
In addition to fulfilling the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the vote is a democratic means of conflict resolution that will allow southern Sudanese to feel their voices are heard without the destruction, loss and violence of civil war. A peaceful and credible election would be a necessary and important symbol of the possibility for true peace following decades of violence and fear. For the women of Sudan, the vote means an important opportunity to make their voices heard as to the direction of their country and the chance to continue rebuilding their lives and communities in a peaceful environment.
What you can do?
1) Pay Attention
Attention is a powerful agent for change. Below are a few well-respected groups monitoring the elections. Add them to your Google alerts and RSS feeds.
2) Speak Out
Spark provides advocacy support for our partners working in the region. We need volunteers to write letters. If you are interested in volunteering, email me – Shannon@sparksf.org
3) Map It
If you have ever lived in Southern Sudan, The Satellite Sentinel in partnership with Google is looking for volunteers to aid in mapping the region. Accurate maps will help the international human rights community monitor the situation in Southern Sudan.