Several news agencies are now reporting semi-final results for the referendum. The CS Monitor has a good article with the details as does the BBC. A bit more, but less up to date, information is available on the SSRC website. Long story short, almost 99% of Southern Sudanese voted for independence. The official results are due in a little more than a week.
This is a collection of thoughts and stories. Most posts are based on travel experience or research related work.
All indications are that the qualifications for secession have been met. Several officials of the GoSS are now claiming that the required threshold of 60% turnout based on registered voters has been passed, and no major irregularities have been reported. This means that in six months from last Sunday (so about 9 June 2011) the world will have a new country. I hesitate to say that South Sudan will be number 193 as it takes time to be recognized by the UN (the US recognizes already 194 for example), although I suspect it will be quicker than South Sudan than Kosovo for instance. There is little doubt that the new country will be quickly recognized by the US, UK, and most of sub-Saharan Africa. Since secession is so likely, I thought it might be useful to discuss some of the things that need to happen next.
Acceptance of the ResultsThe results have to be finalized and accepted by Northern Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, and the NCP. If this does not happen then the whole enterprise is a non-starter. All indications are that it will happen, and Mr. al-Bashir has stated this many times in recent weeks. However, there are several possible hang-ups. First there is Abyei, another region (with ties to both the North and South) that was supposed to have a concurrent referendum and did not. Abeyi's problems are numerous. There is a fair amount of oil there, and it is very likely that the North simply cannot part with that future income, especially since almost all the rest is in the South. Otherwise there is a range of ethno-regional problems between the people in the region--the Dinka Ngok (cousins to the dominant Dinka in the South) and the Misseryia (Arab nomadic tribes). The conflicts in Abyei are not unlike other parts of Sudan and center around ethnic, cultural, and lifestyle divisions. The Misseryia do not stay in the area year-round, and they would prefer to retain what they see as their rights of migration based on a long history. For their part, the Dinka Ngok would likely choose to be part of the South because of their common culture and background. This was one of the major problems with the Abyei referendum as it was unclear just who would be allowed to vote since the Misseryia are not stationary citizens. Unfortunately, these problems have come to a violent head as of late.
The referendum is now in its third day, and it seems all is going well. In Abyei, where a promised referendum did not come to fruition, things are not going so well. This also raises questions about the "popular consultations" that are happening in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States. Meanwhile, President al-Bashir has decided to take on the full debt of undivided Sudan, leaving the South free and clear. He did add though, that he was doing this not because most of the debt was incurred by Khartoum, but rather because the South was not capable of handling such a burden. Clearly Mr. al-Bashir has rather low expectations for Southern Sudan, but it was a decent gesture nonetheless.
More Thoughts on the Referendum and Sudan
The referendum in South Sudan appears to be working better than anyone thought possible, so at least something is going according to plan. The voting has been generally peaceful, and it is indeed an honor to watch and listen to Southerners who are excited about this historical time for their homeland. In fact, the most unruly scene that I observed was between Norwegian and Czech reporters. They were upset about getting in each others way while trying to snap a ridiculously close-up photo of a voter stuffing their ballot. The shouting was in one of the few indoors polling stations, so it was noticed by all. Meanwhile the voter could not vote because they were hovering over the ballot box. The domestic observers were unsure about what to do, and it was utterly appalling and embarrassing to watch. Afterwards I reminded them just whose referendum this was. For my part, I always ask permission before a close-up photo, and in my view much of the media here has really pushed the boundaries of respect. Oddly enough, the only other unruly scene I have witnessed in Juba was by European journalists who were upset about the SSRC making them wait for several hours. If millions of Sudanese can stand in line to register, and then vote (in the heat of the day no less), surely 50 or so reporters can calmly wait for their accreditation cards for a few hours.
The long lines and jubilation of yesterday seem like a distant past. Today I visited several more polling station in Juba city and in the more rural areas of the county. The taped-off queue areas looked quite odd with no queuing going on.
The voters would straggle in a few at a time, and the workers were blessed with numerous extended breaks. Most all the voters I talked to yesterday thought it extremely important that they vote on the first day, but it appears that at least some realized that the lines could be avoided entirely if they waited a day or two. Nevertheless, the boxes are filling and the voting continues.
As usual I do not like to think that I am a better informer than most respective news sources, but I do have a few thoughts on the referendum. Today was the first day of voting, and it will last until around this time next week. I went to 4 separate polling venues in Juba and they were all extremely crowded.
The lines were long and the sun hot, but the South Sudanese people persevered as usual. There were some small issues with standing on line as some folks were growing restless while others were not happy about seeing party officials and policeman break the line.
As I have previously posted, Sudan is the largest country in Africa by landmass. It is also one of the most diverse. Here is a series of images (courtesy of a BBC article) that details this more clearly. Interestingly, the South has much more in terms of resources, forests, arable land, water, and rainfall--yet is far and away much less developed. Meanwhile President al-Bashir is pointing this out in news interviews. The only problem is that the differences are not just by accident. The South may not be ready for self-rule, but it is hard to blame them for wanting to try. It is not like things were working terribly well before.
Here is Sudan geographically, this is truly the divide between North and sub-Sahran Africa.
This morning as I made my rounds it was difficult not to get excited and caught up in the now jubilant atmosphere of Juba. It is clearly a time of celebration for Southern Sudan (pictures up soon). International observers are now here in full force, and all the preparations are in place. Now, all that exists is waiting to see what happens. Last night I was reading an account of the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972, which ended the first Sudanese civil war. It was eerily similar to the CPA, and optimism was abound. The primary difference is this referendum (although Abyei was supposed to have a referendum then too), and that of course is a big difference. The South was given similar autonomy as they have had since the signing of the CPA, and wealth/power sharing deals were worked out. I say all of that to say this: nothing should be taken for granted. Saying that, however, does not mean that Southerners should curb their enthusiasm. They have earned this right, and it is indeed an honor to observe.
Earlier today I read a New York Times article that mentioned a recent statement by the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. He apparently gave a message telling the South Sudanese "the ball is in your court." The problem is that this is more than a half-court game. Optimistically, this thing will go off without a hitch, and all can reap the benefits of a peaceful transition. If this is going to happen, the North and Mr. al-Bashir have to exercise an amount of self-control that they have previously not been capable of. Before coming here I assumed that a conflict would be unlikely because the place appeared to be overrun with expats, well that does not seem to be the case (although they are increasingly pouring in). Still, I doubt that any conflict will come at this point. Abyei does present the scariest possibility, but that too will probably be worked out. Now, what needs to happen is for Mr. al-Bashir to keep his word and prepare for a neighborly peace. If that comes to pass then the North will partially redeem (it is possible, just ask the Brotherly Leader in Libya if you can find his tent) itself in the eyes of Western leaders, and this should come with enough aid to offset the loss of oil revenue. If it is neighborly enough, a growing South will still need to rely on the North for many years to refine petroleum and provide other industrial services. None of this means that the South is without responsibility. The GoSS has to create a country from scratch, and temptations of power and corruption are already in plain view. But, in order to even get started, Mr. al-Bashir must be on the court, and hopefully not playing a ball-hog.
Thanks to Ross Marlay for sending this NYT article.
...what it is ain't exactly clear. And, for what it's worth, there is a man (several men in fact) with a gun over there. Today Juba started feeling a little more lively. There are more and more international observer groups arriving, and my hotel has filled up with foreigners. Most of them are from neighboring African countries, with the bulk of those being from Kenya. I also spent about 4 hours in the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Office. It seems to me that such a place (and the leader of the commission in the South!) would not have the time or space to entertain me as a guest, but I guess I am overestimating the effort that it takes to pull off a referendum election that is supposed to have a few million voters decide about creating a new country. Or, the media reports of the past year have all been lying and all the preparations have been made. I wish this were true, but clearly it is not.
The ballots only arrived a few days back, and the registration was several months behind schedule. I guess the bright side is that it will be difficult to misplace the ballots, and the voters will likely no for sure whether or not they are registered. The Referendum Commission office was the nicest place I have been to in Juba, and the process is remarkably open for someone who is not yet fully credentialed. The director of the commission in the South has lobbied Khartoum on my behalf, and I should have full official credentials in a couple of days (I have permission to observe, but I want the badge in case I am outside Juba on the 9th). To their credit, the team in the Referendum Commission office was very professional, and they seem to be following the rules laid out by the CPA and Khartoum. I suppose that is easy when the outcome is a forgone conclusion.
I have just read a few really bad articles, so a lesson is in order. This may be news to many people, but Africa is HUGE! Click on this map to put it into perspective. Sudan, currently the largest country in Africa, is about the size of the United States east of the Mississippi and takes up about 2% of the world's land mass (Collins 2008). South Sudan is about the size of France, or Texas. Before we can understand anything about the political situations in Africa and Sudan, we must appreciate the sheer size of the places we are talking about.
In the news, and even in my ramblings, Juba is not presented as the happiest or greatest place on earth. Though it is certainly not a garden spot, it does have a few things going for it. I am sitting in an outdoor Ethiopian restaurant called Karibu. The music is playing (Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing) and the flat screen is showing soccer matches from Europe. It is not the busiest place in town, but there are constantly folks in and out. The clientele are a mixture of Ethiopians, Kenyans, and Sudanese locals, while the hosts and waitresses are all Ethiopian. The place seems brand new, and it looks to have an optimistic outlook for future business. This is another part of Juba, the new part, the rebuilding (or building for the first time) part.
Yesterday I saw workers laying the first few meters of a new sidewalk, and others were laying what appeared to be water pipes that will eventually feed the businesses and residences along the street. If this is Juba (a couple million people here) now, I cannot imagine the Juba that was here before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. Juba is a town on the move, and it has the prices to prove it. It is a legitimate frontier boomtown, complete with control over oil reserves and fortune seekers. Among all this are the people. They are coming to the restaurants and shows (I saw Ethiopian reggae last night), and they seem to be enjoying this new life, but the old life is not far behind.
The new year is here, and it is likely going to bring the newest country in the African and world communities. I have asked many people what the country will be called, and they usually just say South Sudan or The New Sudan. I was thinking that another name might come along, but perhaps not. They have been working on a new flag and national anthem. Meanwhile, the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is still hoping for unity. If he is genuine, then he should be applauded for that, but I am skeptical. Little I can say here would be better than the hundreds of news reports on the subject, but the short story is that almost all of the known oil in Sudan will be in the new South, with the exception of the Abyei region-which could be the catalyst of a renewed conflict. It seems reasonable to assume that a president wanted for war crimes (genocide) cannot always be taken at his word. Here is an article that highlights the future possibility of problems.
Nonetheless, things are still moving along here in Juba, that is everything except for the digital clock with the referendum countdown. We drove by it today, and it was dead. I think, though, that the referendum will still go on as planned. My concerns were alleviated when the scrolling sign down the road still had its countdown running. I have begun to assemble my research team, and I hope to start my surveys in a few days. In just casually chatting with folks, the outlook for the future is generally positive. Nonetheless there seems to be an eery feeling. I know that more and more troops are headed to the border region, and I have seen far fewer international observers and peacekeepers than I had imagined and read about. Perhaps it is all happening somewhere, but so far the main thing going in Juba seems to be building and expanding, not a referendum. I guess, however, if things work out they will go hand in hand.