The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Will the Southern Sudanese Independence Referendum Provide A Lasting Solution to the Conflict?

Posted in Internal Conflicts and Human Security by NTSblog on February 23, 2011
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ON 7 February 2011, the final result of the referendum to determine the status of southern Sudan was released: 98.83 per cent of the more than 3.8 million registered voters in southern Sudan chose to separate from the north. This referendum was the final culmination of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which brought a formal end to Africa’s longest civil war and it heralds the birth of a new country: the Republic of South Sudan. The 25-year civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), which was described in various ways as one between northern and southern Sudan, Arabs and Africans, and Muslims and Christians resulted in the death of an estimated two million people. There are concerns that the referendum would plunge the country back into full blown civil war. Such fears however were unfounded. This is because there was recognition that the conflict between northern and southern Sudan had entered a stalemate and neither side would gain a decisive victory. Also, increasing pressure from the international community led both parties to return to the negotiating table. In any case any relapse into war would have exacted huge social and economic costs. A report by Frontier Economics estimated that a relapse into war could cost Sudan more than USD 100 billion over 10 years. A peaceful settlement to the longstanding conflict, even though ending a unified Sudan, was therefore the only viable alternative. The relatively peaceful manner with which southern Sudan secedes from the north is thus described as a “civil ending to a civil war”.

Source: The New York Times, 2011.

However, there is a possibility of the two countries relapsing back into conflict because there are still a number of delicate and potentially combustible issues that need to be resolved. One such issue concerns the permanent demarcation of the north-south border. Although 80 per cent of the border has already been resolved, 20 per cent of it is still being contested. The Abyei region has been identified as the reason why it remains so because “many of the ingredients of the wider north-south war—the oil, the proxy forces, the historic rivalries—are distilled in the Abyei region”. Like the rest of South Sudan, the Abyei region was also to hold a referendum in January 2011 but the process was held hostage by politicians from both North and South Sudan. It is imperative that South Sudan and North Sudan initiate dialogues early on to resolve all outstanding issues in order to prevent future escalation of conflicts between them.

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