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What lies ahead for South Sudan after referendum?

What lies ahead for South Sudan after referendum?
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Sudan’s referendum may result in the creation of Africa’s newest nation, but the road ahead for one of the poorest countries in the world will not be bump-free, analysts say.

After a six year transitional period that follows decades of civil war between north and south, a week-long referendum is under way. Southern Sudan president Salva Kiir has said in the past that the “referendum is a choice between being a second class person in your own country, or a free person in your independent state.”

The conflict ended as a result of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 between the Sudanese government and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). The CPA’s aim was to encourage unity by means of giving more power to the marginalised peripheries, a goal that looks to have failed.

If the referendum is conducted fairly and peacefully, “Sudan will have passed a remarkable milestone,” according to Roger Middleton, a researcher with the Africa Programme at the London-based Chatham House. “In the event of a disputed poll then the chances of serious violence are greatly increased.”

Apart from losing one third of the country, “an independent South will have huge ramifications for northern Sudan,” Middleton said. “The loss of the SPLM as a large national opposition force will leave Bashir’s NCP in a very commanding position and the removal of the southern ‘problem’ will bring the disaffection in Darfur and the East into sharper focus.”

There are also more fundamental difficulties.

“This is a country battered by half a century of war, with no tarmac roads outside towns (and not many in them) and a largely subsistence economy, whose people have been widely displaced,” says Gill Lusk, associate editor at Africa Confidential magazine.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are now returning from other parts of Sudan or abroad and will need water and accommodation and perhaps land. If we remember how Australia is struggling to cope with its current flood disaster, we can imagine what a huge task this is for a country with little infrastructure and a shortage of qualified and/or experienced people,” Lusk said in a telephone interview today.

It will be a big challenge to keep the south united, according to Lusk, whose work focuses on Sudan. “The uniting ideology has been ‘anti-Northernism’. This is already turning into ‘Southernism’ but a more political base than nationalism will be needed to develop the society and build democracy.”

An obvious fear is that Khartoum’s National Congress Party regime will try to assassinate Kiir, Lusk says. “The Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) has had to build a fall back system, which as a military organisation of long standing, it knows well how to do.” The SPLM has “many sound leaders” and “there is a more collective leadership than many may imagine when they look at Africa.” She added, “It does not depend on one man.”

The result of the referendum is widely expected to be a vote for secession, and the creation of a new African nation that could be born as early as July. Juba is the probable capital of a nation with fertile soil and oil, and potentially a bright future. Many of Sudan’s oil wells are located on the north-south border, according to Upstream, and 98 percent of South Sudan’s budget comes from oil revenues.

In April, Kiir accused the central government, for which he acts as first vice president, of an oil grab. He said Khartoum delayed the demarcation of the border because “there is oil and the north wants to take the oil.”

Ali Sheikholeslami
euronews correspondent in London