"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt

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Friday, January 28, 2011

South Sudan Votes for Independence; No Surprise

"THE preliminary official results from southern Sudan’s independence vote prove unsurprising to Sudan-watchers. Figures posted over the weekend on the referendum commission’s website show that more than 99 percent of voters in the south’s plebiscite want secession for their oil-rich but everything-else-poor homeland.

"The vote has already been praised by observers, and there is little doubt that the process is indeed representative of the will of the Southern Sudanese people. Thanks to the commission’s efforts to keep its website up-to-date with the latest results as they are processed, it is easy to track voter turnout across the south and to see the how many favour unity and how many secession. But a cross-check between the number of votes cast per county and the number of voters listed for each county in the final voter registry reveals discrepancies in more than half of the south’s ten states.


"Minor hiccups aside, the nearly four million people who voted in the referendum will almost certainly see their wishes realised. However, several key steps remain before the Juba government can declare independence come July. Aside from securing international recognition of the vote, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement must address a range of thorny issues related to its imminent divorce from the National Congress Party in Khartoum. They range from the division of $38 billion of debt to the demarcation of a contentious border to agreeing upon the future status of Abyei, an oil-soaked strip of land straddling the border between the two halves of Sudan. Northern and southern officials will need to find common ground—and fast—at the negotiating table if a definitive agreement is to be reached before the 2005 north-south peace deal expires on July 9th this year.

"At the same time, the Juba and Khartoum governments both have 'domestic' issues to contend with which could distract from the all-important north-south negotiations: rising food prices in both regions plus a discontented populace in the north and a hopeful one in the south mean both governments will have their hands full in the run-up to the country’s split."

It's hard to say what the future of South Sudan is. Some people are optimistically hailing this as a step toward lasting peace. That's very unlikely. As I've said before, South Sudan is made up of many ethnic groups, and violence across ethnic and tribal lines is very common. Additionally, a partial reason for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's capitulation was due to fear of the U.S.

"In 2004, led by then president George W. Bush, the US cast a giant shadow throughout the world. The US military's lightning overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime frightened US foes and encouraged US allies. The democratic wave revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon were all fuelled by the world's belief in US's willingness to use its power to defeat its foes.

"Bashir's regime is closely linked to al-Qaida, which he hosted from 1989 until 1995.

"When the US demanded that he accept the south's victory, he probably didn't believe he could refuse."

Certainly, the US is neither feared nor respected today in the same manner as 2004. Obama's amateurish apology speeches and promises to not act unilaterally made great strides in presenting the US as timid, shaky, and bursting with self-doubt.

Unfortunately, I think the most likely scenario is that the official split will be held up past July 9th by the issues The Economist describes, and then there will be a return to open hostilities. After all, Khartoum has had a number of years to re-arm and reassess.

I hope I'm wrong. Maybe the South and North Sudan will be able to hammer out a deal. Maybe Sudan is tired of bloodshed and will extend the peace deal past July 9th. Maybe the West will not lose interest (but haven't they already?) and keep up the pressure for a peaceful resolution. We can all hope.


  1. Great coverage, Yukio. I worry for the South Sudanese because the United States is no longer seen as a strong powerful friend of those who yearn for freedom. I am not as well versed as you are in foreign affairs (among a lot of other things), do you think Obama will give vocal support to the new nation?

  2. Probably. But vocal support is cheap-- one of the reasons that Obama's silence during the Iranian crackdown following the rigged elections spoke volumes.

    Bashir and the world knows that Obama's voice merely says hollow words. Obama will not lead the US against Sudan and the world knows it.

    Obama's weakness in international relations has put a strain on many of America's allies. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Israel, Jordan, and many others all feel the lack of Obama's (and therefore American) will and resilience.

  3. I'm hoping you'll do a post about Egypt and what's happening there because of your keen understanding about world issues. I'm sure I have much to learn. Now I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that if America were still seen as strong, that maybe we would not be witnessing all the turmoil that has sprung up in several Middle Eastern countries this past week or so. I think I read somewhere that Jordan faces the possibility of something happening similar to Egypt, but I don't know a whole lot about it.