Looking Towards South Sudan's Referendum

By Rev. Sam Kobia 11-05-2010

[Editor's Note: As Sudan prepares for the key January 9 referendum in which South Sudan will decide whether to become independent, as outlined by the 2005 agreement which ended decades of north-South civil war, the eyes and prayers of activists and people of faith are turned to Sudan. What follows is the first in a series of blogs drawn from Sojourners' recent interview with Rev. Sam Kobia, ecumenical special envoy to Sudan from the All Africa Conference of Churches.]

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was successful because there was a concerted effort by the governments within what is called the IGAD region (the Intergovernmental Authority on Development), and the host, the government of Kenya. Then the international community represented by the Troika -- the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway. And then of course, the Arab League, the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Perhaps, in the 20th century, I don't know of any other peace process that galvanized the international community so much -- which means the international community, including the churches, has a very important role to play to make sure that the implementation of the CPA is done in full. As we move towards the referendum, there are a number of obligations and responsibilities that the international community should have.

There is no question that the results of the referendum will be disputed. The North will not accept the South as separate, the South will not accept any result that does not give them separation, and therefore there will be dispute. Currently, there are no clear mechanisms on how to resolve that dispute. This is one message we are putting to the Troika, who are the guarantors of the CPA; we are putting it to all other international actors.

The other area is security. Without security, people will find it very difficult to participate meaningfully in the referendum. At the moment, the troops of the North and the troops of the South are only 5 kilometers [3 miles] apart. That border needs to be secured; there needs to be a buffer zone so that we don't have these soldiers facing each other. The information we are getting from the ground is that there is a mobilization of the troops -- the people themselves are telling us that, as churches.

We have no less than half a million, if not more, internally displaced persons, Southerners living near Khartoum. These people could easily be rounded up and even be massacred. We are afraid of that happening. They also are being intimidated; they might not be able to exercise their right to vote that easily. So the international community needs also to take this up.

Finally, we are seeing hot spots, where violence could flare up after, or even as we move to, the referendum. In the transitional areas, Abyei [is] supposed to have a referendum, but no referendum commission has been formed. With less than 100 days left, it's going to be very difficult for that to happen. Secondly, the Southern Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile -- these states are going to have popular consultations, which are supposed to be done by the elected members of the legislative assembly. But in Blue Nile, a majority of those elected belong to the government of Al-Bashir NCP [the ruling party in Khartoum]; they cannot represent the aspirations of the people. Which means, come referendum, people will say, we didn't have a chance to express our opinion, and therefore fighting could easily come up. With southern Kordofan, the commission has not even been formed. So unless something is done, these hot spots could be the sparks where violence can start again.

Rev. Dr. Sam Kobia is ecumenical special envoy to Sudan from the All Africa Conference of Churches; he was formerly the general secretary of the World Council of Churches. This blog is taken from an interview with Sojourners on October 19, during his visit to Washington, D.C.

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