This weekend marked an important mental milestone in the countdown to the historic vote on unity or independence in Sudan. Saturday was exactly 100 days until the January 9th referendum, when southerners are widely expected to choose secession, splitting Africa’s largest country in two. As a result, there’s been a boost in diplomatic and advocacy efforts aimed at ensuring that the referenda in the South and in the volatile region of Abyei occur on time, are credible, and do not spur mass violence.
The logistics alone may delay the referendum – for instance, voter registration won’t even begin until mid-November due to a delay in procuring forms – but it’s difficult to separate political hang-ups from logistical ones. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 laid out an interim period of six years during which the ruling parties in the North and South would prepare for this historic moment, but delays and stalling has hampered the process. Now, southern officials, and citizens generally, warn that they won’t accept a delay. Privately, analysts express concern about the potential that the South would unilaterally declare independence if the referendum is pushed off for too long.
Belatedly acknowledging these stakes and the potential for renewed conflict, the Obama administration recently launched a “Juba surge” of diplomats in anticipation that the southern capital could become either the world’s newest capital city or a hotspot if war erupts again. Administration officials are also directly involved in efforts to break the potentially deadly stalemate over the oil-rich border region of Abyei, where another referendum is slated to take place on January 9.
Enough and some of our partners recently expressed praise for the heightened attention and engagement from high-level U.S. officials, most notably from President Obama himself. But activists are also quick to recognize that the attention must be sustained and include tangible follow-through to have a positive impact. In particular, advocacy groups are calling on the United States to step up monitoring and reporting of violence against civilians to help prevent groups from instigating insecurity during this fragile moment; keep attention focused on Darfur by appointing a high-level diplomat dedicated full-time to the conflict-ridden western region; and promote accountability in Sudan by working with other members of the U.N. Security Council to deliver Darfur genocide architect Ahmed Harun to the International Criminal Court.
Grassroots activists in the United States are coordinating an advocacy blitz between now and the referendum. “[C]onditions on the ground in Sudan are still unacceptable and the referenda bring an increased risk of danger to civilians,” said Gabriel Stauring, director of Stop Genocide Now, quoted in the Huffington Post. “Through the 100 days of action we hope that activists throughout the U.S. will help spur the administration to take further concrete steps toward peace." Sudan Now's website will be the hub for information about the activist actions.
Meanwhile, anticipation in South Sudan is of course building with the long-awaited vote approaches. An Enough Said reader came across this video and passed it along: