Sudan: Only a Free and Fair Referendum, Not Coercion, can Guarantee a Genuinely United country
The right of people of South Sudan to decide their political future through an internationally monitored referendum, which many Southerners consider to be the cornerstone of the CPA, is now under severe threat. The National Congress Party views the right of self-determination as a curse and a threat to their model of the Sudan, the old Sudan. They feels that the people of South Sudan, if given a chance to exercise their rights in a free and fair referendum, will overwhelmingly vote to secede. Hence, they are resolved to undermine the Referendum, either by legislation or any other mean possible. In this short article I will only concentrate on how the NCP has been trying to use the legislation to derail the referendum exercise.
First, the NCP was reluctant to enact the South Sudan referendum act since July 2007, the time stipulated in the CPA implementation modalities for enacting this act. They hoped to delay the referendum bill as much as possible. The speaker of the national assembly, Ahmed Ibrahim Al Tahir told the UN-radio, Miraya FM, early this year that the referendum bill will be passed only by an elected parliament. That was a very dangerous view as delaying the referendum bill indefinitely till election will also result in NCP pushing for a delay in holding the referendum.
When delay tactics proved to be utterly unacceptable to the SPLM and the international community, the NCP accepted to start the negotiation on the bill but with a new meaning in mind to impede the process. They claimed that on their reading of the CPA, a successful vote for secession is to be made more difficult than a vote for unity, this rather than a choice between two equally viable and acceptable electoral options. They assert that a vote for secession requires 75 percent of votes cast and two-third in favour of separation. It took almost two years of rigorous negotiation coupled with US pressure to bring the NCP to accept a minimum of 60% of votes to legitimize the referendum exercise, and a simple majority for secession to be granted.
To add more obstacles to the bill, the NCP insisted that all Southerners who moved to the North before or during the war should vote in the North. The SPLM was apprehensive about that suggestion because the NCP’s motive is not that it has all of a sudden turned to care about the right of the Southerners living in the North, rather they saw this as an available opportunity to rig the referendum results.
The NCP already disenfranchised these voters in the population census carried out early this year and it will not hesitate to do so in the referendum. They undercounted them by the ratio of 4:1. (NGOs put the number of Southerners living in Khartoum to be over 2 million but the government put their census number to be 500,000). It seems NCP did not want them to make a significant number of constituencies in the forthcoming election. When pressed why there was such different in numbers, Awad Haj Ali, the head of Census claimed that Southerners were refusing to be counted! It is therefore naive to think that the outcome of their referendum vote will be a legitimate representation of their choice. Rather it will be a manipulation by the NCP to suit its agenda.
It is a hope of all Southerners all over the world that their views are represented in the referendum exercise. It is also a wish of SPLM and the Southern parties that the views of all the Southerners are represented. The number of Southerners who are living in the neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Congo and Egypt is as large as the number of those in the North. It is even larger by UN estimate. All those Southerners have the right to vote wherever they are living if NCP’s provision is the standard. However, it can be very difficult to ensure a free and fair referendum carried out in all those regions including the North. Southern Sudanese voters can accept a daunting task of travelling back to their home area to cast their votes rather than see their votes stolen and their views rigged.
To show good faith to its peace partner and the new American administration which brokered the negotiation, the SPLM accepted this dubious provision by the NCP even though they are aware of how it will affect the referendum exercise.
After all these years of negotiation, the final agreement was reached, or was rather thought to have been reached, in the middle of this month. The bill was expected to be passed on 23 December. However, on this fateful day, the people of South Sudan were again shocked when the NCP decided at the final minute to introduce another obstacle to the bill in the form of amendment in article 27 (3). In this article, the NCP assert that they want a second category of Southerners living in the North to vote. And who is included in this category of Southerners? All the people who can claim their roots to a tribe in Southern Sudan even if they have not been living permanently in South Sudan before or since 1956.
According to the wording of the bill, “all southern Sudanese whose origins are traceable to one of the ethnic groups in Southern Sudan, but who are not permanently and uninterruptedly resident in southern Sudan before or since the 1st of January 1956.”Of course any person in the North, West and East of Sudan can legitimately claim a Southern origin at one point or another in history. Omar Bashir can claim a great great grandmother from a Southern ethnicity. Hassan Al Turabi can claim a great grandfather from Dinka. If the referendum bill is to pass with this article intact, they are Southerners and therefore can vote in the Southern Sudan referendum in 2011. It is because of this fraudulent article that the Southern political parties and the SPLM boycotted the parliament session.
Sudan historians can agree that the above mentioned figures truly have Southern blood in them. All the self-proclaimed Arabs in North Sudan are hybrids of indigenous Africans (most from the South) and the Arab immigrants who have interacted and intermarried in the long historical processes which took place in the riverain Northern Sudan. They can claim Southern origin but according to the CPA they are not Southerners. A South Sudanese according to the CPA is a person whose parents or grandparents were living in the South on 1 January 1956 and thereafter.
As a matter of facts there were few South Sudanese living in the North before or on January 1, 1956. Sudan historians and experts like Alex de Waal and Douglas Johnson can attest to that fact. There was the infamous policy of the Closed District Ordinance in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s which effectively closed the Southerners off from working and living in the North. In the few months of 1955 leading to 1 January 1956, only Southern politicians who represented Southern constituents in the parliament were staying in the North. All of them and their families came to live in the South after that.
Despite this open intention by the NCP to sabotage the outcome of Southern Sudan referendum, the SPLM still conceded to give this group of Northerners who claims Southern origin a benefit of doubt. What is required of them is that any person who claims an origin from a Southern ethnicity before 1956 should go back to the South, trace the location of his or her original tribe and then case his or her vote there comes 2011.Therefore, if Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani or Usman Mohamed Taha claims the origin of his great grandmother amongst the Toposa tribe of South Sudan, he must go back to Toposa land in Riwoto, and be confirmed by his local relatives that he is truly a Southerner. If that condition is not put in place as an oversight, then all the people in North Sudan will claim Southernness on the referendum day.
As I noted earlier, the aim of the National Congress Party is to abrogate the right of self-determination of the people of South Sudan, and subsequently the entire CPA. By imposing this article into the bill despite earlier agreement, the NCP seek to save their overall agenda of impeding the implementation of the major component of the CPA, especially now that the interim period is waning out. It is difficult to know which of these, and other, proposals NCP truly expects to be included in the final referendum bill; but the sheer number of obstacles the NCP is attempting to create, some clearly contravening the terms of the CPA, is a sign of its resolve to block the referendum exercise.
Yong Deng is a South Sudanese student studying in Canada and an active member of the SPLM youth wing.