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Sudan referendum could signal end to long conflict

Credit: Sibel Ergener/Art Staff Credit: Sibel Ergener/Art Staff

During the past week, the country of Sudan voted on whether the southern region of the country should secede from the north. This referendum on southern independence was one of the requirements of the 2005 peace agreement that brought an end to a two-decade civil war. We hope that last week’s referendum will bring to a final close what has been a long and bloody conflict. Indeed, the vote was conducted without the violence that has often plagued Sudan and other divided countries in the past.

Sudan was originally pieced together during the European colonization of Africa, where ethnic boundaries were completely disregarded. Most northern Sudanese are Muslim, whereas southerners tend to embrace Christianity and animist religions. The differences between the two have led to much conflict, resulting in 50 years of near-constant turmoil.

In addition, many argue that northern Sudan is taking advantage of the abundant natural resources in the south while reciprocating with very little in terms of development, infrastructure, education, and health care. The inequality begs for a better solution; we believe this solution is separation.

Consistent with general expectations, the initial returns from voting are in favor of secession. The only impediment to the success of the independence movement seemed to be that it required at least 60 percent of the registered voters to take part. Initial estimates have indicated that an overwhelming majority of southern Sudanese voters participated in the election, and we are thrilled by this expression of popular support, as well as the peaceful way in which the elections were conducted.

Should independence be, as expected, the official outcome of the referendum, we expect to see a new country this summer. Some leaders such as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir suggest that the separation will result in instability and slow progress toward development.

We acknowledge that a transition to independence will be difficult for the southern Sudanese people to accomplish: Even though the majority of the natural resources in Sudan are located in the south, the region has not seen as much development in sanitation or education as the rest of the country, and its approximately 8 million citizens have a very low standard of living with minimal health care. However, the separation of the two halves of the country is the best option given their history of conflict.