“The world will be watching in the coming days, and the United States will remain fully committed to helping the parties solve critical post-referendum issues regardless of the outcome of the vote.” – President Obama said at the onset of voting in southern Sudan on January 9th
The people of southern Sudan are currently voting in a referendum that will determine whether they will remain part of Sudan or break away to form an independent nation, thereby partitioning Africa’s largest landmass. Voting began on January 9 and will end on January 15.
Remember the 60 Minutes segment late last year chronicling George Clooney’s ongoing work in Sudan? This sounded an alarm that Sudan may once again be teetering on the brink of genocide? Several years ago Clooney joined forces with The Enough Project, an organization that works to build a permanent constituency to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity throughout the world. Together they have been making a lot of noise, once again directing the world’s gaze on Sudan for this pivotal and potentially historic moment.
It’s going to take a lot more than the world’s gaze once again fixed on Sudan to see how this historical referendum plays out. What really matters is how the North will respond once the election results are confirmed next month, and whether the world continues to watch this potentially violent response, or whether the international community will step to prevent what many human rights organizations on the ground in Abyei have been warning against for months.
This scenario is very likely, particularly with Khartoum’s militarization of the border region in recent months. Further, the North remains economic dependence on the South’s rich oil deposits. Despite its oil wealth, the South is still one of the most impoverished and economically devastated regions in the world. This is a product of not only Khartoum’s corrupt leadership, but also of colonial legacies and post-colonial realities.
Pivotal questions remain. Will the world continue to watch as Sudan teeters on the brink of another genocide, or will the world act? Will “never again” come to mean more than a hallow catch-phrase that sounds pretty but lacks any real substance when judged on the the basis of the world’s response Kosovo, Rwanda, Chechnya, Armenia, Kurdistan…shall I go on?
Furthermore, setting aside plausible northern responses (all of which are speculative at this point), another question arises. What will the potentially newly independent southern government do with this opportunity?
While Abyei could choose to follow the lead of its northern counterpart by perpetuating oppressive and divisive government policies, it also has the opportunity to take a different road. It can choose to build a society based on just and inclusive, democratic rule.
Only time will tell. Until then, the world watches.