South Sudan: Birth of a failed state?
Juba, Sudan (UPI) Jan 12, 2011
Sporadic violence has marred the historic referendum in southern Sudan, cockpit of a 22-year civil war in which an estimated 2 million people perished.
But the largely peaceful weeklong polling due to end Sunday is widely expected to lead to the backward region's independence -- and a future so uncertain that skeptics are already talking about the birth of a failed state.
The referendum marks the culmination of a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the war.
Most security analysts agree that neither the south, populated by African Christians and animists, nor the Khartoum regime in the Arab Muslim north has any real interest in reigniting the war.
But in a land so torn by ethnic hatreds and the memories of countless atrocities, on top of the rivalries that exist within both regions, it would take little to trigger renewed bloodletting on a major scale.
"If the situation is not managed well, the risk is not only a failed state (in Sudan), but a fragmented state as well," said Hilde Johnson, the former Norwegian development minister who played a large role in negotiating the 2005 pact.
There are spoilers on both sides, which have been spending heavily on building up their military capabilities since the CPA.
North and south have been in conflict since Sudan's independence from Britain in 1956. Khartoum waged a campaign of remorseless brutality against the Texas-sized south that comprises one-third of Sudan's territory.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a former general who led the war against the south, was never happy with the independence referendum and sought to torpedo it.
But Jan. 2, in a major and unexpected shift, Bashir visited Juba, the southern capital, and appeared to accept the inevitability of southern independence.
His adversaries, along with the referendum's international backers, including the United States, were pleasantly surprised. But they were hardly reassured by such honeyed words from a national leader indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes committed in the western region of Darfur, where a separate intra-Sudanese conflict has raged since 2003.
Even if Bashir doesn't interfere in the south, the nascent state faces immense difficulties under its leader, former rebel commander Salva Kiir.
It's poor, even by African standards. Most of the 7.8 million people are nomadic herders. Only 15 percent can read or write. It has no industry and only 60 miles of paved road.
An independent south could also have potentially serious repercussions across Africa, a continent already convulsed by war and rebellion.
Allowing the south to break free from Sudan would create a precedent that could affect territorial disputes in the Western Sahara, Ethiopia's Ogaden region, Angola's oil-rich Cabinda enclave and the mineral conflicts in the Congo.
Bashir is blamed by many in the north for the impending loss of the south and its oilfields, which produce about 90 percent of Khartoum's export earnings.
That could be perceived as weakness on his part, which his rivals could exploit to topple him.
Any successor regime would likely include, and possibly be dominated by, the north's vociferous Islamists and others with more extreme views than his.
On the other hand, he may be inclined to launch a pre-emptive strike against his opponents.
Either way, the political turbulence would likely ripple through the entire region of northeast Africa.
Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia have supported the southern cause and welcome the expected secession of the south, through which flows the White Nile before it joins the Blue Nile at Khartoum.
These African states, and four others dependent on the Nile's waters, are pressing Egypt and Sudan to relinquish colonial-era rights to 70 percent of the river's waters. Cairo and Khartoum adamantly refuse.
Any move made by Bashir, or other Sudanese leaders, to crush southern independence would likely be backed by Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation.
And the war-ravaged south is far from united. The ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement is dominated by the Dinka tribal confederation and, as in the past, Khartoum is reported to be arming the Dinkas' tribal rivals.
These rogue factions are being blamed for much of the violence in the south over recent days. They may well be the shape of things to come.
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