Despite certain rumblings that Sudan’s government might delay a planned January 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence, preparations for the referendum – and for South Sudan’s post-referendum future – are going forward.
Assurances about the referendum’s integrity continue to come from the top. A high official from the ruling National Congress Party, Rabie Obeid, recently said the vote will take place, fairly and transparently, in January.
Meanwhile, the government of South Sudan acts as though it is ready for independence. The government in Juba has already begun purchasing military aircraft, a move in keeping with the stockpiling of weapons on both sides of the North-South divide but also technically a violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005.
Outsiders are also starting to think of South Sudan as an independent country. Opinion leaders in Kenya are urging the Kenyan government to stand with South Sudan. And the World Bank is urging South Sudan to re-orient its economy, and is talking of the region as though it were already a nation:
South Sudan must shift its massive dependence on oil and instead work to develop its agricultural sector, the World Bank’s vice president for Africa said on Saturday.
Obiageli Ezekwesili said that farming had massive long-term potential for the south, which is due to hold an independence referendum in January that many believe will lead to the partition of Africa’s largest country.
“Agriculture sector development is the antidote to the famous resource curse, that natural resource endowed countries like south Sudan could suffer from,” he told reporters in the southern capital after a four-day visit.
I think that word choice was deliberate, though I could be wrong.
Still, despite words and deeds that assume the imminent independence of South Sudan, the region hasn’t cleared the final hurdles yet. Disagreements over the demarcation of the North-South border could derail the referendum, and other logistical issues still need solutions as well. No wonder Washington is worried. And why various commentators are warning of looming disaster for Sudan. The next three and a half months could be long ones.