Logistical issues leaped into the spotlight this week in the ongoing struggles over Sudan’s January 2011 referendum on Southern independence. With renewed civil war between North and South still a real possibility, debates over timetables, registration, and other issues take on a sharp edge.
On Tuesday, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) set new conditions for holding the referendum:
[The conditions include] demarcating the borders and redeploying southern forces, [which] could further inflame tensions in the divided country.
Youth and Sports Minister Hajj Majid Suwar told the state news agency that in addition to drawing up the potential borders between the two halves of the country, southern military units had to redeploy south of the 1956 border.
[…]The new conditions, which include calls for the south not to interfere with those campaigning for the unity of the country, could be interpreted by the southerners as a stalling tactic by a north reluctant to lose the oil-rich southern half of the country.
Much of the boundary between the oil-rich south and the northern, Muslim-dominated government is undefined and contested — mainly because of the region’s richness in resources. The south has called for the referendum to go ahead even if final borders are not agreed upon.
The NCP’s conditions came out as the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announced a delay in voter registration, causing further outcry.
The chairman of the referendum commission said this was to allow for staff training and delivery of forms.
[…]Analysts fear there is a risk of the conflict restarting if southerners feel that Khartoum is trying to delay or disrupt the vote in the oil-rich region – one of the world’s poorest and least developed regions.
Chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, Muhammad Ibrahim Khalil, said the registration had been delayed by three weeks till 15 November.
According to Reuters news agency, registration forms have not yet arrived from the printers in South Africa – and are not due until late October.
(Note: there is some confusion over whether this counts as a delay or not. See fuller remarks from Khalil here.)
The world, as well as Sudan, is concerned about these logistical problems. A team of observers from the Carter Center arrived in Sudan this week, and the UN Security Council will visit next week “to press officials in the north and south to speed up preparations for [the] referendum.” The US is mediating talks over the disputed Abyei region. These diverse interventions could help or hurt, of course. International concern, Oscar Blayton (via) says, could actually add to the potential for violence, especially in a worst-case scenario where the Southern Sudanese enter into conflict with the North believing that the US will support them.
Whether or not the logistical issues mask a Northern agenda to derail the referendum or present an opportunity for outsiders to manipulate Sudan or just indicate the confusion that attends a complex process, they are clearly making all of the major players uneasy. Added to the other tensions, that makes me uneasy too. It can be seductively easy, as Blayton mentions, to play up the potential for war in Sudan, but war or other forms of internal strife and division are not unrealistic outcomes for the months ahead.