Independence or War

STRASBOURG – In the 1990’s, the world averted its eyes to genocide in Rwanda, and to the “Great Lakes War” in eastern Congo, which claimed upward of five million lives – the most in any war since World War II. Will such silence and neglect prevail again if civil war is renewed in Sudan?

The peace deal struck in Naivasha, Kenya in 2005 between Sudan’s government and rebels from the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) committed both sides, at war for most of the previous 50 years, to work for unity. But, as the so-called Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) reaches its climax, the SPLM, based in the autonomous region of South Sudan, has abandoned all pretense that unity with the North and the government in Khartoum is either possible or desirable.

A referendum scheduled for January 9 will give voters in the South the opportunity to create their own sovereign state. A separate but simultaneous vote in the oil-rich province of Abyei will allow voters to choose if they want to join the North or South.

The artificial fusion of the mainly Arab, Muslim north of Sudan and the African south, where Christianity and traditional animist beliefs are predominant, has been an abject failure. Since Sudan won independence from the United Kingdom in 1956, the country has been convulsed by almost constant civil war based on the north-south cultural and religious divide. Matters were subsequently complicated by a separate conflict – this time between Muslims – over resources in the western Darfur region.