Negotiating Sudan’s North-South Future
Africa Briefing N°76
23 Nov 2010
Sudan’s fragile Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is entering its final phase, and a critical vote on Southern self-determination looms, but foundations for a constructive post-referendum relationship are yet to be laid. In addition to a handful of outstanding CPA items, future arrangements on citizenship and nationality, natural resource management (oil and water), currency, assets and liabilities, security and international treaties must be negotiated, regardless of the referendum’s outcome. Many in Sudan and abroad are focused on ensuring the referendum exercise takes place on 9 January as planned. But simultaneously pursuing agreement on the broader post-referendum agenda is not only critical for a peaceful transition and long-term regional stability, but may also serve the more immediate objective of clearing the path for a mutually accepted referendum.
After months with little progress, the African Union (AU) High-Level Implementation Panel on Sudan and the U.S. jump-started stalled negotiations in recent weeks. But considerable work remains to bridge the gaps between the CPA parties, and time is short. Details of all the post-referendum arrangements cannot, and need not, be negotiated before the vote. But the absence of a basic blueprint for the post-2011 relationship between North and South contributes to uncertainties about the political and economic future of each, risks the referendum being viewed as a zero-sum game and thus sustains fears about the smooth conduct of the exercise and acceptance of its result.
The referendum is sure to shock Sudan’s political system. Thus, efforts have intensified to achieve a framework agreement that addresses, in concrete terms, those post-referendum issues that will have an immediate impact on the population. Such an agreement should also ensure that a mechanism is firmly in place so that negotiations can continue beyond January – up to (and possibly beyond) July 2011, the date on which both the CPA expires, and the South might expect to attain independence, if it votes for secession, as expected. The framework currently under consideration also espouses a series of general principles within which to frame future discussions.
But with less than seven weeks until the vote, the pace of negotiations is cause for concern. Mistrust between the parties remains high, and the still unresolved issue of Abyei complicates the political environment. Given the political brinkmanship that has long characterised Sudan’s North-South politics, it is conceivable that the parties might continue to circle fruitlessly before attempting to strike a grand bargain at the last moment. Such high-stakes gambling risks instability in Sudan and the region, and should be discouraged.
As voter registration for the referendum is now underway, the chances for spoilers to derail the exercise are diminishing fast. Some National Congress Party (NCP) officials have shown signs that they may be increasingly resigned to the reality of partition, but the ruling party could still contest the results on technical grounds or withhold its recognition of an independent South. As the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba clamours for international safeguarding of the South’s right to self-determination, the NCP waits. It could continue to stymie negotiations on post-referendum arrangements, preferring to employ its leverage at the eleventh hour in an attempt to extort significant concessions from the SPLM and the international community in exchange for their endorsement of the referendum.
Southern Sudan’s right to self-determination is guaranteed by the CPA, and efforts must continue to ensure smooth conduct of the 9 January poll. But progress now toward a series of win-win arrangements could also remove obstacles to the referendum and temper the potential impact of its result.
Juba/Khartoum/Nairobi/Brussels, 23 November 2010