"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


Sudan referendum: what to watch

After decades of war, a five-year transition/peace process that at several points seemed destined for failure, and a year-long push, tomorrow, Southern Sudanese will at long last vote in a referendum on whether to secede from the North. The outcome of the referendum is a foregone conclusion; there's no question that the vast majority of Southern Sudanese will vote to go. The only surprise will be if the option to split garners less than 95% of the vote.

While John Prendergast, George Clooney, and other advocates who don't speak a word of Arabic have been raising fears about violence for months (and are now embarking on silly plans to take satellite images of areas in which they believe genocide is likely, despite the fact that you can't actually see that level of detail in satellite imagery), the likelihood that a genocide or war will break out immediately seems to me to be slim to none. As Stephen Chan notes in a discussion hosted by the Royal African Society, there are too many incentives for both sides to behave themselves - the oil needs to keep flowing for both sides to benefit, and the US and China aren't likely to put up with any shenanigans. Also, al-Bashir seems to be willing to let the secession happen, despite pointing out to al-Jazeera that the South is going to be a bit of a mess in its initial independence period.

As Rob Crilly points out, al-Bashir is right. My real worry for this situation is not that war will break out between north and south - even over Abyei, which I think will eventually be allowed to vote on its own status - but rather than tensions within the South will be played out in the context of an extremely fragile state. Southern Sudan will immediately become one of the world's poorest, weakest states - albeit one with oil - with a plethora of ethnic groups who don't see eye-to-eye on everything. That's rarely a recipe for stability. Add to that the resentment that may build up over the SPLM's domination of politics within the South and there could be real problems.

Then again, the South's many groups have had several years to learn to work together, and everyone has known what was coming for some time.

There are, as you might imagine, lots of resources on what's going on in Southern Sudan this weekend. Here are some of the best I've seen; please add others in the comments:


Anonymous revaz ardesher said...

A few points:

1. Wow, you are still on an anti-Enough Project tirade? Did you read this piece about Predergast in the Times a few weeks ago? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/magazine/05sudan-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp
A huge reason that the Obama administration is paying more attention to Sudan is because of Prendergast. Of course, I can't prove direct causation because of lack of evidence, but let's just say that his hard work has had an impact.

2. Of course, most people working on Sudan do not believe that "genocide" will break out during the referendum. But that does not mean that violence will not break out, especially in the months after the vote. I think that new technology, like crowdsourcing and the Sentinel, will be helpful in knowing what is happening on the ground.

3. Furthermore, do Nick Kristof, Jimmy Carter, and other knowledge folk speak Arabic? I doubt it, but do they need to speak it to understand Sudan, tribal dynamics, implications for the region, etc? Besides, I think that English is the second language in the South anyway.

Saturday, January 08, 2011 9:42:00 AM

Anonymous theblogrebel@twitter said...

What I do not see here is a recognition of the history of the Sudan and the control of tribal fiefdoms in the country both by arabs and those of afro-arab descent. Does anyone truly belive that these ancient power structures are going to cooperate fully. And what about the arab influence and belief that any land conqured by Islam always belongs to ISlam and is subject to jihad?

Saturday, January 08, 2011 10:58:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Saturday, January 08, 2011 2:22:00 PM

Anonymous Don Stoll said...

Kudos to you for seeing that, notwithstanding the ruthless brutality of Bashir and his National Congress Party, prudential concerns figure to motivate them to responsible action in this case. Outsiders to Sudan can sympathize wholeheartedly with the South's craving for independence while watching in apprehension as the citizens of the new nation discover that Bashir and the NCP are the least of their problems.

Sunday, January 09, 2011 8:37:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks, Don. Bashir is a horrible person, but he's also a rational actor who responds to incentives. And I am far more concerned about issues - not just the poverty and lack of infrastructure, but also the status of Arabs in the new state, etc. - within the South than about Bashir's behavior.

Monday, January 10, 2011 8:24:00 AM

Anonymous Thesis Writing said...

Excellent Blog! I really admire your thinking and the way you have put these information in this post. Thanks for sharing an informative post.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 12:19:00 AM

Anonymous theblogrebel said...

AHA! I was looking for the missing actor in this great drama and it's opinion and I found the it! China and its continuing Hegmonic "Diplomatic" Expansion in Africa. As the article states "The West can only Accept one result" while China waits:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011 6:32:00 AM

Blogger Lauren said...

You actually can see a substantial amount of detail in satellite imagery if you know what to look for; in June 2009 we used satellite images to confirm the movement of tanks from Kenya towards southern Sudan that had been aboard a ship seized by Somali pirates. Moreover, the images are not meant to point fingers -- that's the job for on the ground observers and monitors. The satellite images are an effort to identify where there are problems, and to make information that has previously been limited only to governments more widely available to populations.
I guess I am not sure why there is an automatic knee-jerk vitriol from this crowd of academics who, safe in front of their computers and ensconced in their ivory towers, denigrate every act that didn't have its genesis in middling research that never gets an audience. I am not an Enough fan, and I am not sure that Clooney is the right person to be spearheading this kind of initiative, but I sense a lot of self-righteous condemnation that seems unwarranted from people who themselves don't speak Arabic and who have yet to themselves come up with any workable suggestions for possible solutions/efforts to resolve crises.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 1:54:00 AM

Anonymous theblogrebel said...

To Texas:

I see that the Eastern Sudan has the only commercial port for exports and the Saudi gov't just gave $500 million for development in this region. So if Bashir controls the port he still controls the economy of the north. And China is is in all of these area according to the wikkileaks cables to the detriment of American interests. So what is the deal with the east Dr. Seay?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 6:45:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

@theblogrebel I think this is one of the incentives for getting along that will drive a move more toward peace than war. Both sides need each other to benefit from the oil, which means they have good reason to get along. The US doesn't have substantial economic interests in Sudan; our issue is more one of wanting regional stability.

@Lauren, marhaba. My issue with Clooney is twofold: 1) opportunity costs and 2) raising unnecessary and unhelpful alarms. I couldn't care less if Clooney wants to be an advocate for Sudan. He commands attention just by showing up, and I'm fine if he wants to do so. The problem arises in that he's drawing that attention to something that is, quite frankly, silly. He could use his celebrity to draw attention to the myriad of problems that will immediately face Southern Sudan, the question of the status of Arabs in the South, or just the need to build some hospitals and clinics. I would much rather see a George Clooney Maternity Hospital or something equally useful be put up with this cash. Instead, he's wasting that money and energy tracking something that is highly unlikely to be an issue.

Which leads to my second issue with Clooney: he's listening to Prendergast's absolutely ridiculous advice with an uncritical ear. I don't know a single academic analyst or policy maker who thinks Prendergast is right on Southern Sudan, but Clooney spouts his talking points every time he has a press conference. Prendergast has been raising an alarm for something that will not happen - and something that was never going to happen - for months now. He doesn't seem to be paying any attention to the context, the incentives, or the fact that nobody really wants to go back to war.

Thursday, January 13, 2011 11:27:00 AM


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