Today people in South Sudan get to start voting on the South Sudan Independence Referendum! Voting will end on the 15th and will result in either the establishment of a new country of South Sudan or the integration of the currently autonomous southern region into the nation of Sudan.
The North is desertous and dry, with a largely Muslim Arab population and a few large cities, as well as a coastline on the Red Sea. The South consists of jungle and savannah, and the Jubb Wetlands in the East, with a mostly black, Christian population. Tribal wars have ravaged the area for time immemorial, but more severely, Sudan holds the record for Africa’s longest civil war, fighting from 1955-1972, and again from 1983-2005, for a total of 40 years of war. That’s only 15 years of peace since five years before the Beatles even existed.
South Sudan is rich in oil and timber and other resources. For many years the Central Government in Khartoum controlled all of it, but under the South’s autonomy, a cut of the profit is supposed to go to the SPLA/M. However, the figures that the North reports differ greatly from the numbers reported by the SPLA/M, and neither figure matches that of the actual oil companies, suggesting that at least two of these groups is fudging the numbers. The North and the South also disagree on the legitimacy of much of the censuswork that is crucial to the outcome of the referendum, namely the fact that the census, which has been conducted by the North, neglects to count many countries with high rates of South Sudanese diaspora.
In 2005 the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army/Movement or SPLA/M and the Sudanese Central Government signed the Naivasha Agreement, which detailed South Sudanese autonomy and a North Sudanese withdrawal of troups, as well as planning for the referendum now being voted for in East Africa. The Abeyi region, along with much of the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, will also decide this year whether to integrate with the North or the South.
In October 2007 the South temporarily backed out of the agreement due to the continued presence of North Sudanese troops in the oil fields, and the failure of the North to follow through on some of their promises regarding the Abeyi region. In December the South reentered the agreement on the condition that the North follow through on the Abeyi agreements, specify a schedule for the withdrawal of the northern troops, and agree to rotate the capital every three months between the northern capital, Khartoum and the souther capital, Juba.
This is a country in such a desperate condition that they seek refuge in Ethiopia, Chad, Uganda, Kenya, and other countries plagued with famine, drought and violence. This is a country that has been traumatized, a country that has been ripped apart for over half a century. Forty years of civil war and it all leads up to this vote. In a week either all of my maps will become outdated, or, by some fluke, the South will once again be faded into their desertous northern neighbor. Be that the case I have no doubt that the structure of this uneasy peace will crumble and another decades-long power struggle will arise. So cross your fingers with me for the creation of a 196th nation on this Earth. They’ve got a pretty cool flag too.