The week-long voting in the referendum to determine the future of South Sudan ended on 16 January. This was the culmination of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed on 9 January 2005 between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). Contrary to expectations, the voting process was peaceful, except in the highly contested area of Abyei. It seems that about 80 percent of the registered voters cast their ballots, comfortably surpassing the 60 percent voting threshold for the referendum to be valid.
The South Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) has announced that the results will be made public on 14 February. However, there are already indications that the people of South Sudan have voted overwhelmingly for secession. According to the CPA, there will be a six-month transition before South Sudan can declare its independence. Accordingly, the newest nation state could be born on 9 July 2011.
Yet a number of difficult issues relating to the status of Abyei, oil sharing, border demarcation and debt-sharing remain to be resolved. The parties have now to sit down and negotiate to resolve these issues. Failure to do so could rekindle the conflict between the south and north of Sudan. If this happens, it could imperil the very existence of the south. It could also have serious implications for the north and the region as a whole.
There is a high likelihood that the Khartoum government may not be willing to compromise on these issues. The burden of compromise would then rest with the government of South Sudan. The statesmanship needed to settle these issues will determine whether there will be peace, security and stability in the two Sudans and in the wider region.