The latest International Crisis Group briefing, analyses how absence of a basic blueprint for the post-2011 relationship contributes to uncertainties about the political and economic future of each. Talks have accelerated and resume this week under the auspices of former South African President Thabo Mbeki and the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel. The aim is to consolidate a framework agreement on which post-referendum relations can be built. But with less than seven weeks until the vote, the pace remains cause for concern. Given the brinkmanship that has long characterised North-South politics, it is conceivable the parties will continue to circle fruitlessly before attempting to strike a grand bargain at the eleventh hour. Such high-stakes gambling should be discouraged.
“Progress now toward a series of win-win arrangements is not only critical for a peaceful transition and long-term stability, but may also serve the more immediate objective of clearing the path for a mutually accepted referendum”, says Zach Vertin, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Analyst. “Khartoum may be increasingly resigned to the reality of partition, but it could still attempt to extort major concessions from the South in exchange for endorsement of the referendum”.
The National Congress Party (NCP) seeks reassurances about its political and economic future; the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) seeks assurances the referendum will happen and its result be accepted. Because neither has gotten them, negotiations are stuck. The 9 January referendum, a key element of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), risks being viewed as a zero-sum game. Considerable work remains to bridge the gaps between the parties, and time is short.
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. Progress on this agenda could remove obstacles to the referendum, temper the potential impact of its result, and ensure the rights of Sudanese are respected in both North and South.
The referendum is sure to shock Sudan’s political system. Thus, international efforts have intensified to find a solution to the disputed Abyei territory and address, in concrete terms, 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. That is the date on which the CPA expires, and the South might expect to attain independence, if it votes, as expected, for secession.
“Securing the referendum is the top priority, but neglecting the groundwork for positive post-referendum relations would be short-sighted and very possibly a recipe for renewed conflict”, says E.J. Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Acting Africa Program Director.
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