The latest background report from the International Crisis Group, examines the historical relationships, strategic interests, and recent engagement of key regional states as well as their views on the possible independence of the South. Many of Sudan’s bordering states were involved in, or affected by its civil wars, and each would be directly affected by either peaceful separation or a return to conflict. If there is a credible referendum process – as promised when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended twenty years of fighting in 2005 and in the Interim National Constitution – recognition of a new Southern state should prove relatively uncomplicated.
“If, however, the process does not go according to plan – particularly if Khartoum attempts to manipulate or obstruct the exercise or its result – regional states and institutions should consider how best to respond to ensure the right of self-determination is respected and new conflict is averted”, says Zach Vertin, Crisis Group Analyst.
Neighbours must prepare by engaging Khartoum and Juba on practicalities of the referendum and peaceful implementation of its outcome. Circumstances will shape specific policy responses, but regional actors must prepare now for all possible eventualities, including: a choice for separation and subsequent recognition of an independent state; a decision to preserve unity; any challenge to the right of self-determination; or contested referendum result.
Pragmatic tones are emerging with regard to support for the referendum exercise and result, but if the process is in fact disrupted or compromised, the broader international community will seek to calibrate its response in light of African opinion. Policy coherence between the regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the African Union (AU) will be crucial. IGAD’s members will likely be the first to make any recommendations regarding Southern Sudan’s post-referendum status, but ensuring AU participation in, and ultimate backing of, that policy is crucial if an independent South is to secure maximum legitimacy.
“Any return to conflict in Sudan would undoubtedly draw in the region”, says Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa Project Director. “Regional neighbours, the AU, and IGAD should harmonise efforts to support the referendum process, recognise its results and help manage peaceful implementation of its outcome”.
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