Pretoria – The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended one of Africa’s longest and complex civil wars, with nominal agreement reached on security, wealth sharing, and governance issues. But there are renewed fears that conflict could erupt again in the country as divisions between the north and the south deepen.
Academics attending the Sudan Studies Conference in Pretoria, South Africa, say unity for the troubled country will be almost impossible to achieve. The conference was the eighth in a series of high level academic conferences on the Sudan.
Scholars from Sudan and around the world were discussing the future of the country beyond 2011, when the CPA agreed between the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) expires.
Adam Cholong, an SPLM member of the national assembly in Khartoum, says 90, if not 99 percent of the people in South Sudan want independence from the Northern government. But, he says, the Khartoum government is deliberately frustrating this aspiration, slowing down the drafting of legislation that will allow a 2011 referendum on the future of the south.
“The government in North Sudan seems to know that quite a number of South Sudanese people will vote for independence in the referendum,” he said, adding that this is the reason why, the government has now stated that in addition to achieving a simple majority vote of yes to independence, there has to be an extremely high turn-out of voters in the referendum.
Khartoum began by demanding a 75 percent yes vote to confirm South Sudanese independence, before agreeing that 50 percent plus one will be enough, so long as a minimum of two thirds of registered voters will have to cast their ballots.
It’s the latest skirmish in negotiations over the details of the crucial referendum which are already two years behind schedule.
Religious differences are also a huge stumbling block in a country now governed – Muslim and Christian alike – by shariah law. The experts assembled in Pretoria say this still remains a big question mark.
Sudan has a majority Muslim population, but the imposition of shariah throughout the country by the Numayri government in 1983 was a factor that precipitated civil war.
Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, an expert in Islamic law and society based at Rhode Island College in the United States, says during the negotiation of a peace agreement in 2004, it was decided that there would be shariah in the north and secularism in the south.
“Many people were sceptical about that because, millions of southerners, most of them non-Muslims, who had fled to the North as a result of the civil war would now have to be subjected to shariah law.”
Since the CPA was finalised in 2005, says Fluehr-Lobban, the Khartoum government has demonstrated little political will to implement this provision.
“What my research has shown from 2004 to now is that harsh punishments – not the cutting off of hands anymore, but lashing for criminal offences, improper dress for women, the brewing of alcohol – have continued to be practiced on non-Muslims in the capital city and IDP camps.”
A commission to deal with the status of non-Muslims in Khartoum was put together a few years ago, but it has not been effective. The question of the law will have to be resolved regardless of how the referendum goes in 2011.
“If they decide to unite, they would have to adopt a more secular society. If they separate, there would still be the question of the large population of non-Muslims living in the north,” says Fluehr-Lobban.
Negotiating agreement on such matters is not helped by frequent stand-offs at the highest levels. Cholong says SPLM MPs have had to boycott cabinet meetings because the NIF/NCP refused to discuss vital issues like the referendum law, national security and the redrawing of North-South borders.
He sees no future for a united Sudan. “Unity is the cause of the civil conflict in the country. “Unity (of the country) has been the core of conflict, and it’s clearly not what people want, otherwise would have been peace in Sudan.”