This week is perhaps the most important in Sudan’s history – Southern Sudan is currently voting on whether to declare independence from the North, and has reached the 60% turn out necessary to make the vote binding. This is the long-awaited result of the Naivasha peace accords that ended the civil war in Sudan in 2005. Much of the reason not to intervene in Darfur was to make sure not to derail this agreement.
Agreements like this make some people nervous – it looks like the international community pressuring Sudan to live up to these commitments is violating Sudanese sovereignty more than a little. This make countries like China and Russia, which also have would-be breakaway states in their borders, rather upset. I see it differently, though – finally Africans have a chance to endorse or reject the arbitrary borders drawn on them by outside powers. Khartoum may have another trick up its sleeve, but to all indications they are ready to accept the referendum’s outcome.
Now, admittedly, Northern Sudan is being a little bitter – if they lose the South, they vow to administer Sharia law all the harsher on the North, under the false claim that Islam will be the only religion once the South breaks away. Nonetheless, if they accept the results of this referendum, it will show a willingness to work within an international system even at the expense of their own sovereignty. It is critical that the US not ignore this – we need to reward Khartoum (at least a little) if they do follow through on letting the South go, and put even more pressure on if they let Naivasha fall through and invite another civil war. And once Southern Sudan (name as yet undetermined) is independent, they need to be welcomed wholeheartedly into the international community, which should do everything it can to make this new country a good example of African governance and development.