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Sudan - world's next country, or civil war?

Date and Time: 
Thursday, January 6, 2011 - 12:00 - 13:00

The atmosphere is tense in Sudan ahead of a Jan. 9 referendum that will determine whether Southern Sudan will form a new country. Assuming that citizens vote for secession, will the government in the north willingly let go of the oil-rich region? Or will the country return to the long and bloody civil war that killed millions from 1983 to 2005? On Thursday, Jan. 6 at noon Eastern time, he joined us for a web chat on Sudan's dramatic fate. 

 

11:48

GP-ChatHost

Just a quick note to the audience: This is a moderated chat, meaning that you will not be able to submit questions/comments directly

11:48

GP-ChatHost

Instead, if you would like to ask Tristan a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

11:48

GP-ChatHost

The chat will get underway in just under 15 minutes...

12:03

GlobalPost

Hi Tristan - Thanks for taking part in this chat. There is a lot of interest in the upcoming Sudan elections. Why is that?

12:03

Tristan_McConnell

Hi

12:03

Tristan_McConnell

Well it's a pretty rare thing to be able to witness the birth of a new nation

12:03

Tristan_McConnell

Or I should say, possible birth, but I think most of us consider it a foregone conclusion

12:04

Tristan_McConnell

that the south will vote for independence

12:04

Tristan_McConnell

Other reasons for the interest:

12:04

Tristan_McConnell

there's the moral/humanitarian aspect...

12:04

Tristan_McConnell

fears of a resumption of a truly horrific war...

12:05

Tristan_McConnell

and the economic aspect with sudan being one of Africa's biggest oil producers

12:05

Tristan_McConnell

and the international diplomacy aspect...

12:05

Tristan_McConnell

because this is a place where decades of civil war were ended thanks to the concerted efforts of US, UK and others

12:05

Tristan_McConnell

these guys don't want to see it all go wrong now

12:05

GP-ChatHost

Just a quick note to the audience: This is a moderated chat, meaning that you will not be able to submit questions/comments directly

12:05

GlobalPost

You've visited South Sudan several times, why do people there feel so strongly about independence?

12:06

GP-ChatHost

Instead, if you would like to ask Tristan a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

12:06

Tristan_McConnell

People in the south who I've spoken to during visits to Sudan over the years say that they've never been free...

12:06

Tristan_McConnell

that they've never had "independence"...

12:07

Tristan_McConnell

they feel that the British/Egyptian colonial masters were simply replaced by Arab Muslim ones

12:07

Tristan_McConnell

who would not allow them to live, worship, etc the way they wanted

12:07

Tristan_McConnell

i think the desire for self-determination, for being some kind of master of your own destiny is pretty universal

12:08

GlobalPost

The Khartoum government is accused of human rights atrocities in Darfur - is it also accused of human rights abuses in South Sudan.

12:08

GlobalPost

?

12:08

Tristan_McConnell

Yes and no.

12:09

Tristan_McConnell

Human rights groups etc have criticised and exposed Khartoum's scorched earth tactics...

12:09

Tristan_McConnell

use of Arab militias, and indiscriminate aerial bombardments during the years of north-south civil war

12:09

Tristan_McConnell

but there has been no official indictments for this in international law

12:10

Tristan_McConnell

Bashir's charges from the International Criminal Court are for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity...

12:10

Tristan_McConnell

for doing a lot of things in Darfur that are very similar to his tactics in the south...

12:10

Tristan_McConnell

but the actual indictments refer only to Darfur

12:11

GlobalPost

And what about the oil? That's why a lot of people are interested in Sudan. Who will control the oil and who will benefit from it?

12:11

Tristan_McConnell

That's the big question and one that remains unanswered only days before the vote...

12:11

GP-ChatHost

Again, a quick note to the audience: This is a moderated chat, meaning that you will not be able to submit questions/comments directly

12:11

GP-ChatHost

Instead, if you would like to ask Tristan a question, simply message me GP-ChatHostby pasting the following into the message box: "/msg GP-ChatHostFOLLOWED BY YOUR MESSAGE" without the quotations

12:12

Tristan_McConnell

There's something like 6 billion barrels of oil in Sudan and maybe four-fifths are in the south

12:12

Tristan_McConnell

So the south feels it should get what is rightfully its, but since all the pipelines for exporting the oil head north, the two sides have to work together if either one wants to benefit

12:13

Tristan_McConnell

How oil revenues will be shared after the vote on Sunday is one of a whole bunch of very fundamental issues that are still up for debate

12:13

Tristan_McConnell

The depressing thing is that whoever gets what proportion of the oil - north or south - experience shows that it is not the ordinary folk of Sudan who benefit

12:14

Tristan_McConnell

For example, the semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan has earned something like $10 billion in oil revenues since the 2005 peace deal

12:14

Tristan_McConnell

I don't see much evidence of that having been turned into schools, hospitals, basic infrastructure or better lives for most

12:15

GlobalPost

About 4 million people in South Sudan have registered to vote. And the South has about 10 million people, is that right? What is their main economic activity?

12:15

Tristan_McConnell

There are, however, lots of big smart cars and big smart houses in Juba

12:15

Tristan_McConnell

It's hard to be precise about figures but I think the population of the south is a bit less: say, 8.5 million

12:16

Tristan_McConnell

But bear in mind that not all of the 3.9 million who've registered to vote are actually in southern Sudan: there are 8 foreign countries around the world where southern Sudanese could register, plus the north

12:16

Tristan_McConnell

As for economic activities: it's all pretty subsistence

12:16

Tristan_McConnell

There's small-scale farming, cattle herding

12:17

Tristan_McConnell

err, not much else

12:17

Tristan_McConnell

There's a new brewery in Juba and telecomms have taken off (obviously) and there's the oil

12:17

GlobalPost

That's interesting about the voters in foreign countries. There are some Sudanese who will be voting in the U.S.

12:17

Tristan_McConnell

But most small businesses in the capital are run by Kenyans and Ugandans

12:17

Tristan_McConnell

And further north, they're run by Arabs

12:17

Tristan_McConnell

Yes, that's right there are Sudanese living in the US who will be voting

12:18

GlobalPost

And the fact that those in foreign countries are allowed to vote is a good sign for the credibility of the elections

12:18

Tristan_McConnell

It shows it's a more inclusive affair

12:18

Tristan_McConnell

But the credibility of the referendum will pass or fail in southern Sudan, nowhere else

12:18

GlobalPost

In Zimbabwe, for instance, those outside the country are not permitted to vote and since some 3 million of Zimbabwe's 13 million people are outside the country

12:19

GlobalPost

that has created a huge imbalance. So to allow exiles to vote is a positive sign of inclusive participation.

12:19

Tristan_McConnell

Yes, true. But let's not get overexcited: for example if you're a Sudanese guy living in Germany I think you had to get to the registration centre in the UK to register

12:20

Tristan_McConnell

and then return there to vote

12:20

Tristan_McConnell

So it's not entirely easy and inclusive for all

12:20

GlobalPost

Ah, good point. And the voting will take place in South Sudan for a week?

12:20

Tristan_McConnell

But, yes it is important that independence is seen to be desired by southerners wherever they may be: America, Europe, northern Sudan, Kenya or wherever

12:20

Tristan_McConnell

There will be seven days of voting and then the count starts

12:21

Tristan_McConnell

Official results aren't expected until mid-February so it's a hugely drawn-out process...

12:21

Tristan_McConnell

But I'm guessing that within days of the close of polls we'll get a sense of the results...

12:21

GlobalPost

What do you think about Sudan President Omar al-Bashir's recent visit to South Sudan and his reasonably conciliatory remarks?

12:21

Tristan_McConnell

Each polling centre will stick up a list of preliminary results once they're counted and since this is not going to be close...

12:22

Tristan_McConnell

It won't be long before we can see a geographic range of pro-secession results

12:22

GlobalPost

It sounds like he is willing to peacefully accept independence for the South.

12:22

Tristan_McConnell

Right yes, it sounds that way doesn't it?

12:22

Tristan_McConnell

Bashir's a funny one. Very pragmatic, very hard to read, leads a very opaque regime so I'd caution against taking him too much at his workd

12:23

Tristan_McConnell

that said, any tempering of the rhetoric is a good thing

12:23

GlobalPost

Yes, Bashir sounds very reasonable about it, but his past, especially in Darfur has been the opposite.

12:23

Tristan_McConnell

I can't imagine that his former foes in the southern government will be sitting around Juba saying "Oh well, that's alright then. Bashir says we can have our indepenence"

12:24

Tristan_McConnell

They have a healthy distrust of the man based on long and bitter experience of dealing with him

12:24

GlobalPost

Another aspect is how cohesive the South is itself. Some say that once the South becomes independent it will then devolve into a bunch of squabbling ethnic groups.

12:25

Tristan_McConnell

Sadly, I think that's a rather more likely form of conflict that we might see in the south, as opposed to some sort of full-on tanks-over-the-border invasion from the north

12:26

Tristan_McConnell

There are plenty of politicians willing to exploit tribal tensions for their own gain, and of course Khartoum is all too ready to provide these spoilers with arms, support etc

12:26

Tristan_McConnell

So to my mind the likely scenario is a fracturing in the south that is stoked by the north, and it will be up to the southern leaders (and people) to decide whether to defuse things politically or to kick off another round of fighting

12:27

GlobalPost

Tristan, you will be going back to South Sudan in a couple of days, what are you going to look for?

12:27

Tristan_McConnell

Yes, I'm headed back there tomorrow for a couple of weeks or so...

12:28

Tristan_McConnell

I guess the main thing will be trying to really understand what this referendum means to the people in the south.

12:28

Tristan_McConnell

People in the west tend to be pretty blase about their democracy and their freedom, low turnouts at polls etc

12:28

Tristan_McConnell

But here it really means something, and that's exciting to witness.

12:29

Tristan_McConnell

On a less upbeat note I'll be looking out for any indications of a coming conflict: troops movements, shifting rhetoric, brief gunfights etc

12:30

Tristan_McConnell

Any of that stuff could be the tiny spark is all that would be needed to derail the whole thing

12:30

GlobalPost

Yes, the birth of a new nation is exciting. Are there plans to draw up a new constitution for South Sudan?

12:30

Tristan_McConnell

Yes, there's a timetable for an interim government, new constitution and fresh elections but that's all a way down the line...

12:31

Tristan_McConnell

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum the key will be to resolve all the outstanding issues of oil wealth sharing that we mentioned, plus things like where the border is, what happens to citizenship, how to divvy up the national debt and so on

12:32

Tristan_McConnell

All fundamental, tricky issues, and they have 6 months to sort it out before July 9th, set to be southern independence day

12:32

GlobalPost

This is going to be a fascinating time for South Sudan and for the countries that surround it.

12:32

Tristan_McConnell

There is a lot of potential here, for good and for bad, for Sudan and for its neighbours. Right now, it's hanging in the balance so I guess I'll go up there and see which way it tips

12:33

GlobalPost

The new country is going to shift the balance in regional politics, too. Is Uganda the most interested neighbor?

12:34

Tristan_McConnell

If by "neighbour" we exclude the north after separation then yes, Uganda and Kenya too...

12:34

Tristan_McConnell

They stand to benefit from closer economic ties, a market they can sell to, and there are also much longer term plans for more east African regional integration that would bring South Sudan into that orbit

12:34

GlobalPost

There is going to be a lot to watch in the coming months.

12:34

Tristan_McConnell

That's for sure

12:35

GlobalPost

Thanks Tristan for helping us to understand some of the issues here.

12:35

Tristan_McConnell

Thanks for having me along, I hope it was vaguely helpful/clarifying

12:36

Tristan_McConnell

There are some tricky things in Sudan but the basic story is one of a people's desire for freedom and that's pretty fundamental

12:36

GP-ChatHost

Yes, thank you for talking with us today Tristan, and thank you to the GlobalPostmembers who participated!

12:36

GP-ChatHost

The transcript of this chat will be posted on the membership site later today.

12:37

GP-ChatHost

Thanks again and have a great afternoon.