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Opinion: Why George Clooney is in South Sudan

Star draws the world's attention to the countdown to independence and the danger of civil war.

A couple of areas in particular were given a formal path — vaguely called “popular consultations” — to address their grievances. But in the five-and-a-half years since northern and southern leaders signed the peace deal, few of the provisions intended to reform the political process and address marginalization of minority groups have been implemented.

With the southern referendum — clearly the most potentially explosive provision of the CPA — just months away, officials and mediators are focused on ensuring that at least the minimum preparations are in place to enable the vote to occur in a credible way.

The larger reform agenda now looks like a pipedream; when international attention inevitably shifts away from Sudan after the referendum, what incentive will Khartoum have to address the grievances of communities who have long lived under the thumb of the central government? If anything, it’s within the interest of the northern ruling party to clamp down on regions on the periphery that might have been inspired by the South’s march to secession.

"The CPA was supposed to bring a new era of democracy and inclusivity to Sudan, in order to make unity attractive, but it also offered an opt-out clause for the southerners to vote for independence if this didn't happen,” said a civil society leader in the Nuba Mountains, a region in the North that fought on behalf of the southern rebels during the second civil war. “If the southerners choose to secede, it will demonstrate that the peace process has failed, and where does that leave us?"

Belatedly, governments and the international media are recognizing the monumental nature of South Sudan’s referendum. But the challenges will not stop at the South’s borders. Diplomats and mediators must begin dealing now with what will likely be a highly repressive, Islamist country sharing a volatile border with the new South and nestled in the neighborhood with Eritrea and Somalia.

These are the complex, pressing issues that George Clooney has witnessed firsthand and that he will tell the world about.

Omer Ismail, originally from Darfur, is a policy advisor to the Enough Project. Laura Heaton is a Nairobi-based writer and edits Enough’s blog, Enough Said.