Mbeki Speaks on the Eve of Historic Sudanese Referendum

On the eve of what will no doubt become an historic referendum for South Sudan, Mbeki gave two speeches at the University of Khartoum and the University of Juba, in which he noted that the referendum will be a cause for celebration regardless of the outcome. Either way, Sudan will emerge as a true contributor to the emancipation and transformation of the African continent, and will help lead Africa on its ‘Pan-Africanist’ path.

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The challenge of building a nation

Organisers of the historic referendum in Southern Sudan on Thursday announced that the threshold of 60% turnout had been reached: the results of this vote will be valid, and, if news reports are to be believed, the North looks set to accept the result. The looming threat of violence that has galvanised international groups and media into taking action, or at least paying close attention, during the last week seems to be receding. Although localised clashes have still been happening and there is always the chance that next month’s release of the results could spark further fighting, things seem, for now, relatively settled. It would be easy to assume that this means that everything will now be fine. The media coverage of the situation has tended – perhaps for dramatic effect, perhaps because it is difficult to represent complexity within the limitations of a news story – to present the situation as binary: either there will be widespread violence and a return to civil war and it’ll all go to hell, or the referendum will go well and then everything will be sunshine and rainbows in South Sudan forever. In the rush to cover the prospects for violence or peace, commentators have failed to represent just how difficult it is going to be to basically build a nation out of nothing at all. Where the border-lines will be drawn is potentially more contentious than the question of the referendum and is likely to continue to be a flashpoint for violence until the issue is resolved. Some would say that the South Sudanese government has been functioning fine and thus discount the potential for problems but the humanitarian and developmental challenge they now face is one of the most difficult any government has been left with at the creation of a new nation. 51% of people in South Sudan live below the poverty line. Only 27% of the population above the age of 15 is literate. Only 37% of the population above 6 years has...

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Sudan’s Eye In The Sky

To my surprise I recently came across an article on the Sudanese referendum which was unlike all the other commentary I had been reading up until now, in that it serves as an interesting example of a situation in which celebrities are becoming involved in a cause, and their actions seem to be both heartfelt and may hold a genuine promise of producing some meaningful results.

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Ghost of conflict past: The post-referendum LRA

In 2006 – ancient history in the modern media – the Lord’s Resistance Army left Northern Uganda. They left in their wake one of the most under-reported African conflicts of the last century, with hundreds of thousands displaced in IDP camps, and thousands more bearing the physical and psychological scars of a campaign of terror that included such savage pearls as forcing individuals to chew the limbs off a victim, or make soup using their parents. The LRA left Northern Uganda not through a military defeat quite so much as they left by exploiting negotiations held in Southern Sudan to relocate their operations to the west of the Nile in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. In response the Ugandan People’s Defense Force (UPDF) was allowed to have a presence in Southern Sudan to clear up any rear bases left in the area and, more importantly, to ensure that they could not return to the positions in the area that they used to stage their attacks on Northern Uganda. There are two points in this history that bear paying attention to in the light of the South Sudanese referendum. The first is that the LRA exit from Southern Sudan and the UPDF’s subsequent presence in the region was made possible as much by a UDPF military offensive as by the LRA’s major benefactor – the Khartoum government of Sudan – no longer picking up the tab for their marauding in the region. the LRA is by no means a spent force. Currently circulating in the Eastern DRC and Southern part of the Central African Republic, they are responsible for the displacement of over a quarter of a million people The second is that the LRA is by no means a spent force. Currently circulating in the Eastern DRC and Southern part of the Central African Republic, they are responsible for the displacement of over a quarter of a million people in the region, according to some estimates. The disastrous and hyperbolically-named ‘Operation Lightning...

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African non-solutions for African problems

Sudan’s referendum in 2011 looms large on the agenda of think tanks and humanitarian do-gooders following African affairs, and for good reason. The result (if it isn’t delayed again) will see the creation of a new state and all manner of challenges to Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s grip on power. The one major trend in preliminary articles surrounding the referendum, however, predicts a strong chance of war or, at the least, the distinct possibility thereof. The Carter Center has helpfully chipped in by suggesting reporting techniques to media covering the event, and the foreign press have exhibited an overall keenness on covering this momentous occasion. But the entire affair stinks of a freshly-deceased carcass surrounded by a cloud of well-meaning yet utterly foreign vultures. Sudan holds a special place amongst the humanitarian community as the veritable fly-infested kwashikor baby of disaster areas: Not as hopeless (and dangerous) as Somalia, and sufficiently unstable for front page material, but still utterly fashionable to get involved in. And heck, there’s the very-real chance of violence breaking out, which is always press gold for any semi-competent journalist or photographer. And yet we hear absolutely nothing from fellow Africans. Post-referendum conflict in Sudan is a very real possibility, and yet nobody seems to be planning accordingly. Our own president’s distinct lack of concrete foreign policy is only made more profound in light of this impending crisis. Here in South Africa the press have zero budget to send a foreign correspondent or two, let alone a cameraman or news anchor, and yet they are precisely the individuals we need involved in this. DIRCO will probably make some suitably generic statement encouraging free and fair elections, but likely has not thought beyond this overly much (or if they have, this is not the impression portrayed to the public). Instead of relying on foreign wires and journalists swooping in from all corners of the humanitarian aid world, African leaders and African press should be taking a look at this referendum and finding ways to make...

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