Is Africa poised to be the home of a brand new country? It would seem so, as the results of a January referendum held in Sudan’s southern region were announced earlier this week.
And the results couldn’t be more definitive: More than 98% of the nearly 3.9 million ballots cast were in favor of separation.
While there were indications of voter irregularity – some provinces have fewer registered voters than votes cast – this is no sham election à la Iran or Cuba. International monitoring groups have determined that the overwhelming sentiment for separation and independence makes the pro-secession vote a valid result.
The final results will be certified in a few weeks, following which the wheels will start turning toward the formal creation of an independent state on a predetermined date of July 9, 2011. The new country will likely be called the Nile Republic or Azania.
If events continue as they are going, July 9 will be the culmination of a decades-long struggle that has produced more than its share of misery for the primarily Christian inhabitants of Sudan’s southern region. In this case, religious and tribal differences trumped the impractical and ultimately unworkable colonial-imposed boundaries set down by Britain in the late 1800s.
But despite the grim and grueling history of the conflict, the resolution of this struggle provides a happier ending compared to similar struggles on the continent – the secession attempt of Biafra from Nigeria being perhaps the best-known. That struggle had similar shades of tribal and religious differences, but the end result was reunification by force.
Contrast that with Sudan’s actions today. President Omar al-Bashir declared that the southern region had a right to choose whether to secede, and stated that his government would respect the outcome of the vote.
This is not to say that Sudan will not continue to keep a close eye on its southern border. “The stability of the south is very important because any instability in the south will have an impact on the north,” al-Bashir says. “The south suffers from many problems. It’s been at war since 1959.”
One can only imagine the Herculean challenges the new Nile Republic will face – ranging from citizenship qualification to finances, infrastructure and security issues.
But to have come so far while suffering so much in the process, those are issues most people are probably looking forward to facing and solving. And those of us lucky enough to have been born into societies where self-determination is already an accepted ideal wish them nothing but success.