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Zahar: Does last week’s creation of a Southern Sudanese state point to a secession as the solution to other African conflicts?

By: /
20 July, 2011
By: Marie-Joëlle Zahar
Professor of political science, Université de Montréal

South Sudan’s independence highlights that secession remains an exception rather than the rule. There were a number of reasons for this conflict to have had such an outcome and they are very unlikely to obtain in other African cases. First, there is the history of the Sudan where, even prior to independence, the South had asked for a federal system in recognition of its specificity and where, the long history of almost uninterrupted conflict since independence until 2005 made it difficult for the partners to trust each other. As a result, and given implementation difficulties that beset it, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement could not fulfill one of its two main objectives: to make unity attractive to Southerners. Even then, the January 9, 2011 referendum in which Southerners decided to go their own way had to meet a number of procedural criteria for its outcome to be recognized by the international community, but also, particularly, by the African Union, which was extremely worried that this would indeed be understood as a precedent. Finally, it is not clear that secession has brought conflict to an end. Rather, the number of pending issues that continue to provide opportunities for renewed violence abound. North and South Sudan have neither agreed on borders, nor on citizenship rules, or on resource-sharing. They have not settled the issue of the division of the Sudan’s assets and debts and continue to disagree on the disputed region of Abyei. More importantly, and even if violence were not to resume between the two parties, other conflicts organically linked to the conflict which divided North and South continue to beset each of the two rump states. In the North, the Darfur conflict shares many of the causes which underpinned the violence between North and South; in the South, the various rebellions in the states of Jonglei and Unity are fuelled, in part, by concerns that the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, is becoming hegemonic, thus threatening to marginalize other groups from access to power and resources. In short, both the history of the conflict and the pending issues show secession should be cause for prudence before this scenario is replicated elsewhere on the continent.

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