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Just 113 days before the referenda, some progress has been made—but not much, and maybe not enough.
The offices of the South Sudan Referendum Commission are getting set up in Khartoum, according to Reuters’ Andrew Heavens – complete with new furniture and coasters. On Wednesday, a seven-member technical committee revealed the lyrics to South Sudan’s new national anthem, titled “South Sudan Oyee!” Here’s a snippet:
Arise, shine, raise your flag with the guiding star
And sing songs of freedom with joy,
For peace, liberty and justice
Shall forever more reign.
The four-stanza anthem, now waiting for an accompanying tune, was written “barely three months ahead” of the referendum according to The Citizen, a piece of commentary all the more ironic given the many actually substantive issues that have not been resolved.
After eight months of closed-door political wrangling, intransigence, and delays, the referendum commission – the body that will oversee the vote – is finally fully staffed and ready to begin work. After the swearing in of the secretary general of the commission on Wednesday, the body encouragingly agreed on the format of voter registration forms and that the forms would be printed abroad. But a start date for voter registration was not set. Mohamed Osman al-Nijoumi, the secretary general, said that the forms would be completed in four weeks, meaning that registration forms should be ready for distribution in mid-October.
As a point of reference, voter registration for the April elections took over a month, and was completed four months before the actual polls. If voter registration is completed by November (an optimistic estimate) a little over two months remain for registration lists to be finalized, polling stations to be ready, ballots printed and distributed – among other preparations – before January 9. The scale of the two referenda is much smaller, but certainly not less challenging. Serious flooding that has submerged parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal offers a sense of the impending logistical difficulties; more than 50,000 people have already been displaced.
Negotiations over Abyei seem to have taken a sharp turn, with the Sudan Tribune (which seems to take most of its information from Al-Sahafa newspaper) reporting today that the ruling National Congress Party proposed to make the contentious region an “integration zone.” The alleged proposal involves dividing oil resources down the middle and giving the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka equal political representation and dual citizenship. The SPLM has already rejected the idea, saying that it abrogates the CPA. It is doubtful that this proposal would have found traction with Abyei residents either, who have been demanding progress on the referendum so that their right to vote is ensured.
Sources close to post-referendum negotiations indicate that talks over oil-sharing arrangements have not made any progress. Reportedly, some SPLM officials are reluctant to hand over any portion of future oil revenues, perhaps anticipating that they may have alternate routes for exporting oil via a new port in Lamu, Kenya. For the moment, this stance is overly optimistic, as a potential alternative is still a few years off and involves numerous variables out of the control of southern officials.
Of course, responsibility for preparing for the referendum falls squarely to the Sudanese parties, but recent pledges of support from the international community could not have come any sooner and will hopefully nudge implementation forward.
Photo: Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and Vice Presidents Ali Osman Taha and Salva Kiir (AP)