Today, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission officially announced that Southern Sudan has overwhelmingly decided to separate from the North.
The result, which was announced in Khartoum just hours ago, confirmed that 98.83% of votes had been cast in favor of the split. Earlier on state television, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir reiterated his intention to respect the outcome of the vote:
“Today we receive these results and we accept and welcome these results because they represent the will of the southern people,” he said.
With the result now official, the South will come into being as Africa’s newest nation on July 9th –- 6 years after the original signing of the Comprehensive Peacekeeping Agreement that marked the end of the most recent North-South civil war.
However, with only 6 months away, there is still much to be determined. Although the Southern Sudanese people have chosen a flag and national anthem, they have yet to choose a name for the country. Furthermore, there are still the contentious negotiations on border demarcation, citizenship and oil- and debt-sharing which need to be resolved. These issues will be controversial, and some believe the six months until July 9th will not be long enough to resolve these long-standing disputes.
It will not be easy.
Fighting broke out late last week in the Upper Nile state, a North-South border region. Here, at least 50 people were killed during fighting between Sudanese troops caused by disputes over who is to keep the heavy artillery equipment which is being moved north of the new border. This is a stark reminder that while political decisions can be made on these issues, practical realities on the ground may take longer to resolve. Support will be required in helping the Sudanese governments realize their decisions in practice on the ground.
So while the South joyously celebrates the result of the referendum today, it will soon be time to take a critical look at the reality of what still needs to be done. Because shortly, the South will need to put all their effort into solving these challenges in order to make this new country a place the Southern Sudanese people can be proud of.
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