Sign at artist shop, Juba. October 2010
International warnings are being issued almost daily, but progress remains far behind to hold the referendum on time.
So why the insistence on the 9th January 2011 deadline?
Because the south fears that any delay will lead to cancellation, the "golden chance" that must not be lost.
It will be exactly six years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed to end the 1983-2005 war.An analysis for the IRIN humanitarian news agency sets out the remaining challenges still to go.
The referenda for the south and for the border area of Abyei are the climax of that deal. Southern leaders say they will allow no delay - that the date is "sacrosanct".
In reality, at a practical level, more and more officials are talking about ensuring that the registration process
is achieved. Then, once that hurdle is in the bag, southerners might feel more confident the vote will go ahead. Still, any talk of delay on the streets is heretical to voice openly.
Chan Reec, the deputy chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, speaking on the 5th October, said he still believed the vote would be held on time, but that if there were "unseen reasons" it would still happen after a short delay for logistical reasons.
Demonstrators, Juba, October 2010.
"I am still optimistic that if we are all registered, everybody has his or her card, then we can be sure that this exercise is going to happen no matter what," Reec told reporters at a press conference."It may be a matter of delay for one week or two but, since everybody has a card, I don’t see any reason to be pessimistic."
How many times have I written that "tensions are rising"?
The question which of course no one knows, but which appears so beloved of the international community to predict, is 'at what temperature does
Sudan boil? '
Or, just how far is 'too far' in this high-stake brinkmanship?
It's a hot country, and there is still some time to go -- I hope but also believe -- despite the warnings.
It will take more than the sadly not unexpected - but nevertheless deeply disturbing - beating of pro-independence demonstrators
in Khartoum, warnings of the build-up of troops along the border, or statements from Khartoum that the south has reneged on the peace agreement.
Southerners scoff and say it is the north who have reneged on the peace agreement - the south say they merely point out the obvious that peace has not been made attractive.
One very small example
-- a southern issued national visa (see last post) is no longer recognised, but there are many other examples, not least the lack of development in the south since the war ended.
A media war between the two sides grows, with the rhetoric escalating in intensity on either side.IRIN analysis: Key challenges ahead of voting
Time to vote, Yaba Angelosi
One of the first songs
--I expect of several to come -- I've heard written for the referendum.
If you're not in South Sudan, it is certainly worth a listen for a tiny dose of the expectations, excitement and optimism here.
And a nice counterbalance to the voices of doom who drumbeat war and worst cases scenarios.
(See the most recent by Nicholas Kristof, A Chronicle of Genocide Foretold
- to which my colleague Maggie Fick has provided a fine reply in a recent post
, noting that "detailing the worst case scenarios does little service to the southern Sudanese for many reasons, one of which is that assuming the worst may prompt emboldened actions from both northern and southern leaders."
And it is not a bad tune either.
Darfuri demonstrators, Juba, South Sudan.
The UN Security Council arrived in Juba on Wednesday, with hundreds out side the airport.
The envoys from the big world powers plus representative from the ten other nations on the 15-member council, are part of ongoing international rhetoric voicing concern that the January referendum goes ahead on time in peace.
The mission is not meeting with President Omar al-Bashir due to an international arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide.
Still those outside the airport showed their messages for the team to take with them as they travel to Darfur, Khartoum and back to New York.
Oh, and George Clooney is in town too, sniffing out the "winds of war", apparently. My word, that will put the willies into Khartoum - I mean, if an ICC-genocide warrant doesn't do the trick, then this will really send a chill down the spine.
Impressively opinionated school children, Juba
Darfuris loyal to the rebel Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), Abdul Wahid al-Nur faction, Juba
Susan Rice, US envoy to the UN, arrives with other envoys at Juba airport.
Counting the seconds...pro-independence campaign material, 2nd September 2010
Time is rapidly running out to organize the many steps for the southern referendum, with registration already far behind time.
A secretary-general for the southern referendum commission has at last been appointed
- a northerner. The much needed progress on the commission may now at last start to move forward.
But the logistical challenges are huge: international experts overseeing the referendum process have pared down the timetable needed to prepare registration materials, do the registration, prepare the ballots, and all the other accompanying steps.
They warn that if considerable movement is not seen in the next two weeks, it will become impossible in the time left to provide a vote that is even half credible.
Southern officials have a real fear that even the smallest complaint of failure in the the referendum process will provide the fuel for the northern National Congress Party to reject the expected result of secession.
We should be talking about 'referenda' too: Abyei's referendum has dropped off the agenda, although it is due to hold its own vote on the same day as the south. The area remains volatile, and tensions are high there.
Without settlement in Abyei, the whole process may stumble. (And too the popular consultation processes in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan, also key parts of the CPA peace deal, which are largely forgotten outside the respective areas, subsumed by the enormous referendum focus).
The International Crisis Group
have issued the latest of several to warn on the high military build up and tensions along the north south border. The referendum is the
pinnacle of the CPA, and one of the most important dates for Sudan as a state for the past century.
Southern officials are adamant the date cannot be shifted from 9th January: they do not want it to be, but they say they also fear the reaction from the people if it has to be moved for logistical reasons. They will not be able to control the people on the street, they warn.
Those on the streets say everyone has known the vote has been coming for six years, and will take no excuse for delay.
They quote "too many agreements dishonoured", the title of the book by veteran southern politician Abdel Alier. This, the southerners say, is their one chance, and they will not let it slip away.
Much to do, little time to do it in, and absurdly high stakes.
Presidents Salva Kiir and Omar al Bashir, Juba.
Nzara, South Sudanese fleeing reported LRA attacks, August 2010
Back to the LRA bad lands
, on a UN backed trip to talk to those displaced by recent raids along the border with the DR Congo.
With a report out from Human Rights Watch
on attacks in the Central African Republic, including hundreds of abductions and killings in recent months, on the heels of a report by the Enough project
on comparably high abductions and deaths in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, the story has become grimly familiar.
LRA soldiers, Nabanga, South Sudan/DRC border, 2006
I've not seen the LRA proper since late 2006, which is when this photograph is from.
I don't think many reporters have seen them since, beyond glimpses in the bush or interviews with those who have surrendered, or in the case of children, rescued.
I wonder if this crew are still around: they were sad individuals. I don't think many of us knew how to handle ex-child soldiers, who were only "ex" because they had grown up, and were acting out the same atrocities they suffered on a new generation of soon to be fighters.
Men who parade with weapons taken off the Guatemalan special forces mown down when they attacked LRA positions, suggest they have shrugged off the innocent child and embraced the movement to sustain it.
Many of the foot soldiers are once children from the communities they now attack: providing another often little mentioned reason why fighting back against those who attack poses extra moral dilemmas.
Who the ' LRA' are now is never clear: after abducting so many for so long outside of Uganda, the 'Ugandan rebel' tag has morphed somewhat awkwardly for an international audience into "Ugandan-led".
How far they are led however is also open to question, but 750 words is not the easiest place to debate that.
Many operate autonomously with the merest of occasional sat-phone calls to the head, an Al-Qaeda jungle model of doom.
Still, those attacked said they believed they were real deal - and yes, there were eyewitnesses -- if the long dreads and odd weapon attachment of an AK-47 bayonet are still to be taken as their calling card.
(That said the dress code of rebel fashion must still be worth mimicking, in that it still strikes terror into those they destroy.)
AFP story, Aug 22 2010
So the trip becomes head scratching time, the deeply bleak task of trying to write a story
that warrants publication by dint of being worst than the last. Please note I'm happy if I fail.
In a centre run by admirable nuns, a soft spoken man in a neat trilby approaches, one of the many hundreds here displaced by an LRA attack.
During the interview, he states his names as "Charles Edward."
"A very English name," I reply.
"You said that the last time you interviewed me," he shoots back, to my startled surprise.
Too long chasing the same story: next time I go back, let it be because it is the LRA's end...
So the world wakes up to South Sudan ... and it’s animal shaped city plans. Those 'wacky Africans', eh?The world giggles at those ‘crazy Sudanese’, as though criticizing them for believing a better future is possible. I’ve written stories here since 2006 on development plans that have yet to emerge – a sprawling hotel to replace the crumbling Juba Hotel, an ultra-modern river port to redevelop the smashed old docks, a railway from Juba to Nairobi. The hotel is still crumbling, the old docks are still old, the railway plans are still plans. In the end, I find the story treatment deeply sad, because while it seems unlikely to ever really happen, the action of a wildly over-enthusiastic but small part of the government, trying to honestly rebuild their nation, has completely knocked the efforts of the fairly decent chunk of hard working (if sometimes misguided to an outsider, and ponderous) civil servants into laughing stocks.Is it ever really going to happen? Unlikely. Will it have an impact on future funding, be that donor or private investment? Perhaps. The key point, that southerners dare to dream of planning their own nation, of providing decent services and housing for the people to replace the towns left in ruins by decades of war against a regime that brutalized this land, is lost behind the patronising international sniggers of the safari shapes. For South Sudan, independence is not a joke. Try telling it is it to those on the streets wearing the T-shirts with the slogan: “2.5 million died so we can be free.”
School children, Juba, 2009.
To popular demand, I’m starting a series of posts about things that are said about South Sudan from outside that just don’t seem quite right for those living here. All suggestions welcome… Post number one: the collapse on independence argument.The drums of doom are beating, the warnings of war are out. Common myth: that separation of the south will lead to imminent collapse.It’s a popular view: a quick search finds first a Foreign Policy magazine warning (with, true, a more cheery shot of mine than last time) that “many Sudan watchers are already labeling it (the south) a "pre-failed state.”... If I were sitting in Foggy Bottom right now, I'd want to start thinking about how to put the pieces back together after everything breaks.” Likewise, a gloomy op-ed by John Prendergast and Dave Eggers calls for US intervention and puts war “around the corner”. The problem is the assumption that there has been governance from the north since the end of the war. There hasn't, so what will change if the independence occurs that so many appear to want?While the wire’s may call it “semi-autonomous”, the south has been operating as an independent state for five years already. It hasn’t always gone well, but nothing in terms of governance is going to drastically change after a yes-for-independence vote. A colleague here in Juba neatly points out the problems in such views. “There is clearly this perception that upon independence, the South is going to collapse because it can’t run itself and because it will stop being run by the North, which is obviously a properly functioning liberal democracy and in no way at all a failed state. People need to understand that things have got massively better over the last five years while the south has been able to run itself (even if the improvement was below expectations). “ So add to that a recent paper by long term Sudan scholar Douglas Johnson, who asks people to understand that “if the independence of the South will inevitably lead to renewed war with the North, how is it that on current trends unity will avert war?”
Likewise, Marc Gustafson points out in an excellent opinion piece for the CSM, ("Imminent war in Sudan? Not exactly") which does provide a counterbalance to the cries of conflict.He writes more soberly: “The governments of the North and South can allow the secession to occur, but temporarily continue wealth and power-sharing arrangements similar to those delineated in the interim constitution. This would allow them to slowly adjust the arrangements for as many years as is necessary to satisfy both parties and build new constitutions.”And for a reporter in Sudan, a warning signoff from Gustafson: "If anything has been learned from the past decade of foreign policy, it is that doomsday predictions of inevitable destruction can easily grab headlines and persuade policymakers to make decisions based on fear rather than knowledge."
I'm not saying that there isn't a risk of war, just that I'm not putting money on it.
South Sudanese marching band, Juba, July 2010.
South Sudan has called for the creation of its own national anthem: jumping the gun a little, given that the referendum is still to come.
Still, officials say that they have to be prepared, and that it is not an endorsement of separation.
Lyrics, according to a list of guiding principles issued by the committee, must include the south's history, land, people, struggle, sacrifices, destiny, flag and history.You can read the BBC website story here.
The committee have been coy as to their ties to government, but the mood on the streets seemed in support.It should also include a mention of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, verse 18 ( "Go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled!").It's not the most cheerful basis for a tune, but hopefully the musicians can give the message a funky beat.
Southern flags in Bentiu, Unity state.
The clock is ticking towards the referendum, and things will, for reporters, soon get very busy indeed.
So I'd really appreciate all input: what stories should be covered?
What is being overlooked? What would like to hear more about?
Please let me know: there is nothing more frustrating than being told after events that one, in their opinion, should perhaps have been focusing more on different angles...So suggest you ideas now!