In little more than a hundred days President Barack Obama will face possibly the greatest foreign policy challenge of his presidency when southern Sudan votes January 9 on whether to establish an independent country. If the black African, predominantly Christian and animist South decides in the upcoming referendum to separate from the Arab and Muslim North, as is expected, it will become the world’s newest state.
Many people, especially southern Sudanese and also some Obama administration officials, are pessimistic that the referendum and its aftermath will unfold peacefully. A vote to separate, they believe, will simply see the Arab North resume the war with the South that ended in 2005 with the George Bush-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which called for the referendum. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton alluded to this when she told the Council of Foreign Relations recently the North-South situation was “a ticking time-bomb of enormous consequence.
“But the real problem,” Clinton said, “is what happens when the inevitable happens and the referendum is passed and the South declares independence?”
War is the answer, if the Khartoum government’s past, and present, actions are anything to go by. Since independence from Great Britain in 1956, the South has already fought two wars against the North to protect its people from Arab oppression and atrocities.
Southern Sudan, an area of 227,000 square miles and about 11 million people, was once one of the main sources of slaves for the Islamic world. When the first civil war broke out shortly after independence from Great Britain in 1956, this barbaric practice, fuelled by the Arab world’s new oil wealth, soon reappeared. This first North-South conflict ended with a peace treaty in 1972, but not until 500,000 people, mostly southern Sudanese, had died.
The second Sudanese civil war, which ended with the 2005 CPA, began in 1983 when the Khartoum government discarded the 1972 peace accord and made Sharia the law of the land and Arabic the country’s only official language. The southern Sudanese heroically fought this attempt to force them to become Arab and Muslim, leading the North to declare jihad against its southern citizens in 1989.
In this second round of civil strife, the Sudanese Arab gave full vent to his hatred for the Sudanese black African, embarking on a policy of genocide that presaged Darfur. Two million people died in the renewed conflict –again, mostly southern Sudanese – and another four million were displaced while large parts of southern Sudan were devastated.
Under the CPA, 200,000 black southern Sudanese, captured during slave raids, were allowed to return home. One of them, Francis Bok, now an American citizen, told his story in Front Page Magazine of working ten years from age seven as a child slave for a cruel master.
The Government of South Sudan (GOSS) under Salva Kiir, a Catholic, is already preparing for “when the inevitable happens” by having a new national anthem composed and, more importantly, forging closer links with neighboring black African states, Uganda and Kenya. The latter has allowed weapons destined for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (GOSS’s military force) to cross its territory and has sent officials to Juba, southern Sudan’s capital, to help with the transition. It is also building a new seaport to accommodate the expected increase in commercial activity from the new state.
Complicating the problem of separation, however, is southern Sudan’s oil riches. Eighty-five per cent of Sudan’s reserves are located in the south, mostly near the North-South border. Observers see control of the oil as a potential cause of renewed conflict. Two years ago, Khartoum’s army destroyed the market town of Abyei in the oil-rich Abyei region, causing 100,000 black African Dinkas to flee in terror. According to CPA protocols, the Abyei border area is to have its own referendum on whether to join the North or South. The attack was interpreted as lessening the chance of a pro-South vote.
But the biggest reason for North’s possible rejection of a secession vote on January 9 and renewed conflict is that acceptance will mean the end of the Islamist project for East Africa. By their courageous stand, the non-Muslim black African tribes of southern Sudan have blocked the expansion of Islam and Arabization into East and Central Africa. The Arab push down the banks of the Nile and displacement of black tribes, which has been in process for centuries, will hit a wall with the South’s secession and integration into an East African confederation that also sees, and has experienced, the Islamist threat.
The Obama administration has also taken steps to prepare for the South’s decision to separate. In Juba, Clinton said America has opened “a kind of consulate and sent a consul general there.” Obama’s special envoy to the Sudan, Scott Gration, has visited the country about 20 times since his inauguration, indicating Sudan’s priority.
But critics have voiced concern the incentives the president has been offering the northern government to abide by the CPA are inadequate to preserve the peace. Twenty-three members of Congress recently sent a letter to Obama asking him to outline what actions his administration is prepared to take if the Khartoum government, led by Omar el-Bashir who is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes in Darfur, reneges on the CPA. The Bashir government already stands accused of “dragging its feet” on preparations for the referendum in areas such as voter registration and drawing borders in order to have excuses for rejecting the results
“We have witnessed over the past decades that the Bashir government has impeded and reneged on agreements on many occasions,” the letter stated. “A one-sided, incentive-based approach is not only ineffective, but it wrongly rewards obstructionism.”
Given the northern regime’s past record of support for Islamic terrorism, jihad, genocide and harboring Osama bin Laden, if the expected war breaks out, Obama should quickly respond to the northern Islamists in the only language they understand: military force. But at a recent UN meeting on southern Sudan where Obama acknowledged the continuing violence in Darfur, he said that “no one can impose peace and progress on another nation.” Such a statement is in keeping with a leftist president who regards American military power as a force of evil rather than good, wants good relations with Muslim countries, and does not want to be seen as helping to break up an Islamic state.
But President Obama’s Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, proved his statement false, having imposed peace on another country and creating in the process a new state called Kosovo. Hopefully, for the sake of Sudan’s southern black Africans, America’s first black president has not ruled out the military means Clinton used to accomplish this, especially in regard to a country where black slaves are still bought and sold.