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Five challenges South Sudan will face after referendum

Although some results from South Sudan's referendum still need to be made official, Sudanese and international observers are beginning to look ahead to what comes with independence.

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / January 27, 2011

Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) chairperson Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil (L) speaks during a news conference following the end of referendum votes on southern secession as he prepares to announce the results in Khartoum on Jan. 25.

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters


Attention is turning from South Sudan’s referendum on independence, which yielded a nearly unanimous “yes” vote, to South’s Sudan’s future. Here are five challenges the new country will face:

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1. Borders

Even though North Sudan appears resigned to the South’s secession, the two countries will still have to agree on the precise border that divides them. One major piece of that puzzle is Abyei, an oil-rich region that was supposed to hold its own referendum and decide whether it would secede along with the South or remain with the North. Due to disagreements between North and South Sudanese leaders, Abyei’s referendum was postponed indefinitely. Verbal and physical conflict in Abyei (between the largely pro-secession Ngok Dinka farmers and the largely pro-unity Misseriya Arab pastoralists) punctuated the voting earlier this month.

Now that the voting is over, Abyei remains a “potential tinderbox.”

On the southern side, the secretary general of the ruling party, the Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Pagan Amum, has said that if the Abyei referendum is not conducted, the only remaining option is for Abyei to be transferred to the south by presidential decree. On the northern side, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has said he will not accept Abyei being part of the south.

The Ngok Dinka say they fear that if they do not make their declaration before the votes are counted in the southern referendum, they will miss their chance to join the south.


The Ngok Dinka were ready to make their declaration before voting started on Jan. 9. But two high-level officials from the SPLM persuaded them to hold off.

The officials said a declaration before the referendum would give the north “an excuse to disrupt” the vote, said Juac Agok, deputy chairman of the SPLM in Abyei.

The SPLM is now asking them to wait until after July 9, when southern independence would formally begin.

But Agok said, “I don’t think it will be possible for me to convince the people of Abyei to wait.”

The seriousness of the situation in Abyei is so great that one analyst calls it “the key to South Sudan['s] stability.” Without a solution that both governments and the people of Abyei can accept, violence may escalate.

2. Oil

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