Events in Egypt have dominated the headlines for much of the last two weeks, overshadowing other important news stories around the world. One such story is the recent referendum in South Sudan. For those who have not followed the story, as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between North and South Sudan, which ended a decades-long civil war in 2005, the South recently held a January referendum on whether it should become an independent nation-state or remain part of Sudan. The results, announced last Monday, are clear: almost 99% (98.83%) voted in favor of independence.
There are two pieces of good news from these events. First, while there were some sporadic flashpoints of violence in the run-up to the vote, it was not large-scale and did not impede the conduct of the referendum. And in addition, the vote was largely seen as free and fair by international monitors, including the United Nations.
Second, it appears the outcome of the vote will be accepted by the North. Many inside Sudan and around the world have feared that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the longtime ruthless strongman, would protest the result and, worse, unleash violence against Southern secession, thereby shattering the peace accord and paving the way back to civil war. But in a statement on Monday, Bashir said, "Today we received these results and we accept and welcome these results because they represent the will of the southern people." These words go a long way toward diffusing some tension between the Sudans. Indeed, southern leader Salva Kiir, in response, claimed that he would campaign to help the North reduce its massive debts and ease the international trade sanctions currently targeted against it.
The next change in the composition of Sudan could come when the status of Abyei, a border-town contested by North and South for supposed oil deposits, is finally determined. The 2005 CPA allowed for residents of Abyei to determine by ballot whether the town becomes a permanent part of the North or South. The vote was to take place simultaneously with the Southern referendum. But because the North and South could not agree on who could participate in the vote, the Abyei referendum has been indefinitely delayed.
Much like the case of Darfur, Abyei could become an explosive and violent area. Some local ethnic groups support joining the North, some support the South, and both sides seem willing to use violence to reach their desired outcome. Moreover, President al-Bashir has stated that he will not accept Abyei as a permanent piece of the South. Keep an eye out for this story as 2011 rolls on.