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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sudanese Independence, With Caveats

President Bashir

Today marks the last election day for the historical vote of succession for the Southern Sudanese people. The whole world is watching with much excitement, as many believe this vote is to be the first step towards restoring peace, stability, and prosperity to this region of the globe.

Another emotion many are experiencing is anxiety. Does the nation have the know-how to be another African success story? Will it become another South Africa? Or Nigeria?

The question is uncertain -- there are only, at this stage, many possibilities.

While having an election is absolutely a positive signpost, an election alone is not merely enough to achieve legitimacy, let alone a working democracy. Southern Sudan (which I suppose probably won't be called that anymore) must build almost from scratch all of the institutions that encompass a democracy, and provide these goods and services to all of its people. This is no easy task, and it takes longer than it does to hold an election. A LOT longer.

Another important signpost to look for will be the emergence of a civil society, preferably a middle class. Currently there is widespread poverty and illiteracy in the south (a vote for succession was made with an open palm rather than pen it in). This does not bode well for the new nation, and its citizens may be likely to elect a 'strong-man' figure rather than an able policy maker.

One last, and probably most immediate obstacle the south faces at the moment is the very person who is overseeing this transition, President Bashir. The President is the first sitting head-of-state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court and charged with genocide -- he has been largely responsible for the violence that has plagued the south in recent decades. Its is hard to believe that the same man who has been perpetrating some of the worst atrocities the world has seen will all of a sudden show a gesture of good will.

Looking at other recent elections in Africa (Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe) we would do well to, yes, celebrate the historical event; but lets just sit back and watch a little longer before we crack open the champagne.

If however, President Bashir does not prove to be an obstacle and the south does succeed it will bring freedom to millions of oppressed people. Good governance, however, will take longer.

Related Reading:

LA Times: In South Sudan, the future beckons and sobers

Christian Science Monitor: As Sudan votes in referendum, US shows continued involvement

NY Times: Roots of Bitterness in a Region Threaten Sudan's Future

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