Friday, December 10, 2010

Sudan: Experts Express 'Cautious Optimism' Around Referendum, Region's Future

With one month left before the people of Southern Sudan head to the polls for a historic vote on secession, International Relief & Development (IRD) today convened a panel of distinguished regional experts at the National Press Club to provide a "before-the-vote" snapshot of the situation on-the-ground and to discuss the potential impact of the January 9 referendum on the future of the strategically important region.

The groundbreaking vote in Southern Sudan will determine whether the South remains part of

Africa's largest country. The referendum – a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended more than two decades of civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan – will allow the people to decide on their own independence. According to USAID, more than 5.4 million Southern Sudanese are eligible to register for the landmark vote.

Moderated by renowned radio journalist Kojo Nnamdi, the panel featured John Dau, former Southern Sudanese "Lost Boy" and human rights activist; Enrico Carisch, former UN sanctions monitor in Sudan; Andrea Freeman, Program Analyst with USAID's Office of Sudan Programs; and Richard Owens, IRD's Director of Community Stabilization.

Jeff Grieco, IRD Executive, began the panel by announcing that IRD and several NGOs including Artists for Human Rights, the Council for a Community of Democracies, the John Dau Story and the Enough Project were jointly launching "The DACOR Appeal on Southern Sudan," calling on all parties involved in the referendum to ensure the vote reflects the will of the people of Southern Sudan and is free from all interference.

"There is still a lot of work to be done, but this is an unprecedented opportunity to ensure a sustained peace in Sudan," said Mr. Grieco. "IRD and our partners urge both North and South to respect and accept the final vote and to build the foundations for peaceful co-existence," he added.

The fact that the vote potentially holds great promise for the war-torn region, combined with uncertainty around whether logistical, political and other factors will align to allow a successful, free referendum, left many panelists expressing "cautious optimism" about the future of the vote and of Southern Sudan in general.

Recognizing the referendum's varied outcomes, including the potential for interference by the North, Mr. Dau, who fled government troops during the Second Sudanese Civil War and faced a harrowing journey until his arrival in a Kenyan refugee camp, noted that past agreements between North and South had previously collapsed.

He expressed his hope that this would not happen again, adding that regardless of the results, the North is critical to the South's success. "Let's try to be good neighbors," he said.

Mr. Owens, who is responsible for IRD programs focused on conflict mitigation, post-conflict recovery and reconstruction, and stability operations, added that "we have to manage expectations," and that a lot of work remains to be done, especially at the grass-roots level. "Capacity building and local ownership of that process will be key," he said.

All panelists reiterated the international community's critical role in ensuring a peaceful future for the region. Mr. Dau left attendees with a direct call to action: "This is the time to use your power to help the people of Southern Sudan. Whether they choose independence or unity, they need your support."

To view a full video of the panel discussion, please visit:

Source: International Relief & Development