August 20, 2010 / 11:49 AM / 9 years ago

Q+A-Is Southern Sudan ready for independence?

JUBA, Sudan, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Southern Sudan holds a referendum on Jan. 9 on independence from the north, and most analysts believe the south will secede.

But some question whether the region, which was devastated by decades of civil war but is rich in resources, can survive independently from the north, which it fought for so long.

Here are some questions and answers on an independent south Sudan.


Analysts who dismiss the doomsday scenarios for secession say that the semi-autonomous south has been effectively self-governing since a 2005 peace deal, and little will change after the vote.

After more than two decades of civil war with the north, the accord allowed the former rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to govern Southern Sudan, securing billions of dollars in donor funding and oil revenues.

"Currently, the southern government has a lot of operational independence. It has its own legislature, its own security forces and control over an unprecedented amount of government wealth due to oil revenues," said Marc Gustafson, a Sudan scholar at Oxford University.

Many southern officials expect business-as-usual for their development projects and to continue coordination with their northern neighbour after secession.

Isaac Liabwel of the Ministry of Water Resources said a number of joint north-south funded agricultural development and hydro-electric projects in the south were under way, and could continue if funding issues were agreed.

There is general agreement that billions of dollars in aid will be needed to sustain development in the south. A U.N. peacekeeping mission is likely to remain to help with security issues in the south and along the disputed north-south border.


The south gets 98 percent of its budget revenues from oil, but all the infrastructure and Sudan’s ports are in the north, making the south highly vulnerable to any tension with its neighbour.

In the absence of a pipeline or refinery in the south, sharing of oil revenue is likely to continue after secession, but the two sides are debating whether it will remain at roughly 50-50.

The international community has spent billions of dollars to develop the south, and will continue to do so if it secedes.

But the establishment of new state institutions may mean new bureaucratic hurdles for donors already struggling to circumvent endemic corruption.

Since the peace deal, with donor help, the south has set up 29 ministries, built 6,000 km of rudimentary roads, quadrupled school attendance and stamped out outbreaks of polio and measles, according to Lisa Grande, U.N. humanitarian chief in the south.

But south Sudan starts off as one of the poorest parts of the world, which has been embroiled in conflict for all but a few years since 1955.

"(In 2005) there wasn’t a functioning school system, there wasn’t a functioning health system. So you are talking about constructing a system from the ground up," Grande said.

Private enterprise is severely limited by the lack of infrastructure — the south has just 60 km of asphalted roads.


Tribal rivalries continue to dominate domestic politics, as groups freely arm themselves with guns left over from the war.

Renegade army generals and southern militias allied with the north clash sporadically with southern government forces.

In addition, the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has staged cross-border attacks from the Democratic Republic of Congo, displacing thousands and halting agricultural projects in the fertile belt.

But of most concern is the north-south conflict, which continues to bubble close to the surface. Clashes in Malakal and the still disputed oil-rich Abyei region have broken the ceasefire since 2005.

Diplomats and intelligence sources say the West and Africa cannot afford to have another Somalia in east Africa, and will spare no expense to prevent an independent southern Sudan becoming a failed state.

But Abyei is far from being resolved, and many believe it will remain a bone of contention and perhaps even spark a return to conflict.

A new war between two states might prove more devastating than the guerrilla insurgency of the civil war, which claimed 2 million lives, drove 4 million from their homes and destabilised much of east Africa.

"The south has a much more developed and conventional military than it did a decade ago, meaning that a new war would be much more destructive than previous ones. This is certainly a deterrent to both sides," said Gustafson.

The U.N. peacekeeping force has been helping to train south Sudan’s police and army, but has so far not been able to prevent clashes. (Reporting by Jeremy Clarke, Editing by Opheera McDoom and Kevin Liffey)

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