Along with the rest of the world, we are watching Sunday’s referendum. There is justified optimism that the vote will be better than most of us thought even only a few weeks ago. A referendum is easier to mount than an election – because the choice is between yes to independence or no. But the mechanical and technical challenges appear to have been met.
Everybody expects the vote to be overwhelmingly in favor of independence. But as Cote d’Ivoire shows, votes do not always resolve political crises, and most the fundamental issues foreseen by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement have not been addressed – largely because of Khartoum’s foot dragging.
I will be watching Abyei especially closely. Both North and South claim it, and it is a territory where Muslim pastoralists and Christian-Animist peasant farmers meet. Worse, it is also, apparently, awash with oil.