In a few weeks, voters in southern Sudan will decide whether to remain a part of their country or declare independence. The historic vote will either create a new nation — or lead to new conflict in a country already battered by decades of civil war. We’ll hear about what’s at stake and what’s being done to try to prevent a return to violence in Sudan.


  • Sean Carberry Senior Correspondent, America Abroad Media
  • Jennifer Cooke Director, Africa Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies


  • 13:06:42

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, inside one of Washington D.C.'s newest and most unique museums, but first, get ready to update your map of the world. A new nation is poised to emerge from a country battered by decades of civil war. The people of Southern Sudan will go to the polls on January 9th to vote on whether to remain a part of Sudan or declare independence. They are widely expected to choose the latter and no one is sure whether the government in Northern Sudan will accept that result particularly since most of the nation's oil resources are in the south.

  • 13:07:35

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to talk about what's at stake, as well as the local dimensions as Sudanese citizens in the U.S. register to vote, is Sean Carberry, senior correspondent with America Abroad Media. He's just returned from a reporting trip to Southern Sudan. Sean, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:51

    MR. SEAN CARBERRYThank you, it's good to be here.

  • 13:07:52

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Jennifer, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:00

    MS. JENNIFER COOKEThanks, Kojo.

  • 13:08:01

    NNAMDIJennifer, this January 9th referendum is part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended years of war in Sudan. What exactly did the north and south agree to in that deal?

  • 13:08:12

    COOKEWell, they agreed to a number of things in that deal. One was a six-year interim period in which the north would try to make a vote for unity attractive to the south. They split the oil revenues of oil resources that were in the south. And those revenues were to be used to build up a really decimated infrastructure in the south.

  • 13:08:38

    COOKECritical to that agreement was this idea that six years later, and that's coming up just next month, the south would be given the opportunity to vote for its independence. And that has come up very quickly. I think many of the agreements that should have been done prior to this date have not taken place, agreements even on where the border lies, how the revenues will be distributed and how the south and north will relate to one another. Those remain very much unresolved.

  • 13:09:08

    NNAMDIEven before the war, Southern Sudan received apparently fewer resources than the north and was perceived to be getting the short end of the stick from the government in Khartoum. Has there been any change in that status since the war ended? Has the government in Khartoum tried to, well, spread the wealth in the last five years?

  • 13:09:24

    COOKENo, although the revenues coming from southern oil fields are meant to be split 50/50. In fact, very little has been done to develop the south. This is partly delays on the northern government's part, but partly also the failure of the quasi-autonomous government in the south to really distribute those in an effective way.

  • 13:09:47

    NNAMDISean, you recently traveled to Southern Sudan for the program "America Abroad." By the way, "Splitting Sudan," it will be airing on Tuesday night, December 7th at 9:00 p.m. here on WAMU 88.5. Tell us a little bit about the purpose of your trip and give us a sense of what Southern Sudan looks like because it's obviously not a place that many Americans have been to.

  • 13:10:10

    CARBERRYTrue, true. It's, you know, the mood there, it's interesting because people are enthusiastic about this referendum and there is a feeling on the streets that this is their moment. And you talk to people and they're immediately just sort of gleeful about how they're going to have this vote. They're going to have their homeland. They're going to be out from under, as they call them, their brothers in the north who have oppressed them for years.

  • 13:10:37

    CARBERRYSo there is this energy around the referendum. As a country, it's stark because I was in Khartoum a few years ago and the north and south look like completely different countries. Khartoum is reasonably developed. There's infrastructure. There's pavement. There's electricity most of the day, you know, signs of development. And it's also an arid climate. It's very overtly religious. There's a strong Islamic character in the north.

  • 13:11:07

    CARBERRYYou head to the south and it's much more lush. There's agricultural land. It's undeveloped. Juba, the capital has only recently been getting pavement. Electricity in the south is spotty in what are called the cities, which are barely cities by any definition. So it's sort of an overgrown village in many ways. It has not developed at all on par with the north, but it has the resources. It has agricultural land and it has a population that is eager to be an independent country and hope that they are going to develop those resources into something.

  • 13:11:44

    NNAMDIAnd in religious terms, the population in Southern Sudan is divided among Christianity and a variety of traditional religions. Is that correct?

  • 13:11:51

    CARBERRYExactly, yes. So it's much more of a secular character in the south and that's been one of the long-running tensions between north and south is that the north has an Islamic government. The south is secular, but predominately it's Christian and Animist and so that tension has been long-running. And people in the south also say that they're eager to be out from under a religious regime that they've had to deal with for a long time now.

  • 13:12:19

    NNAMDIWe're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. If you're Sudanese watching the preparations for the upcoming referendum in Southern Sudan, we'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. And what do you think will happen if Southern Sudan votes for independence? 800-433-8850 or go to our website,, ask a question or make a comment there. Sean, you visited the city of Malakal and watched the voter registration process there. Tell us about this.

  • 13:12:47

    CARBERRYSo Malakal is the capital of Upper Nile states, which has a very long border with the north and actually is, in some ways, more connected to the north than the south. A lot of trade goes on between north and south, but still very strong desire for independence. And I visited several registration centers as people were showing up to get their registration cards and in many cases, long lines, people eager to register, holding up their cards afterwards, waving it saying, you know, this is our future. This is our independence. I mean, huge passion behind it.

  • 13:13:28

    CARBERRYAnd, you know, I heard that from many people, including, you know, one guy who was a, you know, a 22-year-old student I talked to just after he got his registration card.

  • 13:13:35

    NNAMDIBartholomew Faddick Bidit (sp?) ?

  • 13:13:36


  • 13:13:37

    NNAMDIHe is one of the people you spoke with. As you said, he's a 22-year-old student who just registered to vote in Malakal. Let's give a listen to what he had to say.

  • 13:13:43

    MR. BARTHOLOMEW FADDICK BIDITSo I'm excited that I have at least a voter register card so I'll vote for my country, for my homeland. This card means that I'm going to choose. It is important to me to vote for separation because in previous time, my grandfather was mistreated by our brother Arab so I don't need to have a time with them. I can say myself that though we the Southerner, we are going to have our land.

  • 13:14:16

    NNAMDIBartholomew Faddick Bidit, a 22-year-old who had just registered to vote in Malakal, Sudan. First you, Jennifer, and back to you, Sean, is there any question that southerners will do anything other than vote for independence?

  • 13:14:28

    COOKENo. If the vote is free and fair, there's pretty much no question that most southerners will vote for independence overwhelmingly. Just on that note, I think it's a huge empowering moment for the people of Southern Sudan, but there's also the real risk of very high expectations for what will happen immediately following the referendum.

  • 13:14:51

    COOKEIndependence money will flow our way. We'll have jobs. We'll have infrastructure. We'll have education. And we're talking about a place that has none of those at present and a very weak government that has moved from a rebel guerilla movement essentially to now governing a new state. So I think managing those expectations and the energy and hopes that rest in this referendum is going to be a huge challenge for the government of Southern Sudan and the international community.

  • 13:15:20

    NNAMDISean Carberry, we really think we know what the sentiments of the Southern Sudanese are, that they want independence. But the question of whether or not they're actually going to be able to vote for it in a free and fair election, in some respects, boils down to a technical question, does it not?

  • 13:15:38

    CARBERRYYeah, it does because the referendum has several technical criteria. One is that 60 percent of the people who register have to turn out and vote or else the results are void, which brings up questions given the infrastructure there. Are people going to be able to make it back to the registration centers where they registered so they can vote? Will the north interfere with that?

  • 13:16:18

    CARBERRYWhat kinds of things can happen to prevent them from hitting that threshold where, again, there's no question what the sentiment is, but can they carry it off so it's beyond any question or challenge? And also, you know, to follow up on Jennifer's point that the expectations issue is huge and I had a lot of conversations with people on the streets and government officials saying, do people here think that the moment they drop their ballot in the box all of a sudden pavement appears, jobs appear and life is wonderful?

  • 13:16:38

    CARBERRYAnd there is a certain amount of almost naive glee among a lot of the people thinking that, once we're free, everything is going to be fine here. And one of the concerns for the future and one of the things that we're looking at in our program about how does this become a viable country if this goes forward is how do they manage that? How do they deliver services? And how do they keep people patient because if they start to see one community develop but not theirs, there's a lot of tribal fissures. Do they start to rebel against the southern government?

  • 13:17:15

    CARBERRYSo managing these expectations and telling people you're not going to see, you know, pavements, electricity, and the internet overnight after this referendum. It's going to take years and be prepared for that.

  • 13:17:22

    NNAMDIJennifer Cooke, what do you think is the likelihood that the government in Khartoum, if these elections are free and fair and overwhelmingly for independence, what is the likelihood that the government in Khartoum will accept these results?

  • 13:17:35

    COOKEThat is a very tough question. First, there will no doubt be grumbling about the legitimacy of the vote whatever way it goes. But I think really the key is that there are many divisions within the government in Khartoum about how they should react. President Bashir has an international criminal court indictment hanging over his head. With that and the reputation of having lost the south, he may feel incredibly weakened. He and his inner circle may feel very much weakened and really turn to kind of much more repressive measures in the north to stay in power.

  • 13:18:15

    COOKEI think there are many in the north who say, let it go. We can find a workable solution to this. We don't want to go back to war. Whatever happens, there's a mutually acceptable compromise to be made. The north has the pipeline that ships the oil. The south has the revenues and we need each other. So opinion in the north is very divided on this and a lot will have to do with calculations of self preservation within the government.

  • 13:18:41

    NNAMDIIndeed. I have been hearing voices in the north who say if the south decides to vote for independence, let's do it. But here now on to the telephones. Here's Marilyn in Washington, D.C. Marilyn you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:18:52

    MARILYNHi, Kojo. I'm a long-time fan, first-time caller.

  • 13:18:56

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:18:56

    MARILYNI have a comment. I'm just -- I'm calling to say that it's a very disappointing when -- this time when Africa is working towards strengthening the African Union and working towards an Africanism with all of Africa and Africans in the diaspora to hear that some countries in Africa are still voting to disintegrate. However, I have sympathy for the South Sudanese because if they've been oppressed all this while due to failed leadership in the north to listen to their problems.

  • 13:19:33

    MARILYNI'm speaking -- I'm from Cameroon where we have a similar situation where the English-speaking Cameroonians feels oppressed by the French-speaking and we have failed leadership to address this perceived concern so it's very unfortunate.

  • 13:19:46

    NNAMDIWell, it was even more unfortunate when there was, in fact, a civil war going on in Sudan with the Sudanese People's Liberation Army fighting against the government in Khartoum. Even if the country separates, if this can all be done less violently or more peacefully than we've had in the past, Marilyn, I suspect a lot of people will see it as being successful, right, Jennifer Cooke?

  • 13:20:08

    COOKEI think that's right. It was a big step to put into the agreement, this -- the possibility of a referendum. But after almost 50 years of uninterrupted civil war, it was really a sine qua non that the south would not have come to the table unless that possibility for self determination was...

  • 13:20:30

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on the future of Sudan. Marilyn, thank you for your call. You too can call at 800-433-8850 or send us an e-mail to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:22:55

    NNAMDIWe're discussing the future of Sudan with Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Sean Carberry, senior correspondent with America Abroad Media. He's just returned from a reporting trip to southern Sudan. Sean, after so many years of war, it's hard to imagine the prospect that we could see widespread fighting resume in Sudan. You spoke about that with Cor Pal Gatinal (sp?), a 22-year-old student who returned to southern Sudan earlier this year. He said he thinks war is likely.

  • 13:23:27

    MR. COR PAL GATINALI lost my childhood because I never grew up in my home. So we just grew up in the war, running, running. We all know what will happen. First, you know, our brother will not let us go just like that. There will be war, absolutely. There will be a war. But we are ready. Although we are worried, some people start shaking, they won't run away, but...

  • 13:23:53

    CARBERRYSo are you going to fight if there's a war?

  • 13:23:55

    GATINALYeah, it's a good -- I don't -- yeah. Of course, why not? Okay. I'm not a soldier, but I'll be ready for eight or so. You know, because that is not for soldier, it's a matter of all of us. It's a matter of the future of the nation. It's a matter of the country.

  • 13:24:18

    NNAMDIThat's Cor Pal Gatinal, a 22-year-old student who returned to southern Sudan earlier this year. Sean Carberry, how widespread do you think that sentiment is?

  • 13:24:28

    CARBERRYThe sentiment of the fear of conflict is pretty widespread. And again, with the history of war, there is tremendous mistrust of the north and a belief that they will stop at nothing to prevent the referendum from happening. And I think that he sort of encapsulated a lot of that, just that sort of assumption that, yes, this is going to happen. We don't want it. No one wants war, but we can't see how they're going to let go of the south of the oil, of grazing lands, of all kinds of different things that they benefit from. And I found it -- it's striking talking to him. When I asked, I say, okay, so you're going to fight? You know, he's a young guy. He's not a particularly big or athletic looking guy.

  • 13:25:09

    CARBERRYAnd, you know, he clearly was thrown by that. And then, as he thought about it, you could see that kind of, you know, nationalism and sense of, you know what, this is a fight that we have to fight for. This is too important. I just came back. I'd been living -- you know, he'd been living in Kenya for years, getting his education and he came back. And he said to me, this is now my home. I'm home. Everything's going to be fine here after this referendum. So again, it's that attitude, this belief that the referendum solves everything for the south, but this belief also that the north is not going to let this happen peacefully.

  • 13:25:44

    NNAMDISpeaking of what the north is going to do, what about the international community, Jennifer Cooke? If we were to see a renewal of fighting between north and south, what do you think the international community's response would be?

  • 13:25:57

    COOKEThat will be a very tough one. We don't have that much leverage on the north. I think a full scale return to war between the SPLM and the Party in Khartoum would really be the worst case scenario. I probably envision, more likely, localized violence that perhaps escalates up. But it would be a tremendous step and a huge step backwards for the government in Khartoum and for the south to return to war. The economic costs, the political costs will be so great. I do think both sides do want to avoid war at all possible.

  • 13:26:36

    NNAMDIOn to Kidani (sp?) in Tacoma Park, Md. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:26:41

    KIDANIYes, good afternoon, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call.

  • 13:26:45

    NNAMDIYou're welcome.

  • 13:26:46

    KIDANIYeah, Kojo, I'm for self determination. You know, at the end of the day, the southern Sudanese will decide what's going to be their future. But what I don't understand is that the countries in that part of the world, like Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, they are almost, like, getting ready to (unintelligible), you know what I'm saying? To separate this country. It's unbelievable. I mean, I can -- I may be comparing apples and oranges, but as a person from my country, (word?) which is totally distant and different from the south of Sudan, all the western countries including the (word?) and useless organization of Africa, if you didn't want to see an independent (word?) but look at what they're doing right now with Sunman, with Sudan. It's unbelievable, thank you.

  • 13:27:40

    NNAMDIWell, we got this e-mail from Katie in Arlington, Va. "I've heard some people say the election in Sudan is proof that African countries can work together and that the African union can have a positive impact on the future. Do your guests agree? And for those who don't know what's been going on, can you tell us about the roles of Sudan's neighbors and what role the African Union has played?" Jennifer?

  • 13:28:03

    COOKEWell, the African union has stepped in in recent years. First, they have a peacekeeping force with the U.N. in the region of Darfur and have been very engaged on trying to find a peaceful resolution to that crisis which remains ongoing. And President Mbeki, former President of South Africa, is leading an African Union team to try to negotiate through some of these difficult issues of how to share the wealth, how to share the water, the referendum process and so forth. How neighbors will react is difficult.

  • 13:28:35

    COOKEEgypt is in a very difficult spot here because it has -- it negotiated treaties on the Nile and access to the Nile water, which runs right through Sudan, both south and north. It's looking at this and saying, we don't want to renegotiate those treaties all over again, and has been very adamantly opposed to disunity. And I think that will be one to watch and the questions around water between north and south critical one.

  • 13:29:04

    NNAMDISean, this is not just an international story, it's a local one as well for many Sudanese people living in the U.S. and Canada. Talk, if you will, about the registration process that's going on here locally.

  • 13:29:15

    CARBERRYWell, this is one of the components of the referendum, that there is a significant Diaspora community in the U.S. and several other countries. So what's happening is there's actually a registration center in Washington where people, since November 15th when the process opened until tomorrow is the last day for registration, people have been coming from all over the U.S. to register to vote in the referendum. They will then have to return to the center to vote on January 9th, assuming the referendum does happen on the 9th. And, you know, there are tens -- easily tens of thousands of people likely to register in the U.S. as well as several other foreign countries with sizable populations.

  • 13:29:59

    CARBERRYSo this is -- this does have a global reach to it. And again, one of the concerns is with the 60 percent threshold that I mentioned earlier, you know, imagine -- not inconceivable that D.C. has another one of its snow storms.

  • 13:30:13

    NNAMDIOn January 9th...

  • 13:30:15

    CARBERRYJanuary 8th or 9th...

  • 13:30:15

    NNAMDI...and people are coming from hundreds of miles.

  • 13:30:17

    CARBERRYRight. And that could affect the turnout and therefore the legitimacy of the referendum. So again, lots of technical concerns to pulling this thing off in a way that's beyond question for the results and legitimacy.

  • 13:30:29

    NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Georgus (sp?) in Silver Springs, Md. Georgus, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:30:36

    GEORGUSThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I'm just wondering if the United States is giving the green light at this time, you know, is it to benefit to the southern Sudan region or is something behind it? Because I remember when I was trying to have this referendum from Ethiopia, 17 years ago, the United States had been interfering, discouraging all this, still up to now. And if you compare (unintelligible) Sudan, if you compare (word?) and (word?) , it's just -- and I want to know...

  • 13:31:14

    NNAMDIJennifer Cooke, what has been the U.S. role in all of this so far?

  • 13:31:17

    COOKEWell, at the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, the U.S. had a definite preference for unity. But over time, it's become fairly clear that the will of the south is for succession. And, I think, the U.S. will state that it wants to see the process go for and a free and forward -- free and fair manner. But I think most acknowledge that that would result in a vote for succession.

  • 13:31:41

    NNAMDIHere is Natalie in Springfield, Va. Natalie, your turn. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:31:46

    NATALIEYeah, hi, Kojo, thank you for taking my call. I have a comment. I have two -- a comment and a question for now. First -- and the first one is on the things that we're talking about, the previous caller was talking about.

  • 13:32:02


  • 13:32:02

    NATALIEI have a notion that the international community had chosen to go for succession instead of trying to find more unity. And the other comment is that I want to know how -- what do they think? What do your panel think about the (word?) and (word?) conflict and do you think there will be internal south Sudanese problems?

  • 13:32:31

    NNAMDIThere are a number of different ethnic groups living in southern Sudan, assuming that they become citizens of a new nation in a few weeks. What risk is there of conflict between and among these different groups from what you were able to find out, Sean?

  • 13:32:44

    CARBERRYWell, this is actually specifically one of the things that we were looking at. And my colleague from the program, Matt Ozug, was on the ground looking even more specifically at this tribal issue because there is a long history of tribal conflict of tribal schisms that are emerging now. I mean, there are people in the south who are being killed by fellow southerners in tribal skirmishes that are happening today. And the fear is that if the common enemy of the north is removed from the equation, that they start turning towards each other.

  • 13:33:15

    CARBERRYThat if the government of south Sudan doesn't represent the tribes fairly and equally and one tribe feels that another tribe's getting more development than they are, that that's going to lead to conflict. So this is one of the massive challenges going forward for the country, to manage these tribal divisions and to try to have some sort of unity and inclusion. And it's a big question whether or not they're going to pull that off.

  • 13:33:41

    NNAMDIWell, we saw Czechoslovakia, but that's a whole other story. We're running out of time. I'd like to end the discussion on a hopeful note because so much of what we tend to hear from Sudan does not inspire hope. You spoke, Sean, with a man named Archangelo Biddy (sp?) who had just arrived in the city of Juba with his family. Tell us about him.

  • 13:34:02

    CARBERRYSo right now, there are people returning from the north and many are coming by river, coming down the Nile from Khartoum to Juba. And those who have resources and families are arriving and then they're heading off with their families to their old homes or to villages where they're from. Others who don't have those connections anymore are basically sitting under trees along the river banks waiting for the government or someone to help them so they can move off to wherever it is that they came from.

  • 13:34:31

    CARBERRYThis man and his family left in 1969 and had just returned. They were sitting under a tree by the river with all of their possessions out in the open -- boxes, crates, trunks, their beds out in the open, one of their children asleep on the bed as we were talking. And through all of this, in this situation where you had no idea how he was going to get out of this and get to his old village, he still managed to have this optimistic tone about things.

  • 13:34:57

    NNAMDILet's hear what Archangelo Biddy had to say.

  • 13:35:01

    MR. ARCHANGELO BIDDYYes. We arrived in Juba since yester-afternoon and the way I looked out, people who -- I found that people are so free. Children can play all about. They can move all about. And we really realized that people are enjoying total happiness and not in, like, in Khartoum, where we don't have really total freedom. And besides, also (unintelligible) to hear what we are suffering from is, as you can see, right now, if it rains, it'll just find us here. The rain will rain on us here. We don't have any assistance in which we can try to rescue our lives and -- but despite that, we are happy because we are (word?) to our place.

  • 13:35:51

    NNAMDIArchangelo Biddy, who had just returned to the south in Sudan. Jennifer Cooke, for people like Archangelo Biddy and his family, what does the future hold? Assuming that southern Sudan votes for independence, where does that start in terms of creating a new nation?

  • 13:36:07

    COOKEWell, I think he has a tough road ahead. One is insuring basic security and integration of security forces, but two, is really building a country from scratch. Building -- beginning with basic services, health, education, jobs. There's the potential for a rich agriculture sector in southern Sudan. Trying to use those oil revenues to build that kind of economy in that kind of a country, the benefits all southern Sudanese, that's going to be a major challenge. This is not something that the international community can say, job done, and walk away. We're going to have to be engaged there for, I think, many decades to come.

  • 13:36:47

    NNAMDIJennifer Cooke is director with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, C.S.I.S. Jennifer Cooke, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:36:55

    COOKEThanks, Kojo.

  • 13:36:56

    NNAMDISean Carberry is senior correspondent with America Abroad Media. He just returned from a reporting trip to southern Sudan. Sean, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:37:03

    CARBERRYThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:37:04

    NNAMDIYou can hear Sean on the December show, "Splitting Sudan," which airs on Tuesday night, December 7th at 9:00 pm on WAMU 88.5. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, get ready, pinball machine challenge. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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