In pivotal week for South Sudan, experts discuss future

Matt Essert
Matt Essert

 On Thursday evening, a group of experts debated the possibility of an independent South Sudan on a panel discussion in the Lev Bukhman Room of the Shatner Building.

South Sudan, after six years of democratic self-governance, is seeking to gain its full independence from the rest of Sudan through a referendum held last week. However, the post-independence future for South Sudan remains enigmatic. Should the referendum pass, it’s unclear whether it would be a turning point for South Sudan, or simply an exacerbation of tensions with its neighbours like North Sudan.

At the discussion, the speakers seemed rather optimistic about South Sudan’s future. While fully recognizing the difficulties that lie ahead, they said that Sudan’s potential for progress and stability is significant.

In response to the title of the panel discussion, “An Independent Sudan in 2011,” Douglas Proudfoot, the director of Canada’s Sudan Task Force noted that “the title kind of misses the point … the real issue isn’t whether there is going to be an independent South Sudan or not. The real issue is how do we maintain peace and stability and an environment in which development can take place in Sudan in 2011 and the years that follow.”

Proudfoot later pointed out that Sudan currently has one of the worst Human Development Index scores and highest percentages of maternity deaths in the world. Moreover, Sudan seems to rely wholly on the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations for health care. According to Proudfoot, it’s an unsustainable strategy that needs to be dealt with through increased medical facility funding and more training for medical practitioners. Proudfoot claimed that, with ongoing corruption and political instability, though, the chances of the money being used for these purposes seem slim.

Kyle Matthews, the lead researcher at the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies, pointed to the lack of adequate security and police forces in South Sudan. Matthews cited the town of Juba, where families have been repeatedly  raided, raped, and murdered. The hostage crisis in December is further evidence of Sudan’s instability. The speakers also invoked the possibility that Sudan could relapse into civil war, which would have global consequences.

Despite these problems, though, Proudfoot remained optimistic. He emphasized that South Sudan’s goals don’t implement policies carefully. If there is little resistance to South Sudan’s policies, progress will eventually be made when South Sudan’s government become more mature and stabilized. During this referendum, there has been a considerably lower level of violence than there was during the 2010 election.

While there have been many concerns about oil revenue sharing with North Sudan, Proudfoot said that these challenges could actually force the two regions to work together.

Marie-Joelle Zahar, associate professor of political science and research director for the Francophone Research Network on Peace Operations at the University of Montreal, agreed, saying that despite the country’s past, Sudan can still make substantial progress by learning from  previous mistakes and dedicating more effort to the improvement of civilian education and social institutions.

When asked whether the country will be recognized internationally, Proudfoot did not hesitate to answer “yes”, pointing to the legitimate processes—a comprehensive peace agreement, U.N. approval, and an official referendum—which South Sudan is undergoing to become a country.

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