In statements made Sunday before a crowd of Egyptian opinion makers Nafie Ali Nafie, NCP Vice President, and reputed hardliner described secession of Southern Sudan as preferable to unity à la John Garang. In the same vein he said that the failure of the SPLM in managing the South constitutes the guarantee for unity, this time around à la NCP. Nafie, I suppose, was expressing the real of the NCP perception of the South, a hinterland to be subdued and exploited, unity or secession being modes of the same rather than distinct categories.
Nafie made the remarks a few days after the end of the last round of ‘secession talks’ between SPLM and NCP in Cairo. Apparently the recent round just consolidated the two parties opposed positions on border demarcation and the Abyei referendum, both of which can slip the impending referendum on the future of Southern Sudan into delay, as recently stated by the alone speaking official of the referendum commission, Tariq Osman. He made the claim that ‘technical’ considerations and prerequisites may force a delay of the referendum for 6 months. The NCP then experimented with floating the idea, and a headline in one Khartoum paper at least read “SPLM and NCP agree on delay of the referendum for six months”. SPLM’s response to the claim of a ‘deal to delay’ was rather mute judging by the whole excitement surrounding the referendum. Pagan Amum sent out the now usual fiery lines including an unqualified pledge of unilateral declaration of independence from inside the Southern Sudanese parliament; Atem Garang, deputy speaker of parliament criticised the referendum commission official with balanced words; Yasir Arman made the regular anti-NCP tirade but did not state a position. GoSS proper however, in particular the referendum task force headed by Riek Machar, kept a cool head. It may be even safe to say that in the South proper only the ‘Youth for Separation’ campaigners made a strong point of opposing any possible delay.
So asking the question of delay, I guess its Nafie’s philosophy that is to follow. It is not necessarily about the referendum i.e. the vote. What matters is the ‘deal’. The break-off directions post-referendum, into unity or into secession, are not ideal categories of distinction. The dispute over territory and riches between the ruling blocs in North and South, and of more importance the essential contradiction between elites and population will not end with secession or unity.