The Government of Southern Sudan is urging the estimated 1.5 million Southerners resident in North Sudan to return to the ‘homeland’ in time for the January plebiscite. Till now this urge has not resulted in mass population movement into the South, people being more cautious with their livelihoods than they are with political agenda. Considering the rising temperature of referendum politics in Khartoum voicing the demand for return now is a political move that puts the Southern Sudanese on the bargaining table of NCP-SPLM negotiations.
Considerably more important that the number of votes is the potential turnover that GoSS can strike from creating a humanitarian crisis from the plight of returnees, en route, or in their final destinations of resettlement in South Sudan. The GoSS Director of Repatriation, Arop Mathiyang Amiyock, speaking to AP said it all: “we are looking for resources from the government and from donors”, and “we are concerned about the resources we have to support the returnees. That’s why we are appealing to the international community”. The ‘politically correct’ explanation for a Southern Sudanese resident in Khartoum not returning to the South is that he or she cannot afford the journey. What this commonly held wisdom implies is that no Southern Sudanese can be crazy enough to remain in the North, according to the run-off term an IDP, whilst he or she has the opportunity to return to the ‘homeland’. This straightforward track of thinking reflects well what may be the aspired for ‘clean cut’ between North and South, however reality as evidenced by the missing reverse exodus is much more messy. Southern Sudanese of Khartoum as common sense would demand are not a homogenous bloc sharing a common fate, but are greatly stratified and differentiated. Some are long established Khartoumians that they do not recognise a home beyond the capital, including several generations of young men and women born and raised amongst kin and friends in Khartoum. On another scale, it is informative to ask about the fate of the fancy and glossy Southern Sudanese, established elite of lead politicians, diplomats, administrators and high ranking academicians long in the service of Sudan Government or in its circles. Add to these the significant catchment of Southern Sudanese professionals, employees and workers who make a living in Khartoum. Like all labouring women and men, they essentially belong where they make a living.
In similar fashion to the persistent waves of migration to Khartoum, a great mass of the Southern Sudanese have long moved from the ‘IDP trap’ and integrated into the market economy of Khartoum and surroundings. Who amongst them will willingly return is primarily a question of who earns better where. Sudan does not have to face an India-Pakistan secession scenario, so do not create one.