The referendum on self-determination of Southern Sudan carries in concept the promise of offering the Sudanese polity a ‘restart’, an opportunity to redeem the Sudanese state from its colonial ‘pathology’ and conceive of politics anew along the paradigm of citizen rather than subject. To achieve this goal the referendum has to be imagined as a national political engagement of the first order. That said the push and pull of SPLM and NCP, accusations and counter-accusations, carry the risk of turning a national affair into a feud of petty politicians. The risk is even greater bearing the fact of the swift readiness of both parties to market the referendum as a pass to American favour.
The current referendum debate focuses largely on division of assets, or spoils if you like, give us this oil well and we will give you this stretch of land, a grotesque demonstration of what Bayart termed ‘the politics of the belly’. Repetitively, local SPLM officials have been quoted in the press asking their subjects, the voters in the referendum, to make the right choices, and follow the right procedures. The higher ranking banjs were less blatant and demanded those who will not show up to vote not to register lest they spoil the count. International guardians and well-wishers, of course, opt for the more subtle awareness-raising and voter education, the blanket NGO business.
To its local constituency the NCP, incapable of politics proper except survival, is spinning the referendum into another element of what it pictures as an ever-determinant and obsessive conspiracy against its rule despite the noble motives and peace loving drive of all motions NCP. Internationally however the tone is on the referendum as a proof of merit. I guess Ali Osman said it all in New York in defence of Bashir. The rules of the game are thus laid. On all sides now it’s ‘freedom for the referendum’, namely cut us loose i.e. Bashir and Co, we let the referendum roll, and cut the SPLM loose.
What we are missing here is the potential of the referendum as an opportunity to educate our collective mind on why we need one in the first place, to address the history of the North-South entanglement as it were and charge our colonial entrapment head on. In principle the upcoming referendum constitutes in historical terms the first incidence of scrutiny by the vote of the structure of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, the precedent of independence was of course bypassed by a declaration of parliament. The referendum is the people’s earning, so bring it home.