Bec Hamilton writes a very important dispatch from Sudan where she reports that Sudanese authorities are heavily censoring what journalists may write about South Sudan’s  looming independence.    

Before the elections, journalists say that the government’s main “red lines” were the publication of articles on the International Criminal Court’s case against the Sudanese president, and on the conflict in Darfur. Now though, the government has a bigger concern – the unity of the Sudanese state.

In January next year, the people of southern Sudan will have a referendum on whether they want to become an independent nation. The right to self-determination was granted to southerners in a 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the NCP and the main southern political party, the SPLM. In theory, both parties were supposed to spend the six years until the referendum making unity an attractive option. In practice, neither have done so, and there is a widespread belief that next year’s vote will see Sudan split in two.

Mariam Sadiq Al Mahdi, spokesperson for the opposition Umma Party, says the NCP cannot afford secession for two reasons. The first is the ensuing loss of resource-rich southern land. “The government budget is more than 60 percent dependent on oil, mainly from the south,” she says.

Second would be the historical stigma on Bashir’s government: “They took over a unified country and then it was divided under their rule.” At the eleventh hour, the NCP is trying desperately shift course – less by actually making unity attractive to southerners, and more by repressing anyone who speaks of secession.

If this is how the government is responding to the mere mention of South Sudan secession, what do you reason their reaction will be six months down the road when the deed is done?  Actually, US Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has already has given this some thought. This is what he told congress in February:

Looking ahead over the next five years, a number of countries in Africa and Asia are at significant risk for a new outbreak of mass killing. All of the countries at significant risk have or are at high risk for experiencing internal conflicts or regime crises and exhibit one or more of the additional risk factors for mass killing. Among these countries, a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan.

 Make no mistake: this current crackdown on what journalists may write may presage a very bloody future for Sudan. 

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