From: Crossroads Sudan

Sudan’s tribal division

As the south votes on whether to secede, we take a closer look at the nation’s racial issues behind the divide.

Sudan stands at a crossroads with the people of the south set to vote in January on whether to become an independent nation. This referendum is part of a 2005 peace deal which brought to an end a devastating 22-year civil war which left two million people dead and the same number homeless. Now, with the south likely to secede, Sudan’s borders and history may have to be rewritten.

Al Jazeera looks at the racial issues behind the split, the impact of Sudan’s rich resources and the challenge of development ahead.

Profile: Omar al-Bashir

Sudan, with 44 million people Africa largest nation, is rich in diversity and tradition but it is deeply divided along tribal lines.

It is on the verge of splitting in two with a potential for more fragmentation in the months and years ahead – a break up that could quickly deteriorate into another bloody conflict involving nations far beyond its borders.

After gaining independence in 1956, the nation has spent the best part of four decades fighting two civil wars. The most recent resulted in the death of two million people – and officially ended five years ago with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

In 2005, Sudan’s leaders agreed a peace deal which offered the people of south Sudan the right to choose whether to stay united, or go their own way.

Few were sure the vote would ever take place, let alone that the south would secede. But today more than four million southerners in the north, in the south and abroad have registered for a vote set to take place on January 9.

And all the signs show they will vote to break away.

Challenges ahead

If they do, an unstable region, cursed by conflict, short on infrastructure and in desperate need of development, will step into new ground.

The UN has illustrated the scale of the tasks ahead by publishing a list of what it called “Scary Statistics”.

Among the most startling are these:
• 92 per cent of women cannot read and write in the south
• One out of every seven children will die before they reach the age of five
• One out of every seven women who become pregnant can expect to die from problems related to their pregnancy

The largely black African, Christian and animist south has suffered decades of neglect by a predominantly Arab, Muslim North. It needs to work hard to build an independent nation.

The route the nation takes will be decided by the people of the south in the January referendum. How it treads the path will be decided by its two leaders, President Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir, the south’s president-in-waiting, and the man to lead the south on its route to secession.

Breaking away

Profile: Salva Kiir

These two men have a number of thorny issues to negotiate as the country moves forward. One of those is how to delineate the border. Its path still has to be decided. 

Sudan is home to a number of nomadic tribes, many of whom cross the line of the proposed border to feed and water their cattle. The question of what they do and where they go has still to be looked at.

Many of the smaller tribes of southern Sudan are concerned about being dominated by the bigger tribes, they fear the hegemony of the Dinka tribe since Salva Kiir and most of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leadership are Dinka.

Some tribes are known to be arming themselves, in some cases with the support of the armies of the North and the South.

It creates a series of flashpoints along the line of division, one of the most volatile of which may be Abyei. The state was supposed to get its own referendum to decide whether to become part of the North or the south. But that has failed to materialise and the fate of the region is now in the hands of the politicians.

With the CPA set to expire in July, north and south Sudan would have very little time to agree upon the practical issues of how to separate. If the issues are not solved by then, the two countries would face an uncertain future.

In this episode of Crossroads Sudan, Al Jazeera takes a closer look at the nation’s racial issues behind the divide. We went to find out why the status of Sudan is being watched with interest in Kenya, Egypt and Israel. Plus, the people of Sudan let us know what they really want for the future of their country.

Crossroads Sudan can be seen from Monday, December 20, at 1730GMT, with repeats at 2230GMT, and Tuesday at 0430GMT and 1030GMT.