07/09/2011 08:59 EDT | Updated 09/08/2011 05:12 EDT

Sudan Independence Day: Hold the Line

Sudan is either a phoenix rising or Icarus crashing for flying too high. I was there when the peace accord was negotiated and I recall the pessimism in Western officials. But they underestimated the resolve of Sudan's people. Hold the line on hope and a successful outcome.


The nation of Sudan is either a phoenix rising or Icarus crashing for flying too high.

Either way, it has become front-and-centre in world awareness as it becomes the world's newest nation on July 9.

Decades of civil war in Africa's largest country had left its people exhausted through conflict. Over two million killed and five million displaced was hardly an enviable record in the modern world and both North and South Sudan signed a peace accord in 2005 that was meant to usher in a new era of peace for the country, and a sign of hope for the entire continent.

To the surprise of many, the peace has held despite occasional altercations. I was there when the peace accord was negotiated and I recall the pessimism in Western officials as they felt its future success would be unlikely. They underestimated both the resolve of Sudan's people and of the sheer determination of South Sudanese leaders to engineer an eventual succession of the South from the North.

To accomplish this with legitimacy, the South had to prove it could hold successful elections, and oversee a democratic referendum that would permit the people of the South to choose their own future.

As an international observer of the referendum process this past January, I was again confronted with the doubts of other Western observers that the referendum itself would be held successfully. Again, they were surprised at the south's professionalism. Almost 99 per cent of those voting opted for separation. The die was cast; south Sudan would emerge as an independent country.

The strain on both sides since the referendum has been obvious, as each seeks to maintain its holdings while cultivating stronger relationships of legitimacy with other nations. But, overall, the peace has held while the world continues to hold its breath as to the final outcome.

That outcome was placed in jeopardy recently by the clash in the Abyei region between northern and southern forces and various tribal and militia groups. It's a complex affair involving border disputes, oil revenues, tribal migration rights, and international negotiations. Already I've held a number of media interviews and the pessimism was reintroduced. It's almost as if we will be disappointed if the process ultimately succeeds.

It's true that somewhere up to 100,000 people have been displaced from Abyei and that future conflict is still possible.

While the northern government of Sudan has forcibly placed itself within the region around Abyei, southern leaders, led by Sudanese Vice-President Salva Kiir, have responded with enough restraint to keep the peace process from falling off the rails.

Having worked in the border regions of south Sudan for over a decade, I have come to understand the fleeting nature of well-intended peace efforts. But this one is different because the world itself is watching and actively involved in the overall effort.

While Sudanese President Omar Bashir continues to mix it up, he is most aware of the benefits that will accrue if ultimate peace is obtained. His hold on power is tenuous, especially in light of what's occurring in friendly nations in the Arab Spring. He's also aware that being indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes carries some serious consequences for his future. His neighbours are pressing him for peace and the world community is willing to resource it. He would be a fool to take the conflict any farther.

The South has already voted for freedom in front of the entire world and monitored by the international community. It is a legitimacy that cannot be undone without destroying the entire nation of Sudan itself and perhaps inflaming the entire region. The South will be free, and today it will introduce itself as a member state of the world of nations. Count on it. Don't despair, but hold the line on hope and a successful outcome.