Now the country is getting ready for what could be the continent’s biggest divorce. A long-awaited referendum on southern Sudan’s independence, set in motion by a 2005 peace agreement to stop one of Africa’s worst civil wars.


The referendum marks the end to the nearly one-million-square-mile experiment called Sudan, which for many troubled decades served as a bridge between the Arab and African world. According to officials, the new nation will be named the Republic of South Sudan upon independence.


Since the peace treaty was signed in 2005, the south has been semi-autonomous, running most of its own affairs. Southern Sudan is different culturally and religiously from the northern part of the country, a contrast between Arab and Muslim influences in the north and animist and Christian beliefs in the south.


The southern leaders have rebuilt towns and invested hundreds of millions, perhaps even billions, in roads, ministries, schools and factories, much of which could be bombed into oblivion in a few days by the north’s growing air force.


But I believe that there is still a number of delicate and potentially combustible issues that need to be resolved before Sudan can peacefully break in two, namely how the two sides would share the south’s sizeable reserves of crude oil and what to do about the Abyei region, which straddles the north-south border and is claimed by both.


Oil may ultimately hold Sudan together. Though the south produces about 75 percent of Sudan’s crude, it is landlocked, and the pipeline to export the oil runs through the north. Cutting the flow, which provides both north and south with a huge percentage of government’s revenue since Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir took power in 1989. Oil exports over the past decade have propelled the nation’s longest and strongest growth episode since independence.


The fruits of the oil boom expansion – meant more schools, roads, hospitals and more opportunity for the nation.


However the peace treaty between the north and the south, which American officials helped broker and the Bush administration considered a foreign policy triumph, did not do much to address these center-versus-periphery problems head-on.

Two years after the peace treaty, much of the south is still heavily militarized. The reason has been that the north has grown dependent on the oil from the south and if the south secedes, the north stands to lose billions of dollars yearly.


In my view the north and south would want to avoid another costly war. While the leaders from the two sides need each other, reason been that the south has most of the country’s oil and the north has most of the infrastructure.


But the two sides have been deadlocked over the toughest issues the treaty was supposed to solve: how to draw the north-south border, how to reform a very militarized government (the standard children’s school uniform in Khartoum, the capital, is camouflage fatigues), and how to split Sudan’s booming oil profits.


A solution that begets yet another crisis is not a solution. The world leaders may bask in a self-satisfied plan to bring about a solution to the conflicts in Sudan, but the fact is that it has moved from one crisis to precipitate so many others.


What the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is leaving behind is indeed a “ticking time bomb.” The chances of a peaceful transition appear pessimistic. Both sides of Sudan seem bracing for a looming war.

Darfur region is yet another area that is readying for flare-up. Border disputes, particularly those of Abyei region, are in any case going to play its own devastating role once South is separated. And, more than that the North Sudan will be in a real crisis as it will be deprived of its oil resources.