After Election, Will Sudan Split in Two?

The country, after years of war, looks likely to divide

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Sudan, the largest country in Africa, held its first election in 24 years this month. Given that Sudanese president and internationally-indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir first entered office by a 1989 coup d'etat, it's not exactly surprising that he won reelection handily amid allegations of fraud. But the election could still have serious repercussions for the country and wider region.

Bashir is based in the north and accused of leading a genocide in the south, which has become semi-autonomous and held separate elections. Bashir's hold on power and the south's growing outrage against him could hasten what many observers have long predicted: a split into two countries. Here's why and what it could mean. Photos from the election are here.

  • Could Bring Sudan's Worst War Ever  Time's Alan Boswell warns, "Sudan has been racked by crises ever since its independence in 1956, but none — not even the conflict in Darfur, where some 300,000 died and from where Bashir's war crimes charges stem — rivals the one now facing north and south Sudan in the next year. ... war looms for anyone tempted to deny the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the south's dominant political force, their vote on secession, as promised in Sudan's landmark 2005 north-south peace deal."
For a start, it is a grossly artificial, colonial creation. The Muslim Arabs in the north, who have run Sudan since it broke free from Britain in 1956, have little in common with their blacker-skinned Christian and animist compatriots in the south, whom they have periodically enslaved over the centuries. During more than four decades of strife since the British left, at least 2m southerners have been killed. More recently the government in Khartoum, under President Omar al-Bashir, has bludgeoned the disaffected inhabitants of the western region of Darfur since the start of a rebellion in 2003, killing some 300,000 of them and displacing another 3m. Just in the west and the south together, more than 9m people depend on food handouts from abroad.
  • Split Sudan Will Be Even Less Democratic  The New York Times' Jeffrey Gettelman calls the election "neither surprising nor evidence of a sudden blossoming of democracy" but "essentially Step 1 of what could be a very messy divorce." He predicts, "Analysts are already sketching the outlines of the two post-referendum Sudans, where democracy will probably be the loser and uncompetitive, predictable election results the norm. The net result, they argue, could essentially be two one-party states with even less democratic space than under the flawed coalition government that rules today."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.