The people of southern Sudan are voting January 9 on whether to maintain their autonomous status or establish their own independent state. A large vote for independence is expected. The Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM), which governs southern Sudan, announced December 11 that it favors independence. The National Congress Party of Sudanese president Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, based in the north, says it is working for unity.
Sudan has the third largest reserves of oil in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 80 percent of the oil fields are located in southern Sudan, but the processing facilities are in the north.
Until 1956 Sudan was a colony of Britain. London ruled by pitting the many different ethnic groups and tribes against each other, favoring northern Sudanese, the majority of whom speak Arabic and practice Islam, over southern Sudanese, the majority of whom are black, speak English, and consider themselves Christian or animist.
Independence, general strike
When Sudan won its independence in 1956, that opened the door for Sudanese workers and peasants to begin the struggle to overcome economic backwardness and divisions fostered by colonialism. Led by the railroad union, the labor movement carried out a successful general strike in 1958. Not long after that rebel forces in the south took up arms to combat discrimination against them that was maintained by the new government in Khartoum, in which Arab Sudanese were dominant.
Within a month of the general strike the military took over the government. A civil war has wracked the south for most of the time since, killing 2 million people. The toll of years of fighting and brutal attacks by Khartoums army on southern villages led increasing numbers of ethnic groups in the south to support the rebels.
In the north opposition to the war mounted in the Arab population. In 1988 the government began peace talks with the SPLM. Demonstrations in the north urging rapid conclusion of a peace drew trade unionists and soldiers of Khartoums army. The next year Bashir carried out a coup, banned the unions, and stepped up the war. Under a peace accord brokered in 2005 by Washington and London, the south got autonomy and leaders of the SPLM were given seats in the central government in Khartoum. Profits from the oil revenues were to be jointly shared. The accord also stipulated that a referendum on independence for the south should take place in 2011.
Imperialist powers have taken advantage of the conflict to deploy 10,000 UN peacekeeping troops in Sudan.
Washington has been at odds with Bashir since the 1990s, when he sided with Saddam Hussein in the first U.S.-led war against Iraq.
The William Clinton administration placed Sudan on the state sponsors of terrorism list and imposed trade sanctions. The European Union likewise adopted sanctions. The presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama continued this policy. Obama backed the International Criminal Court indictment of Bashir for war crimes and has urged his arrest.
The sanctions have meant no U.S. or European oil firms invest in Sudans vast reserves, a condition they want reversed. China has become Sudans main trading partner and purchases 60 percent of its exports.
The wars, sanctions, and the failure of any Sudanese governmentthe central government in the north or the autonomous government in the southto advance the living conditions of the toilers has left Sudan one of the poorest countries in the world, despite its natural resources. Forty percent live beneath the official poverty level. Children attend school for an average of four years.
Bashir has gone after his opponents in the name of upholding Islamic law and Arab culture. He organized Islamic militias known as Janjaweed to pursue southern rebels he termed Zionist collaborators and infidels. They later persecuted toilers of the Darfur region, who have also faced discrimination by Khartoum.
The SPLM came out of the unification of several armed groups representing different tribes in the south that had fought in the civil war, including against each other. The SPLMs 2007 program called for building a New Sudan based on a mixed free market economy and a democracy that would be non-tribal and non-sectarian.
In a speech in September 2010 in New York, SPLM leader Salva Kiir called upon imperialist governments and banks for help. We need support especially from the United States of America, we need the support of the multinational institutions, such as the World Bank, IMF, and all other institutions, Kiir said.
This fall, leading up to the referendum, the Obama administration offered to take Khartoum off the terrorist list and reduce sanctions if Bashir allows the voting to proceed unhindered.
On December 7 officials of the SPLM charged that the Sudanese army had bombed a southern region in an attempt to sabotage the referendum. Khartoum denied the charge but said it will continue to pursue rebels from Darfur, in western Sudan. In the past Bashir has accused the SPLM of offering refuge to Darfur insurgents, who are waging a separate struggle against discrimination by Bashirs government.
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