'Don't forget the bigger picture' warns ODI's Sara Pantuliano ahead of Sunday's South Sudan referendum

7 January 2011

Sunday's referendum on secession for Southern Sudan must be the basis for a new beginning in both internal and external attitudes towards the future of the region according to comments from Sara Pantuliano, Head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute.

The country expert heralded the role of the international community in ensuring that the referendum could go ahead but warned that issues of land, infrastructure and resource distribution would continue to impact on the efforts of all involved to bring stability to the whole of Sudan.

In a short question and answer briefing produced by ODI Dr Pantuliano said:

The government of south Sudan needs to make it clear to the people that the referendum is not the end of a process, it is actually the beginning of a very long journey.

The referendum was a prize to be won at whatever cost, and in the pre-referendum fever many of the problems affecting the country were tolerated by the citizens of Southern Sudan or blamed on the North. Once the referendum is over blaming the North for the South’s problems will not be possible anymore; people’s expectations will be very high and the government will need to manage them and inspire confidence. Minimising corruption and increasing accountability will need to be a priority.

In the last six years, attention was meant to be focused on fostering the development of the South. However, it was always unrealistic to expect that much could be achieved in such a short time in a region affected by decades of conflict and under-development. Today, in many regions, services are still inadequate and people’s needs are not being met, especially in the more peripheral areas. Many areas are still unsafe, making it difficult for humanitarian and development agencies to operate.

A few months ago, no one would have believed that the referendum would take place on time; that it is going to happen has in part been down to the robust support of the international community. Many countries, particularly the US and several African states, have been very active to make sure that the referendum could go ahead. The biggest mistake that the international community could make now is to focus too much attention on the South and ignore the ongoing conflict in Darfur or escalating tensions in Southern Kordofan and Abyei. Now is the time to focus on Sudan as a whole.