Worst Case Scenario Not Likely in South Sudan

JUBA, Sudan— The majority of the Southern Sudanese people I know get their international news from BBC Radio, not the New York Times, so it is likely that few Southern Sudanese people here in the capital Juba read Nicholas Kristof’s most recent op-ed about Sudan, titled “Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold.

In his latest Op-ed on Sudan, Kristof’s implied message that everyday southerners have little ability to prevent the Khartoum government from tampering with the southern self-determination vote—if the northern government pursues this path—is reasonable. But the idea that “tribal militias from the North” will “sweep through South Sudan villages” in two months time and kill and rape people is an alarmist rendition of one possible scenario. It is difficult to see how such predictions further the cause of sustaining peace as we approach the referendum that is widely expected to lead to Sudan’s break up.

The current situation in Sudan is indeed fragile and tense. It is even fair to say it is unpredictable. Predictions that foreordain the absolute worst case scenarios for the coming months, though, virtually strip the Sudanese people and the northern and southern leaders of any agency in holding a peaceful referendum.  To be sure, there is a historical precedent to suggest that northern-sponsored armed elements could attack and kill southerners in a proxy north-south fight. But based on my own recent travels to disputed borderlands and on meetings with southern government officials and civil society leaders, I have seen no evidence that it this is destined to happen.  Detailing the worst case scenarios does little service to the southern Sudanese for many reasons, one of which is that assuming the worst may prompt emboldened actions from both northern and southern leaders.

Kristof, and advocates like George Clooney (who spent the last week in Sudan) deserve great credit for using their considerable platform to highlight the struggles of the world’s most vulnerable people.  And while I have no doubt that this column was intended to encourage the international community to work toward sustained peace in Sudan, from my vantage in South Sudan, portraying South Sudan as a “ticking time bomb” does not reflect reality I see here every day.