Southern Sudanese today begin voting in a week-long referendum on whether they should split from the ethnically and religious distinct North, which has long used violence to dominate the South. Most analysts predict that, miraculously, the vote will proceed peacefully and end with Sudan splitting into two distinct countries. But what happens after that? Here is what Sudan-watchers -- including President Obama -- have to say about the the implications of this vote and of Sudan's divide.

  • Obama to Sudan's Leader: U.S. Will Reward Good Behavior, Punish Bad  President Obama, in a New York Times op-ed, offers a warning and a promise to Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir. "If you fulfill your obligations and choose peace, there is a path to normal relations with the United States, including the lifting of economic sanctions and beginning the process, in accordance with United States law, of removing Sudan from the list of states that sponsor terrorism. In contrast, those who flout their international obligations will face more pressure and isolation." Obama defines Sudan's vote as part of the larger African struggle for self-governance. "It will have consequences not only for Sudan, but also for sub-Saharan Africa and the world. ... A successful vote will be cause for celebration and an inspiring step forward in Africa’s long journey toward democracy and justice. Still, lasting peace in Sudan will demand far more than a credible referendum."
  • Sudan's 'Powder Keg' Region  Nine people have been killed in Abyei, allegedly by militias that still operate in the region, in the run-up to the vote. The Agence France-Press warns, "With its rich grazing pastures, oil fields and history of tribal animosities, Sudan's disputed Abyei district could spark renewed border conflict after a referendum on its future status was shelved." North and South leadership have yet to resolve who will control Abyei, which straddles the two would-be countries. "The flashpoint border region, with some of Sudan's biggest oilfields nearby, has long been a source of north-south tension."
  • Political Stability Ushers in African Century  The Economist credits newfound political stability in Sudan and much else of Sub-Saharan African in finding that "over the ten years to 2010, no fewer than six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa." They explain, "Over the next five years Africa’s [growth] is likely to take the lead (see chart). In other words, the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart. Looking even farther ahead, Standard Chartered forecasts that Africa’s economy will grow at an average annual rate of 7% over the next 20 years, slightly faster than China’s."
  • North and South Have Daunting Issues to Resolve  In the New York Times, Murithi Mutiga writes from the would-be capital of South Sudan, where "excitement is tempered by anxiety about the path ahead. If secession is approved, the 2005 peace deal that established the referendum requires the parties to work on a raft of agreements, to settle issues like demarcation of the border, oil-revenue sharing, the fate of the oil-rich Abyei region (which straddles the north-south border), citizenship and division of the country’s vast international debt. Five years after the deal was signed, there is still no consensus on any of these — yet according to the deal the two sides have just six months to resolve them."
  • Could Peace Dissolve Over North-South Disputes?  The Council on Foreign Relations' Deborah Jerome warns, "Even if the referendum goes off without a hitch, most experts believe there are plenty of minefields ahead for Sudan, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, called 'a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence.' John Prendergast of the anti-genocide Enough Project warned that the six months after the referendum are the most dangerous and could become President Barack Obama's 'Rwanda moment' (Reuters), referring to President Bill Clinton's failure to stop the slaughter of eight hundred thousand people in 1994."