On Sunday, Southern Sudan will begin a week-long vote on a referendum to secede from the North, which the voters are widely expected to approve. Sudan's North-based government, led by indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir, has long oppressed the ethnically and religiously distinct South, often violently. In the years preceding this referendum, many Sudan-watchers worried that the vote would face fraud and violence. However, with United Nations and U.S. leadership pushing the referendum through, observers are now predicting that Sudan will divide peacefully. Here's what they're saying, with important caveats for Sudan's longer-term future and for the complicating factor of southern Sudan's vast oil wealth.

  • South Sudan Will Need Continued Help  A Washington Post staff editorial warns of "the problems that the new nation of south Sudan will be born with: an 85 percent illiteracy rate; a dearth of schools, health clinics and paved roads; and internal tensions. The state will need massive and long-term international aid and development assistance if it is to survive. The United States will have to remain deeply involved if Sudan's split is to proceed peacefully. Failure could mean another devastating African war."
  • Credit the 'Save Darfur' Campaign  The American Prospect's Mark Leon Goldberg says the world has learned from its failure to stop the genocide in Darfur. "This time around, the international community appears motivated to prevent mass atrocities before they occur. This is largely due to the advent of a robust and politically active anti-genocide movement that took hold in the United States over the past seven years and that has pressured American and international officials to pay attention to Sudan."
A crucial wealth-sharing deal that splits oil profits between north and south Sudan, set to expire following the upcoming secession vote on January 9, is undermined by a significant lack of transparency, and is putting the country on a conflict path, a watchdog organisation has alleged. ... The report found that the Sudanese government and the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which runs the largest oil-extraction operation in the country, have failed to explain significant discrepancies in oil production numbers that make some suspect the government in the north is under-counting production and withholding oil revenue from its Juba-based partner in Southern Sudan."
  • Why Are Ethnic Southerners Fleeing the North?  "116,000 (and counting) Southern Sudanese people have left northern Sudan since late October," Maggie Flick writes. "With only one week left before polling for the southern referendum starts, people are arriving en masse in southern state capitals at a pace that is quite clearly quickening." However, "The sizable number of southerners who have arrived back in the south after December 8–see the IOM doc I linked to above--will not be able to vote in the Jan. 9 referendum." So why flee South? Flick suspects they worry that a post-split North will not respect the rights of Southerners.
  • High-Tech Tools Will Monitor Vote  Kenya-based blogger Lema details some of the ways the international community will be closely monitoring the referendum. There's George Clooney's Satellite Sentinel Project, which "combines satellite imagery analysis and field reports with Google's Map Maker technology to deter the resumption of the conflict between the North and South Sudan," the Amnesty International "Geography of Risk" maps, and the Sudan Vote Monitor, which will track incoming field reports via text, email, and the web, in collaboration with NGOs and Sudanese civil groups.