The new year is meant to be a fresh start and a chance to look to the future. It is a time where it is possible to leave all the bad things that happened last year behind, and decide where you want to take your life.
The people living in southern Sudan will have an opportunity to do this on January 8th. For decades, the conflict in Darfur has been documented by reporters such as Nick Kristoff, and stories have been told through the organization Lost Boys of Sudan. But a new chapter will be written once the coming elections takes place.
After years of civil war, and treaties that promised peace that never came, the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, said that he would accept whatever the results of next Saturday's elections. But this is the same person who is wanted by the international criminal court for the genocide that took place in 2003. It is expected that the south will vote to secede, but there have already been problems with the international organizations which are trying to help. While the United Nations has managed to raise billions of dollars to help those who have been displaced, a lot of that money has not been properly accounted for. A large portion of the money was meant to be used to re-integrate members of the military into society, but it was recently reported that most of the money was spent on staff equipment, salaries, and vehicles instead.
However, the State Department has reported that all the ballot and voter registration drives were completed without hindrance, and at this point the vote is expected to be credible.
The Civil War in the country has displaced millions of families. Leaving people hungry and homeless. This also burdens border nations, and the rest of the continent, where these people migrate to because they have nowhere else to go. If this strife continues to happen, it can create instability for the entire continent. With the world becoming more and more integrated every day, it is important for the international community to help Sudan stabilize and grow its economy, no matter what the results of the election may be.
If the election is deemed to be a fair process, and the south votes to secede, the international community will have to put pressure on President Bashir to make sure they are allowed to do so peacefully. But Bashir has every reason to keep the north and south together. The southern regions of Sudan are where most of the oil in the country is located. Without that, the north will not nearly have as strong of an economy. And if the people in the south vote not to secede, steps need to be taken to make sure what happened in 2003 never happens again.
According to The Brookings Institution, strengthening the rule of law is a key element to helping the Sudanese who have been displaced. Economic opportunities are not the only reason The Lost Boys and millions of others without a home will want to go back. They left because Sudan was not a safe place to live. The Sudanese in the south have lost their trust in the north, and with good reason. But with a strong new and independent government, policies can be implemented to make sure that the people living in southern Sudan are safe.
If the people vote to secede, and Bashir goes back on his word, corporations can divest from the country, and sanctions can be imposed by the United Nations. This will tighten Sudan's belt and put pressure on the north and force Bashir to implement policies that will stop the atrocities that continue to plague the country.
While the Obama administration has had a lot on its plate the last couple of years, it has only talked, and not implemented policies which can help bring about peace in a region where the children have known nothing but war. This is an opportunity for the international community to come together and create a place that is not only able to help those living today, but for the future as well.