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Last week I stayed in a hotel with prices fit for Washington, D.C., or New York City. I was not in the United States. I was in Southern Sudan, Africa. I was in a town close to the border of Darfur.

The hotel made Motel 6 look like the Ritz Carlton. Bugs were everywhere, the faucet in the sink did not work, the toilet had no seat and the shower was equally scary. I had been staying in a tent about an hour’s drive from the hotel. I was able to zipper up the tent and knew it was secure from bugs. Last Monday, I put on my shoes and heard a crunch/squish and realized a large bug had decided to make my shoe its home.

Being the only game in town, the hotel can charge what ever it wants. Government officials and people from non-government organizations, or NGOs, can’t pitch a tent in this town. As the only place with running water and electricity, the hotel can charge premium prices. Locals think of it like we would a four-star hotel. In fact, if you spend time in the outside dining area, you will not only find the local birds and monkeys, but you will find the entire business community stopping by to discuss the politics of the day.

The politics of the day has brought the locals out in droves. On Jan. 9, there is a referendum for Southern Sudan. It will decide if Southern Sudan will become an independent country. The voting will take place over a period of a week. In a country where the majority of the population is illiterate, the ballots will show two hands clasped for those who want unity with Northern Sudan and two hands apart for those that want independence. It is expected that the vote will be for independence.

Independence is really the only option. Two wars, with one of 22 years duration, have taken place since the British gave independence in 1956. Like Iraq, it was a political deal that made no sense based on the population. Northern Sudan is majority Arab Muslim, Western Sudan (Darfur) is majority African Muslim and Southern Sudan is majority Christian/ Traditionalist. Like Iraq, there was little in common between the three populations.

The politics of Sudan’s 1956 independence from Britain is a mirror of the politics of 2010. There was a Suez Canal crises brewing then and as a neighboring country of Egypt, the British decided to put the Arab North with the Christian South. It satisfied Egypt and was a political deal made by “diplomats” and political figures that ultimately cost millions of lives.

Once again, like in 1956, Sudan is getting the attention of the world and America. There was a special on network television a week ago and there is a drumbeat for world intervention. President Bashir of Northern Sudan (and the president of record for both North and South) based in Khartoum has been indicted by the Hague for war crimes. Many of the problems of war still exist. People from Southern Sudan are still held as slaves in the North. Like in Iraq, there is also a fight over oil.

Oil has been discovered on the border of Northern and Southern Sudan. The questions of who owns it and where the borders are will not be solved by ballot vote on Jan. 9. No one knows how those disputes will be solved. Currently there is a 50-50 split of oil revenue, at least on paper. There is hope in the international community that this arrangement can continue.

Like in Iraq, world military intervention is contraindicated. The 22-year war between North and South was fought in the bush. The North could not win in the South where locals protected their fighters on home territory. Intervention will not work and the only prevention to war is to make it attractive to the North to not go to war. This can be done by a somewhat fair solution with oil revenues and the knowledge that arms will not flow freely from other Arab countries to the Bashir government. Instead of military intervention, it will take real skill of the international community to force the Bashir government to accept the inevitable.

Both Southern and Northern Sudan have real potential. The potential for solar power as well as the oil reserves can put both countries on a path towards economic growth. It can only happen in a time of peace. A real economy has competition and security so that businesses can grow. A country at the brink of war can only produce hotels with bugs, plumbing at the brink of failure and rooms that make tents look attractive. The United States and our allies in Europe must help these two enemies that currently share a country see that war will produce nothing but death and famine, something that the Southern Sudanese have had quite enough of.

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