Khartoum's refusal to placate the southern Sudanese by separating the state from religion has strengthened the hand of separatist forces in the run-up to next year's referendum, writes Gamal Nkrumah
Sudan's second Vice-President Ali Othman Mohamed Taha called for dialogue between the various political forces in the country this week, in order to ensure unity before the referendum scheduled for early next year.
However, Taha's admonishment comes at a fraught time, since southern Sudanese politicians, including high-ranking officials of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), are increasingly speaking out in support of secession and of the definition of a frontier demarcating northern and southern Sudan.
Northern Sudanese politicians are even debating whether it is not traitorous to think what should be done if progress on cementing ties between them threatens the unity of Sudan.
The secular southern Sudanese are insisting on the separation of state and religion in a unified, secular Sudan. The northerners, in contrast, want to maintain a theocratic state in northern Sudan, including the national capital Khartoum, where Islamic Sharia law reigns.
For their part, the southerners insist that Sudan has a weak judicial system that is too heavily influenced by members of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and Islamist jurists and ideologues.
It is against this grim backdrop of mutual intransigence that the referendum in which southerners are to decide whether to remain part of a unified Sudan or opt for separation from the north and establish an independent state will take place.
Representatives of the SPLM and the ruling NCP met in Cairo on Monday to discuss the possible implications of the referendum results and find ways of saving Sudan as a unified state.
In Khartoum, the chorus of anti-independence voices for southern Sudan has reached an almost deafening pitch.
"All the experiences of secession in the African continent have been doomed to failure," Taha told a youth gathering of the ruling NCP in Khartoum this week.
"Even if the south separates, it will be threatened with further splits. Separation means regression. Separation is a constrained way of thinking that does not reflect the diversity of Sudan."
"The supposed independence of southern Sudan will only cause more problems for its people," he said.
In a separate but related development, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir nominated three prominent SPLM members, former Sudanese foreign minister Mansour Khaled, Haroun Lual Ruun and Andrew Makor, as presidential advisers this week ahead of the referendum.
While there is no quick fix to Sudan's problems, an increasing number of northern and southern politicians are strengthening their resolve to work together to try to ensure the unity of the country.
In the meantime, Sudanese first vice- president and president of autonomous southern Sudan Salva Kiir has ruled out the possibility of southern Sudan declaring its independence unilaterally.
Another crisis currently facing Sudan concerns the continuing tensions in Darfur in the west of the country.
President Al-Bashir embarked on a surprise tour of displaced people's camps in southern Darfur this week, following disturbances in the Kamla Camp over the past few weeks that have led to hundreds of displaced people fleeing from the camp, one of the largest in the region.
The indictment of Al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on charges of genocide in Darfur complicates matters, with the main Darfur opposition group led by Ibrahim Khalil supporting the indictment.
For his part, Al-Bashir has played down the impact of the ICC's indictment, telling supporters in Darfur this week that "the armed combat in Darfur is over. The war has finished in Darfur. Now we must start fighting the war for development."
According to UN estimates, violence in Darfur in recent years has claimed over 300,000 lives, though Khartoum insists that the number of those killed in the fighting does not exceed 10,000, including civilians.
However, neither the situation in southern Sudan nor the situation in Darfur can be fire- walled, as events this week indicate, with rival Sudanese factions needing to purge their more militant elements.
Meanwhile, factional fighting is intensifying in various parts of southern Sudan, with the humanitarian organisation Medicin Sans Frontiers announcing that it was pulling out personnel in the Jongoli Province because it could not afford security for its staff.
Internecine fighting between militias of the Bor Dinka, southern Sudan's largest ethnic group, and other rival tribal militias has also been increasing.
Yet, it would be a mistake to think that the problems of the south can be solved by disengagement from the northern political establishment, even if many southern Sudanese see the regime in Khartoum as a bastion of militant Islam and a threat to their way of life.
The southerners are also not prepared to surrender sovereign powers, now that their region is an important oil producer, and they are likely to remain deaf to arguments, presented by northern Sudanese politicians, that secession by the south will lead to the loss of the country's Arab identity.
This would be unacceptable to most northern Sudanese, though lack of agreement on the issue of separating state from religion may still lead to the disintegration of the country.
If separation is ever agreed to, it is likely to be politically explosive for both north and south.
While northern insistence, especially among NCP stalwarts, on the imposition of Islamic Sharia law in the country is untenable as far as southerners are concerned, it is in any case hard to see how this could be achieved in the south of the country.
In order to save the country's unity, compromise on the part of both north and south seems inevitable.