The principle of self-determination for southern Sudan was key to the peace process because it enshrined the idea that the southern Sudanese have a right to govern themselves and recognised that not all regions of Sudan share the same traditions or priorities. Southern Sudan obtained significant autonomy as a self-governing region, in recognition both of the principle of self-determination which had been agreed some years earlier (and which is not argued for by the other parts of Sudan) and of southern Sudan's very different history and culture. The peoples of southern Sudan identify themselves as African first and foremost; their shared southern Sudanese identity is a product of a history of integration into and exclusion from a nation-state dominated by northerners and Islamists who considered them primitive unbelievers. They value their regional identity in order to preserve their distinct traditions, especially their secularist politics.
Moreover, decentralised government is ingrained in the political life of the communities of southern Sudan. Throughout their long history, many tribes (with some exceptions such as Zande, Shilluk and others) chose not to have hereditary kings but a system of leadership based on community-level decision-making. When the SPLM/A leaders came to negotiating the CPA it was clear that their communities would need to be given substantial autonomy in decision-making if peace were to have any chance of success: without it the southern Sudanese would be less willing to feel a part of Sudan and more likely therefore to pursue independence.
Notwithstanding the special autonomous status agreed for the south, the CPA's provisions for decentralisation across the whole country highlight its significance as a national agreement with implications for all Sudanese.
Decentralisation was an important element of the SPLM/A's negotiating position during the talks. John Garang's vision was a secular, devolved 'New Sudan.' The interim period between the signature of the CPA and the referendum on southern independence was extended from six months to six years at Garang's insistence because he felt it was important to give the whole country time to establish a more decentralised system before judging whether or not southern and northern interests would best be served by independence.
The principles of decentralisation are enshrined in the Interim National Constitution much more solidly than in the previous 1998 Constitution in four main ways. Firstly, the Interim Constitution introduces a Council of States as a second chamber of government in addition to the National Assembly. This ensures that the states have some say in the legislature rather than being simply subject to legislation by the National Assembly. Secondly, the system of decentralisation is now the responsibility of the Government of National Unity (ie the Presidency and Council of Ministers, with the percentage allocations agreed by the CPA), broadening the previous system under which the President retained substantial control over state legislature and the appointment of state governments. Thirdly, there is now a specific chapter on decentralisation, which accords the states greater autonomy in decision-making and local government. Fourthly, many references to the Islamic nature of Sudan have now been replaced by statements which allow political leadership and governance to be exercised in accordance with either Islam or Christianity; officers of the state must take an oath in the name of God Almighty, and Islam is now only specifically referred to in the context of the dual banking system.
The Interim Constitution makes further provisions which underpin decentralisation, including the introduction of English as a national language concurrently with Arabic, the emphasis on healthy and mutually supportive intra-governmental relationships, and the promise of revenue sharing which "reflect[s] a commitment to devolution of powers and decentralisation of decision-making."