Note: Following is a series of posts on the Referendum in Southern Sudan. Each day leading up to January 9, I have added new information about the vote by Southern Sudanese, both in country and in the Diaspora, on whether to remain in unity with the North or to become an independent country. To read the daily posts chronologically, begin at the end of this post.


January 8, 2011

Southerners who live in the North stream to their former homes in the South to

Southerners Going Home to Vote. PBS Photo

vote in the upcoming Referendum, and a few news reports are trickling into the U.S. media. Thursday evening PBS aired a segment on the News Hour, showing former residents of Bentiu (population 7,781 as of 2006) in Unity State holding a rally for independence with singing and dancing in the streets. So far an estimated 100,000 have migrated to Unity from the North in recent days. They found their homes have been wiped out and there is little food, shelter, or other necessities, but people were joyful and optimistic. One woman said, “We were treated very badly in the North. I can do something here. I can survive in this land.”

Oil Operations in Unity. Photo by Beny Chol

Unity, located on the border, holds rich oil fields, but that gives little help to the residents, as revenues flow northward. Most of the workers in the oil industry are from China or northern Sudan, and the revenue-sharing agreements remain undecided.

However, the area is now re-building the infrastructure from the war. Education is important and the planned Western Upper Nile University will be located in Bentiu. In the elementary and secondary schools English is replacing Arabic.

Ballot boxes are being placed in the various voting stations. Voting will be open for seven days beginning Sunday.


January 7, 2011

The boundary that stretches 1,200 miles from west to east across Sudan is a soft line with constant movement between the south and the north. But that is now. In a few days the South will vote to become an independent country. Those living on or near the demarcation fear their lives will be unfavorably affected if the border becomes a hard line with check points to hurdle. This is the most ethnically diverse and resource-rich area in all of Sudan.

From Sudan Sunrise: Sudanese Christians and Darfurian Muslims in 2007

Problems abound. The Arab pastoralists in the north fear their annual migration to the south to graze their cattle will be disrupted. Internal conflicts between farmers and herders could break out.

Southerners, having moved to the North to escape violence of the civil war or were captured and transported there, have settled into the economy, mainly as agricultural and manual laborers. These 1.5 million southern Sudanese have reason to be anxious about their future. The northern government, according to Human Rights Watch, has threatened that they may be expelled if the Referendum passes. If they do not leave, their rights to citizenship, work, and land could be denied. Forced expulsions and a mass exodus could cause an insurmountable humanitarian crisis. Returning southerners may find their land confiscated, their villages demolished, and their former way of life gone.

The South relies heavily on imported goods. Shortages are expected. Foreign traders and investors are apprehensive about a future there. Arab traders in the local markets have gone home. Prices are high and Diesel, which comes by barge from Khartoum, is scarce.

One southerner, Halima ___ says, “I want to vote for an independent South, and I would like to go home, but I am worried that we will not be allowed to leave peacefully.” Another, James ___ is also concerned: “We are worried for the future—of what happens after the referendum. I am frightened that if there is independence, we will just be told, ‘go home’. My home is new here in Khartoum—my children are teenagers and have known nothing else. I don’t want to leave.” (IRIN News, 9/23/10)

About half of the four million displaced during the civil war have returned. Others have found a new, peaceful life in other countries. But many remain in refugee camps, such as Fugnido camp in Ethiopia and Kukuma in Kenya. These will be able to vote in the Referendum and hope to come home to a peaceful country. (The young men featured in Courageous Journey lived 10 years in Kukuma camp before coming to the USA. They both have earned university degrees.)

Dividing the national debt between the two emerging countries will be sticky. Even if the North-South issues are solved, violence is feared among tribes in the South. In the last two years thousands have died in internal clashes. The challenge of dividing the oil resources is complex, and I will discuss that in another post.

Yet hope for solutions shines through. Officials on both sides, regardless of being pro-unity or pro-separatist, have claimed the ultimate aim is a peaceful transition for the fragile nation. Let us hope they carry through on the pledge.


January 6, 2011

With only four days to go before the Referendum vote, the two sides are still negotiating on critical issues. The National Congress Party (NCP) representing the North and Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) for the South—mediated by the African Union (AU)—are still disputing over the North-South border. There are so many uncertainties—such as citizenship, economic exchanges, and movement across borders—that one might assume that Southerners are having trouble making up their minds. But from recent surveys it appears they overwhelming will choose independence, come what may. Here’s a map of the proposal being considered:

Proposed North-South Sudan Border


This just in today from weekly wrap up (* الترجمة العربية في الآسفل)
issue #18
5 January 2011
[->] This week from inside and across Sudan:
[+] “Respect our decision”
The Streets of Juba were crowded when President Bashir arrived there on 4 January 2011. Despite the warm welcome, the message was clear: white flags marked with a thumbprint and the word “separation” or “secession” along with the flag of Southern Sudan. This radio report by Marvis Birungi of Bakhita FM gives details of what happened in Juba’s streets during the president’s arrival and how people feel about about his visit:
[+] SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum visits Unity State to campaign for independence
SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum, who is also GoSS Minister for Peace and CPA Implementation, spoke to a crowd of supporters at Bentiu stadium urging them to vote for separation, as our freelance correspondent Bonifacio Taban reports from Unity State:
[+] Pessimism prevails among civilians in Abyei
The dispute over the oil-rich region of Abyei, along Sudan’s North-South border, is a persisting threat for a lasting peace in Sudan. Civilians in Abyei are pessimistic about their future. Yobu Annet from the Juba Post has been to the disputed region:


January 5, 2011

Refugee Camps in Darfur

Darfur, the large region in northeastern Sudan that has been under siege since 2003, will remain in North Sudan if the South secedes. Inhabitants of the North are mainly Arab Muslims while the South is mainly made up of black Christians and Animists. Darfur is uniquely made up of black Muslims. In the 21-year civil war the North enticed soldiers from this region to attack villages in the South, reminding them, “You don’t want to be ruled over by infidels, do you?” Yet, when the war was winding down and the region asked for aid from the Khartoum government, it was denied, igniting the conflict.  The horrors of this conflict left 300,000 dead and three million displaced. The killings, rape, and starvation caught the compassion of the world.

Now as the Referendum approaches, the situation in Darfur seems to be taking a back seat in the media. But actually activity is speeding up to solve Darfur’s problems at the same time. Activists have been pushing hard for this. International mediators of the conflict have proposed the establishment of a Darfur Regional Authority with broad powers. It would not replace the state government, but would implement the proposed peace deal in the areas of security, social and economic development, and re-integration of displaced persons. They have set a ministerial diplomatic meeting on January 6, the day before the Southern vote on independence, alongside a meeting of the Special Envoys of the European Union, the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom.

In mid-December, U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Dane Smith as a Special Envoy to focus on peace efforts in the Darfur region. He will work with Scott Gration, the U.S. Special Envoy to all of Sudan. With these two veteran and highly capable diplomats in place, the U.S. is showing great interest and support for peace in Sudan.

John Prendergast, Enough Project co-founder, commented, ” The referendum and its aftermath will be a dangerous moment for Sudan, but one rife with possible openings for peace in Darfur. The United States has to be in a position to take advantage of this opportunity, working with other key stakeholders in Sudan and internationally to bring new life to peace efforts for Darfur. Deploying a team to the region to focus on sustained mediation – in coordination with the African Union and the United Nations – can maximize those opportunities for getting the peace process right.”


January 4, 201

According to the New York Times yesterday, the chance of another civil war in

Map of Southern Sudan

Sudan—with an estimated price tag of $100 billion—is now “slim and getting slimmer.”

Surveys indicate that the South intends to vote 99% in favor of independence. The disadvantages of the result will be felt most strongly in the North where feelings run high against the Southern secession and losing the rich oil revenues. With only five days remaining, the North-South border is still in dispute. In the South tribal warfare is always a concern. Disputes are traditionally settled at the point of a gun and ammunition is easy to come by

But signs are pointing to a more peaceful transition. Few have an appetite for more war. The northerners seem mostly resigned to the outcome, and even President al-Bashir, speaking to supporters in Gezira State last week, stated, “The ball is in your court and the decision is yours. If you say unity, welcome. And if you say secession, also welcome, and welcome to a new brotherly state. We are going to cooperate and integrate in all areas because what is between us is more than what is between any other countries.”

Bashir further claimed he would be, “the first to recognize the South” if it chooses secession in a free and fair vote on 9 January.

So let us be cautiously optimistic: prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.



January 3, 2011

President of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, in a New Year’s Eve message

So. Pres. Salva Kiir

on South Sudan Television assured the citizens of Abyei that a solution to their dilemma of straddling the border between North and South Sudan would be addressed. After months of wrangling by officials of both sides, no agreement could be reached about the division of this area of rich oil reserves. Both sides seek to claim the land. It had been hoped that the citizens of Abyei would be able to vote in their own referendum—determining to which part of Sudan they would belong—on January 9 along with the Southern Referendum on independence.

President Kiir’s speech included these words: “To the people of Abyei, particularly the Ngok Dinka, I take this opportunity to express my solidarity and to sincerely wish you a happy New Year 2011. . . The fact that your Referendum has not been scheduled as agreed does not mean that you are already forgotten. . . I would like to convey to you my reassurances that a solution will be found on the problem of Abyei. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Congress Party (NCP) must put their minds together to find a final solution. I am optimistic that every hurdle will be overcome and the people of Abyei will be free.” (See below the December 31 post: The Problem with Abyei)


January 2, 2011

Most of the attention has been focused on Southern Sudan, but the North will be hugely affected by the outcome also. To pull a country apart that is so intertwined without starting another civil war will be a gargantuan feat. U. S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is often quoted for her reference to the tensions between the two sides as a “ticking time bomb of enormous consequence.”

The Southern Referendum vote is actually between choosing unity with the North or becoming an independent country. Northerners in general are against the South seceding because of the rich oil fields (80% in the South) and other resources that they depend on.

The National Congress Party (NCP) argued that 75% of the Southern voters needed to be in favor of independence for it to pass. An agreement, however, was reached in October 2009 that as long as 60% or higher turned out to vote a simple majority for independence would be sufficient.

President Omar al-Bashir

Like the South, the North will also be faced with creating a new constitution, new social, political and economic regulations. President Omar al-Bashir has threatened to amend the constitution to make Islam the state religion and Arabic the official language of communication. That means re-instating Sharia law. This will be especially harsh for women and youth who have experienced relief for the last five years, granted by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. One of the causes of the previous civil war concerned the Arabic Islamic North’s attempt to force radical Sharia law on the mostly Christian and Animist South. Minority Christians in the North would face persecution for their faith.

The most critical issue in the North concerns the 1.5 million Southern Sudanese living in Khartoum and other northern cities. They are eligible to vote but have expressed anxiety over their rights of citizenship. If secession passes, the government has threatened to expel them. Refugees International has sent a letter to President Obama urging attention to this issue. It states: “Among the long list of issues that the two parties must resolve prior to the January 2011 referendum on southern independence, citizenship and the protection of minority communities on either side of the border have the most potential to develop into serious humanitarian crises. . . We . . . urge you to press both parties to ensure that minority communities, for example southerners who live in the north and northerners in the south, are protected from any possible violence or backlash that might erupt.”

If Southern independence wins out, the war-torn Darfur region will remain in the North, bringing a whole set of new problematic issues. More on that in another post.

South Sudan Flag


January 1, 2011

Shortly after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s civil war, the government of Southern Sudan adopted the flag previously used by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLA). The colors have significance: black to represent the Southern Sudanese people, red for their blood shed for freedom; green for the land; and blue for the waters of the Nile River. The gold Star of Bethlehem on the triangle represents unity of the states of Southern Sudan.


January 1, 2011

What happens in Sudan as a result of the Referendum will not only profoundly affect that country but also the region and countries around the world.

Kenya perhaps has the greatest interest. During Sudan’s civil war thousands of refugees fled to Kenya—a huge number ended up in the Kakuma Refugee Camp. The so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan” spend their childhood and youth here before being relocated in the United States, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, and England. (Read about their experience in Courageous Journey. Click on the book in the sidebar to order). Many refugees still live in Kenya. Yet thousands of Kenyans make their home in Sudan, working in private business or as employees of various Non-Government Organizations. The two countries have mutual economic interests.

On December 11 the former President of Kenya, Daniel Arap Moi, visited Juba to show support for the Referendum and to wish the Southerners well. Yet he wants Kenya to remain on good terms with Northern Sudan. The present President of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, was recently criticized for

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki

inviting Sudan’s President Al-Bashir to the Promulgation of the New Constitution of Kenya. Western countries disapproved of the gesture since Al-Bashir remains under indictment by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

U. S. President Barack Obama has urged support for the Referendum in letters to the heads of several African countries. In September he addressed world leaders at the United Nations,

U.S. President Barack Obama

stating, “At this moment the fate of millions of people hangs in the balance. What happens in Sudan in the days ahead may decide whether a people who have endured too much war move towards peace or slip backwards into bloodshed.”

General Ban Ki-moon, U. N. Secretary-General, concurred: “The Sudanese people cannot afford a resumption of conflict. We must all assist them in finding a peaceful way through one of the most important passages in their country’s history.”

Arab leaders from Egypt and Libya recently pledged their support for a peaceful road to independence in Southern Sudan.

The World Evangelical Alliance has offered whatever assistance called for by President Salva Kiir and the Sudan Council of Churches.

What happens in Sudan could have even broader implications. Because of threat of instability in the region international aid agencies are urging leaders around the world to stand ready to act.


December 31, 2010

Excitement builds with only 10 days remaining before Southern Sudan’s vote on independence. But problems and potential roadblocks abound. Perhaps the biggest threat to peace is the dispute over the region of Abyei, which is rich in oil and straddles the border. Thus both the North and the South desire to claim it.

Back in November two ballots were to be issued: The question of an independent South Sudan and whether Abyei would be linked with the North or the South. Because of the complications and opposing interests officials have run out of time to organize that referendum. Scott Gration, the U. S. special envoy for Sudan, said, “I think we’ve passed the opportunity for there to be a poll. It will take a political solution to resolve this issue.”

The two sides are now deep in negations. Gration, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir are all personally involved in trying to reach a satisfactory solution. Two possibilities are: either divide Abyei or allow the region to go with the South and giving compensation to the North.

“This is probably not a situation where either side will be happy,” Gration commented. “What we’re looking for is a solution that probably makes both sides angry but neither side mad.”

The greatest fear is that violence will again break out in Sudan, but many individuals and countries are working hard to diffuse that possibility.  More about those efforts tomorrow.


December 30, 2010

Registering to vote

Following a long civil war in which 2 million people died and millions more were displaced the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed by both the North and the South in 2005. Part of this Agreement gave the South the right to determine their own future. They now have the opportunity to vote in the upcoming Referendum on whether or not to become a new independent country, seceding from the North and their present government in   Khartoum.

Salva Kiir, President of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, set an example by registering early. Registration opened with officials driving through the streets of Juba (the capital city) with loud speakers encouraging people to register along with a blare of music and the message: “We are heading to the promised land.” Needless to say the vote is projected to be heavy on the side of independence.

Actually voters will receive 2 ballots on January 9: One to vote for or against independence and another on whether the oil-rich region of Abyei should be part of the North or the South.

Who is eligible to vote? One must be a member of a recognized tribe, established on or before January 1, 1956, when Sudan gained its independence from Britain; be at least 18 years old; and reside in Sudan or, if living out of country, be a resident of one of these eight countries: Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, United Kingdom, or the United States. These countries were selected because of their dense population of Southern Sudanese.

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  1. Maeve Maddox says:

    Thank you for covering this very important upcoming event.

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