South Sudan referendum under way

South Sudan referendum under way

The people of South Sudan have been voting for the second day of an independence referendum which is widely expected to result in the birth of the world’s newest state. Turnout wasn’t as heavy as on the first day, but correspondents said voters appeared to be just as determined. Matthew Brunwasser reports from Juba.

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The people of southern Sudan voted Monday in the second day of an independence referendum. That referendum is a product of the peace deal that ended a civil war in the African nation between the Arab Islamic north and the Black African south which mainly holds traditional African beliefs and Christianity.

The vote is widely expected to give birth to the world’s newest country. So far, the referendum is proceeding smoothly. It’s been a rare cause for optimism in an impoverished and war-ravaged nation.

Southern Sudan’s independence referendum offers voters a clear choice: unity with northern Sudan or independence. The voters in line at this schoolyard polling station are clear about their choice.

A man shouts “independence yeah!”

The crowd shouts back “independence yeah!”

“Southern Sudan yeah!” he shouts, followed by the crowd.

Few seem to notice the low key arrival of Jimmy Carter. Sudan invited former President Carter center to monitor the vote.

“This is our sixth stop this morning,” said Carter. “As you have seen, there are enormous crowds in every place, and I would say very orderly and enthusiastic.”

In addition to joy, the emotions here include grief over the some two million southerners killed in the civil war and anger that resident in the disputed Abiye region are not allowed to vote in this week’s referendum. They are still waiting to learn when they will be able to vote on their future.

Rebecca Garang is the widow of the founding father of the Southern Sudan liberation movement John Garang. She said people like her husband devoted their lives to giving the Southern Sudanese this day.

“I feel very happy and I rejoice with them,” Garang said. “But at the same time I’m not very happy because the people of Abiye are not voting us with us today. So it pains me, for me, it’s a mixed feeling.”

Here in the Munuki neighborhood of Juba, local official Lado Lubang Bangloson says the people in his district turned out early to vote.

“Since midnight, they’ve been here,” Bangloson said. “They’ve been keeping their spirits high singing, they are laughing, everything. And then they are happy now, because we are going to end the war, and then our northerners will become our neighbors, we are all one. But they are neighbors.”

Local resident Mowa said the Arabs from the north have brought only misery to the southern Sudanese. “We need to be independent from the Arabs’ opression, who have been oppressing us for more than 50 years. The time has come today to say ‘bye bye to Arabs.’ yes.”

Another voter here, Mary Abiong Louis Nyok said her resentment of the Arabs dates back 50 years.

“They came and surrounded the house, my father was the inspector of a school,” Nyok said. “They came at night, midnight, and they shot my father in front of us, when I was 15 years old. That was my first time I saw someone killed. It is a stress in me and I will never forget. I am happy for those who liberated and those who lost their lives, today they are with us, I won’t want my children to live in the same life I had been since these years; I am going to vote for separation. Separation Oh yeah!”

Even if Southern Sudan does separate from the government in Khartoum, problems loom in its future. Vassar political scientist Zachariah Mampilly is in Juba. He said that the referendum itself will not smooth over the violent fractures among tribes in the south.

“Immediately after we are going to see these fractures reemerge, unless the government of South Sudan can effectively engage in creating both the services needed by the population but also in fostering a new Southern Sudanese national identity something that has only existed in opposition to the Khartoum regime thus far,” Mampilly said.

But it will take many years for the people of southern Sudan to get those needed services and that national identity, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Jehanne Henry who’s also here in Juba.

“Rule of law, food, water, education, these basic rights are all necessary,” Henry said. “They have a huge long way to go. It’s not that they are rebuilding, they are building up from scratch and they are doing it in such an accelerated time frame.”

Back in line in Munuki, voter Agnes Silver Nyarsuk said Southern Sudanese are not preoccupied with the challenges ahead. Not today.

“This is the best day in our history, because this is the time when we are going to determine our future,” she said. “It depends on us, it is us now who are deciding. We are sharing food, water. Even if someone steps on you, you don’t quarrel, you are patient. You are just in that mood.”

Silver Nyarsuk said southerners won’t vote for unity because the regime leaders in Khartoum have always viewed the South Sudanese as little more than slaves.

“How can you develop the land of slaves,” Nyarsuk said. “Those houses in Khartoum are built by black people, and now they are going to suffer because we are no longer going to work for them. But we are going to build our own country. Since we are able to build for them, we are going to build ours.”

Voting lasts until Saturday. Turnout wasn’t as heavy today as it was yesterday but voters appeared to be just as determined.

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