With independence vote, South Sudan finally sees end to decades of struggle
A vote for secession is all but certain in the independence referendum that begins Sunday. South Sudan is anticipating independence and a chance to build its own country.
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Sudan’s wars have been almost constant since independence from Britain 55 years ago, culminating in a brutal two-decade civil war between the Arab and Muslim north and non-Arab, Christian, and animist south.
The majority of southerners are convinced that life in their new state – a vote for secession is the more likely outcome – will be far better than it is under Sudan’s current construction, if only because they will be free from the oppressive yoke of unity by force, imposed by successive governments in Khartoum.
In 2005, Sudan’s warring parties in the north and south signed a peace deal that gave the south substantial autonomy, but required the two sides to commit to attempting to “make unity attractive” over the six years before southerners would have the chance to vote in an independence referendum.
In recent months, southern officials have repeated the refrain that “unity has not been made attractive,” and it is clear that the issues that divided the north and south for decades – religion, race, and resources, among others – have not been resolved since the peace was signed.
“The south has been derailed out of history from the first time they got into contact with other people, with forces from outside the Sudan and also forces inside Sudan,” said Pagan Amum, who heads the south’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. “It is only now, lately, that the people of Southern Sudan are going to determine their future, as free people.”
South Sudan's long struggle
The struggle waged by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the southern rebel movement whose motto is “victory is certain,” was costly.
“Many many heroes, we lost our loved ones for freedom,” goes a catchy tune by Emmanuel Kembe, a young South Sudanese musician who has been touring this oil-rich yet under-developed region getting out the secession message.
This campaign is hardly necessary in a place that is buzzing with excitement for Sunday’s vote, when the vast majority of southerners are expected to tick the box next to a single raised palm, which represents “secession” on the ballot for those who are not literate.
What will happen this Sunday now appears to be a foregone conclusion: tens of thousands of registered South Sudanese will line up at polling stations to cast their votes, while domestic and international observers look on and hoards of journalists document the historic moment.
“Everything appears to be on track,” said David Gressly, who heads the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the south. “The many skeptics who never thought Southern Sudan would be ready to hold its referendum by next Sunday were proven wrong.”