What is South Sudan's referendum about?
Sunday's referendum is a vote on whether to make the semiautonomous region of South Sudan fully independent from the rest of the country.
After decades of war between the Arab-dominated government in the north and southern rebels, a 2005 peace deal between laid out a plan for powersharing between the north and the south and also a provision for a significant degree of southern autonomy, culminating in Sunday's referendum on whether the South wants to officially secede.
On Sunday, South Sudanese are expected to vote for their homeland to become the world's newest country.
Why is there going to be a referendum? Why not stay unified?
Fundamentally, the desire to separate comes from deep religious and ethnic divides between the North and South of Africa's biggest country.
Northern Sudan is mostly Arab and Muslim, while South Sudan is predominantly non-Arab with a mix between Christian and animist faiths.
The tensions boiled over into a brutal two-decade civil war that began in the 1980s and officially ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. There is still great enmity between North and South and distrust over how oil revenues from the oil-rich south are being split.
Who votes in the referendum?
Only South Sudanese who registered during the registration period can vote in the referendum.
Most South Sudanese live in the south, but some remain in northern Sudan and many live in other countries as refugees. Registration took place in the following countries: Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the UK, and the US. South Sudanese living in those countries may also vote. In the US, there are polling places open from Jan. 9-15 in Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Nashville, and Boston.
Is this likely to end peacefully?
Journalists, politicians, and international observers were making dire predictions for the outcome of the referendum for a long time, but opinions have been increasingly optimistic lately. It seems more likely now that the south will be allowed to secede if it votes in favor of independence (an outcome that is highly likely).
However, a vote also slated for Jan. 9 in oil-rich the border region of Abyei on whether it would join North or South Sudan (if South Sudan votes for independence) has been postponed. The region seemed too unstable for such a vote to happen safely and peacefully.
Another point of contention is oil. The vast majority of Sudan’s oil resources are located in South Sudan. The oil revenues are supposed to be split 50-50 between the north and the south, but southern Sudanese and transparency watchdog groups have long complained the figures are not transparent and that northern officials may be taking more than its fair share. Oil export has been a boon for northern Sudan, and it is unlikely the government will cede control of South Sudan’s oil resources easily.
How long will it take to know the results?
The referendum will begin on Jan. 9 and voting will remain open until Jan. 15. A preliminary tally at the county level will happen once the polls close on Jan. 15. Those tallies will be sent to the South Sudan Referendum Commission offices in the South Sudanese capital of Juba and the Sudan's capital, Khartoum.
Final preliminary results from South Sudan, northern Sudan, and outside the country are estimated to be ready by Feb. 1. If the final results are not appealed, they are expected to be made official by Feb. 6.
How can we trust the results?
The South Sudan Referendum Commission will be tallying ballots. The SSRC is a body independent of both the South Sudanese or northern Sudanese governments.