Sudan: sounding the trumpet in The Forgotten Place

Monday, January 17, 2011

  • 01-sudan-referendum-1905.jpgSudan referendum comes to a close.
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by Nils Carstensen

Bishop Paul Yugusuk had his trumpet ready for the closing hour of Sudan’s referendum on separation for the south.

Standing outside the polling station in Nisitu village, which translates as “the forgotten place”, southern Sudan, the bishop pledged to be the last person to vote at that station. “And once I have cast my vote, I’ll blow my trumpet to mark the end of slavery and oppression in southern Sudan.”

This small collection of mud huts got its name years ago by a local resident reflecting a sense of abandonment experienced by many southern Sudanese not just during the last civil war but directly back to the slave raids of the 1800s.

"Back in April 2000, I buried more than 120 of our people in a mass grave close by here,” explains the Anglican bishop. He points toward the grassy hills some few kilometres away where Ugandan rebels, supported by the Sudanese government, carried out a massacre on a civilian village.

The painful memories were revived this week as 10 southerners were killed as they tried to move from the north, a low point in a referendum week otherwise dominated by hope and joy. The killings also reminded everyone that while the voting process appeared to have been successful, a very complicated, difficult and dangerous period still lay ahead for all of Sudan, regardless of the outcome.

President of the southern region, Salva Kiir Mayardit Salva, issued a direct warning when he spoke after mass on January 16 in Juba’s Roman Catholic cathedral. “The way the referendum has worked so far, we’ve shown the people of the world that we are orderly people. Now, do not prompt the outcome of the referendum until we have the official result.

“We must remain silent on the outcome until the correct time and we must remain committed to our partners in the north. We can only do this together.”

Archbishop Paulino Lukudu Loro recounted how the church led southerners in 101 days of peace prayers up to the referendum - a prayer for a change in our hearts and a prayer for a change in Sudan, he said.

Pointing to a mock ballot box placed at the alter, the archbishop promised the congregation he would pray at the ballot box for continued peace every day until July 9, the day the six year-long peace agreement between north and south Sudan expires.

Pending the outcome of the referendum, the two regions now face the task of negotiating agreements on a long list of outstanding issues including sharing the oil and water and - not least - the disputed oil area of Abyei which both claim.

The continued conflict in Darfur and the future for the southern-most parts of the north, particularly southern Kordofan and Blue Nile remain neglected and unresolved.

The overall official result of the referendum for southern Sudan is expected to be announced at the earliest on February 14.

But even on January 16, polling centres were authorised to post their respective results. Results coming in from different parts of Sudan all pointed to an overwhelming vote in favour of separation for the south.

South Sudanese resident Gibson Misa traced the results with his finger as they were posted on a wall at Suk Hajer polling centre in Juba. This is where he registered to vote back in November. This is also where he voted on January 9, the first day of the referendum.

“Votes in favour of unity - 96. Votes in favour of separation - 3289.”

Misa checked the figures once more. And - forgetting everything the president had just said about not pre-empting the overall results - raised one hand and started waving.

“This is exactly what I had hoped for. Khartoum - bye bye.”

An ACT Alliance appeal for emergency preparedness in the voter registration process, lead-up to the elections and the election outcome was the first of its type.

Nils Carstensen of Dan Church Aid is ACT Alliance’s correspondent for the Sudanese referendum.