Southern Sudanese voters turned out for the second day of balloting in a referendum on independence that appeared set to establish the oil-rich region as the world’s newest nation.
About 4 million people are eligible vote in the week-long referendum, which is scheduled to end on Jan. 15. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose Atlanta-based Carter Center is monitoring the referendum, called the first day of voting yesterday calm and enthusiastic.
“I want my children to live in a free country with education and healthy living,” Margaret Alela, a 30-year-old unemployed resident of Juba, the regional capital, said in an interview. “I hope the new government in South Sudan will deliver these things.”
An independent south would control almost 80 percent of Sudan’s oil production of 490,000 barrels a day, pumped mainly by China National Petroleum Corp., Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd. and India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp. Sudan is the third-biggest producer in sub-Saharan Africa behind Nigeria and Angola. About a fifth of Sudan’s 42 million people live in the southern region.
A majority and a 60 percent turnout are required for a valid result, which is set to be announced Feb. 1. Southern Sudan’s independence, 54 years after the end of British rule in Sudan, would be declared in July.
The referendum is the culmination of a 2005 peace agreement that ended a civil war lasting almost 50 years, except for a cease-fire from 1972 to 1983, between the Muslim north and the south, where Christianity and traditional religions dominate. About 2 million people died in the second phase of the conflict.
“People are voting to say goodbye to a period of slavery, colonization and marginalization,” Pagan Amum, secretary-general of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which governs Southern Sudan, said in an interview at a polling station in Juba. “I believe all southern Sudanese are seized with a dream to build a free, peaceful and prosperous society here.”
In Washington, President Barack Obama said he was pleased that voting had begun as part of a peace agreement. “All sides should refrain from inflammatory rhetoric or provocative actions that could raise tensions or prevent voters from expressing their will,” he said in a statement.
Outbreaks of Violence
Salva Kiir, the president of Southern Sudan, voted in Juba at the gravesite of John Garang, the founder of SPLM who died in a helicopter crash on July 30, 2005.
“Dr. John and all those who died with him are with us today, and I must assure them they did not die in vain,” Kiir said.
On the eve of the vote, the authorities reported two outbreaks of violence, in the disputed border region of Abyei and in oil-rich Unity state.
Clashes in Abyei that started on Jan. 7 have killed as many as 22 people, the speaker of the local assembly, Charles Abyei, said today by phone. The violence is between the Misseriya tribe, which backs the government in the north, and the Ngok Dinka people, who see themselves as southerners.
Under the 2005 peace accord Abyei was due to vote on whether to join the north or the south. That plebiscite was postponed indefinitely because of disputes over who is eligible to vote.
The north-south conflict is a year older than independent Sudan itself. The first outbreak of violence occurred in August 1955, when a company of southern soldiers rebelled in the town of Torit against the policy of “Sudanization” as British rule was ending. Reversing colonial policy of barring Muslim domination of Southern Sudan, northerners took all senior posts in the south, except for six southerners in junior positions.
“The Arabs have been cheating us for too long, from 1955 until now,” Seibit Shanga, a 35-year-old primary school teacher in Juba, said in an interview. “That’s why we want to be independent. There is no proper education, no hospitals, no buildings; you can see people are very poor. They are stealing our resources.”
Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir, who urged southerners to vote against independence, promised to respect the outcome of the vote.
“Reports we’ve had so far from all over the nation, north and south, have been that everything is calm and peaceful and the people seem to be very enthusiastic about voting,” Carter told reporters during a visit to a polling station in Juba yesterday.
Al-Bashir’s government and the SPLM authorities still must negotiate post-independence issues such as responsibility for Sudan’s $38 billion foreign debt, border demarcation and Abyei. They pledged to ensure that production of crude isn’t disrupted and to work out how to share oil revenue.
In addition to oil and gold, Southern Sudan is believed to have “abundant” deposits of minerals including marble, gypsum and chromite, used to make ferrochrome, an ingredient in stainless steel, Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, managing director of New York-based DaMina Advisors LLP, said in note to clients on Dec. 29.
Half of the region’s population lives on less than $1 a day, 85 percent of the adult population is illiterate and one in seven women who become pregnant will probably die from pregnancy-related causes, the United Nations said in a document called “Scary Statistics.”
“We want separation,” Michael Lut Majok, 48, said after he cast his vote in Khartoum, where he’s been living since 1977 when he fled the war in Lakes state in Southern Sudan. “We want to have development, build schools, hospitals. We’re all going to the south.”