AN ESTIMATED 97 per cent of the population in Southern Sudan has voted for independence in a historic referendum (News, 14 January), election observers have indicated.
Although counting has been largely completed, the final result of the week-long poll will not be announced until 14 February. But international observers say that planning is already under way for the new nation, which would be formed on 9 July.
The referendum, which offered Christians in the south independence from the predominantly Muslim north, is part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) drawn up in 2005, which ended 40 years of civil war.
Canon Ian Woodward, Rector of Bere Regis and vice-chairman of the diocese of Salisbury’s Sudan Link, acted as an official observer for the All-Africa Conference of Churches during the referendum.
Before the counting of the votes began, Canon Woodward was shown every paper in one ballot-station in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan. He said that the turnout had been 97 per cent there, and that 98 per cent of voters had voted for secession.
The day after voting finished, Canon Woodward attended a service in the Cathedral in Juba, led by the Archbishop of Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng. “[Dr Deng] said we need to prepare ourselves for the great changes that are going to happen in Sudan. There is a great deal that needs to be done before July,” Canon Woodward said.
Dr Deng preached about “the triumph of the people” in achieving a peaceful referendum, and challenged the people and the government to carry this same spirit of unity into the founding of the new country.
Christians are already fleeing from the North to settle in the South, Canon Woodward said.
In much of Sudan, the referendum was conducted peacefully. But in the disputed Abyei region, it is reported that clashes between the Misseriya Arab tribe of the North and the Ngok Dinka of the South have resulted in at least 40 deaths.
A separate referendum in Abyei, to determine whether the disputed region belongs to the North or to the South, has been delayed indefinitely.
Canon Woodward said that, while the mood in Southern Sudan was one of relief, “there is also a seriousness; an awareness that this is not the time for complacency. It is very important that the referendum is seen as a starting gun for a marathon.
“The new government will have huge challenges tackling poverty and infant mortality. . . If healthcare and other services don’t improve, the people won’t stay happy for very long.”