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Onsite: Referendum days in Juba
In the city of Juba, southern Sudan
(Simon Mikanipare Agume, an MCC staff member in the city of Juba, southern Sudan, writes about Jan. 9, 2011, the first day of voting in the referendum on whether southern Sudan will become a separate nation. MCC in Sudan supports a free, fair and peaceful vote and respect for the results.)
Jubilation and a message of peace
On this day, here in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, you could see the movement of people all around. On the eve of the referendum, people danced and jumped up and waved the leaves of trees with the posters pushing separation in their hands.
I was touched, and I knew people of southern Sudan have been waiting and longing for this day. General Salva Kiir, the president of southern Sudan, urged people to maintain a peaceful and joyful manner since this is the time that we have been waiting for.
He was saying this while casting his vote and he was a bit emotional. Some tears came out of his eyes while speaking of the late Dr. John Garang and others who died during the struggle for freedom. After the voting yesterday, many people went to church and others were coming from church, singing and dancing as well as thanking God.
When I was able to join the youth group and had a chance to say a word to them, this was my message: “Peace in our hearts, peace in our community and peace while voting as well as peace after the result will get us into peaceful freedom. Let youth not be used as tools for violence. Let us not be used as instruments to do evil things. We have to stand firm and remain with the spirit of one voice, one peace for peaceful solutions in our country Sudan. The peace that Jesus talked about, the peace that Garang (a southern Sudanese leader) talked about – who are the implementers? We are the implementers, therefore, we the youth have a role to play.”
After I voted, I went to other polling stations to see for myself how other people are doing things and as well to study the movement of people and reactions. I met thousands of people voting.
Apaikindi Kennedy, in response to my question about the meaning of referendum and why he voted, told me that for him, referendum means freedom.
“I have been longing for this since (a) number of years back, and here it (is), and it will not come again if I don’t get my freedom now. As a result, my grandchildren will remain in suffering for life. I am voting to prove to the world that I have right to vote as a Sudanese, and I am proud I am now counted to be the true Sudanese.”
I then asked him if Sudan is separated, what he will do.
“If it gets separation, the joy will be mine and this will enable some other tribes to get to parliament and as such, the voice of the poor people at the grassroots can be heard, and right services can be delivered. … Now, we are heading to our freedom and we shall do what we need for ourselves as southerners and be first class not second class.”
Hope for calm
(Earlier reports had indicated tensions and fears about increasing violence rising in the months and weeks before the vote. However, voting in the initial day of the referendum, according to Agume, appeared to be peaceful.)
The situation in Juba now is calm, security is under control and police are all over, both the newly graduated police and the old ones, the chief of areas and youth groups are working hand-in-hand to protect the voting until the end and probably until the result comes out.
On the streets of Juba, it’s not as crowded as it used to be, only a few individuals. Many more still have a little fear in them; in case anything erupts, most are indoors from noon onward.
Some few people here in Juba make strong speeches saying that if the result is unity then the south will not allow it. However, everybody is optimistic that the result of this will be separation. That is the hope.
Here in Juba you can see that the roads are being widened, and on the way to the airport, they have put checkpoints. The view and shape of Juba is changed one day after another.
As I look forward
Looking into this situation here in Juba, you can’t tell now what will really happen, as people have not shown their stand. Things are in hiding, but the way I see things, people are on their toes for anything that the north may decide to do against the will of the south.
So far as I have heard, there are few serious reports of death or violence in the 10 states, except for in Abyei yesterday. (This is in a border area between southern and northern Sudan, an area where tensions were expected to be most great and most likely to erupt.) The government is taking steps in response to that and seriously talking to people to remain calm.
As far as I can see, most everything here in the south has come to a standstill. Most of shops are closed as the owners have gone to vote in their respective areas. Ministries are busy on the referendum issue, so most everything is just referendum and this may remain so until the results are out.
May the Peace that the Lord left unto us dwell among us now and forever.
God bless you all, God bless MCC for the peace work.