Omar al-Bashir in Juba
“Bye bye Bashir” people chanted as Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, sped past them in a massive motorcade. Upon the roundabout around which they had congregated, a clock stands, counting-down to the Southern Sudan referendum. Today, it was showing four days.
Despite their chant and the flags they waved which ubiquitously called for secession, with the open palm symbol meaning “separation”, the Southern Sudanese citizens claimed no animosity towards al-Bashir. “We are very happy to see the president here. Southerners have no problem with northerners” said Joseph Mairi from Eastern Equatoria. Banners by the side of the road from the airport greeted al-Bashir, but reminded him that his time as president would soon be over. “We welcome you back to celebrate the independence of south Sudan” read one, erected by a non-governmental civil group.
His visit was one of conciliation, meeting Southern president Salva Kiir, stating that the North would accept the result of the referendum, whether for unity or secession, and that they would help the South post-referendum. “I am going to celebrate your decision, even if your decision is secession” he said.
During recent weeks, the north has made several attempts to convince Southerners to vote for unity, but the feeling here on the street is that it is too little, too late. “What did they offer for the last fifty-five years?” asks Akol Hem Arop, a doctor working in Juba. “We have four days to decide for the future of our people. These four days will not be like the hell of the 50 years of unity. We have to decide at the ballot box. My child will have a better future. He will not be a second class citizen.”