Some never believed that this day would come. But today it had arrived, and the citizens of southern Sudan met it en-masse, clutching their laminated voter registration cards. People had queued for hours, lines having formed since before sunrise on this historic day, the 9th January 2011, the day prescribed in the peace agreement of 2005 decreeing southern Sudan’s right to self-determination.

The voting process was laborious, taking up to seven minutes per voter. Protocol was followed; nobody wanted to risk arriving at this moment and giving anyone any cause to question its undertaking.

Voters showed their registration card, checked their name from a list and impressing a finger-print on the form, then receiving their ballot paper. Walking to the cardboard voting booths, a yellow curtain guarded their privacy (although nobody spoke of anything but secession), and then the slip was meticulously folded and cast in the plastic urns. Finally, their finger dipped in purple ink, they left.

In one voting station in Juba, elderly women ululated as they walked away from their cast ballot, the queues never failing to applaud these people whose lives had existed through decades of civil war.