The southern Sudanese have walked a long way to get here. During the civil war war with the north, some crossed the country—on foot—to Ethiopia, before again fleeing violence, walking back through southern Sudan and into the Kakuma refugee camp in the north-west of Kenya. They have left for the United States, Australia and Europe, as well as neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Kenya.

For the last few months, on the 9th, they have been walking through Juba on a “march for peace”. Today would be their last, before voting in the January 9th independence referendum, that will likely see them opt for secession from northern Sudan.

Culminating at the Dr. John Garang mausoleum—the final resting place of the rebel leader who died in a helicopter accident just months after completing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the second Sudanese civil war in 2005—the atmosphere was electric.

Groups from all over the semi-autonomous had gathered in traditional dress, dancing and marching and expectant before voting to become the world’s 193rd nation.

Masters of the Spear from the ten states had come, sacrificing sheep and Southern Sudan’s national symbol, the cow, to bless the land for peace. After so many years of war, those of us privileged to behold this spectacle all hoped that their offering would work.