Viewing entries tagged
Independence

It's Official

On the ninth of July 2011, six years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, southern Sudan will become South Sudan, the world’s 193rd nation.

In Khartoum’s Friendship Hall, a far-cry from Juba’s John Garang memorial that has been the scene for most referendum-related events, people filled the room as dignitaries and journalists waited for the announcement.

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, had earlier in the day vowed the north’s acceptance of the result with Salva Kiir, the south’s president-to-be. “We will announce today in front of the world our acceptance and respect for the choice of the people of the south” Bashir said. This evening was just a formality.

But as the screen flashed up the final results — a 98.83% vote for secession — tensions did fill in the hall. One man stood, waving his fist in celebration. Another woman, from the north, started weeping before being escorted from the room by security. “Sudan is one country, not two” she wailed as men whisked her away.

Over a thousand kilometres further south, my friends and colleagues in Juba were watching the results on the television screens, broadcasting live from Khartoum. A text-message told me that a cheer went up as I strayed into the cameras behind the speaker, catching the view from their podium.

Now begins the path to independence, which will not be easy for the South. The entirety of the border that will now separate the two states has yet to be demarcated; the popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile state have not yet taken place; there are the questions of debt-sharing, and of oil revenues. And then the South has to acquire the means to actually run its own country.

An Independent South

An Independent South Sudan 

 The result was already known. From looking at the  figures posted at voting centres , to reading the reports meticulously compiled by the wire agencies as they phoned around each state, gathering the latest counts, to the sentiment of people on the street. South Sudan would vote for its independence. 

 But today, the preliminary results of voting in South Sudan (and northern & overseas voting counted for little in the grand scheme of things) were announced. 

 The figures were of little interest—virtually 100% voted for secession—but the celebrations and decorum were. 

 The John Garang Mausoleum was filled with people, dignitaries and journalists. As Riek Machar and Salva Kiir made their speeches, the security was struggling to hold back the (slightly premature) celebrations of the crowd gathered. 

 Justice Chan announced the results, state-by-state, and then school children recited a song about South Sudan following Kiir’s rambling speech in Arabic, Dinka and occasional phrases in English. 

 But then the party began. The crowds rose from their seats. The beads rattled as traditional dance groups bounced on the dry earth. A festival-like crush formed around local hip-hop artists. And men fell as their shields were beat by traditional clubs. 

 The people of South Sudan have spoken. And they await July 9th for their independence.

An Independent South Sudan

The result was already known. From looking at the figures posted at voting centres, to reading the reports meticulously compiled by the wire agencies as they phoned around each state, gathering the latest counts, to the sentiment of people on the street. South Sudan would vote for its independence.

But today, the preliminary results of voting in South Sudan (and northern & overseas voting counted for little in the grand scheme of things) were announced.

The figures were of little interest—virtually 100% voted for secession—but the celebrations and decorum were.

The John Garang Mausoleum was filled with people, dignitaries and journalists. As Riek Machar and Salva Kiir made their speeches, the security was struggling to hold back the (slightly premature) celebrations of the crowd gathered.

Justice Chan announced the results, state-by-state, and then school children recited a song about South Sudan following Kiir’s rambling speech in Arabic, Dinka and occasional phrases in English.

But then the party began. The crowds rose from their seats. The beads rattled as traditional dance groups bounced on the dry earth. A festival-like crush formed around local hip-hop artists. And men fell as their shields were beat by traditional clubs.

The people of South Sudan have spoken. And they await July 9th for their independence.

A new town in a new nation

A new town in a new nation 

 The tok-tok weaved its way through the pot-holes and sand-traps on the long, dusty road from Aweil to Apada. 

 Just a few months ago, this place was “nothing but trees and scrub-land” said one man. There is little evidence of the trees he spoke of, as ten-thousand people have arrived from northern Sudan and need homes; the trees form part of their rustic shelters. 

 Apada is one of the biggest returnee camps in South Sudan, land allocated to them by the government. But little awaits them, with no homes, no jobs, and little in the way of water and sanitation. Long queues stand outside NGO-organised water distribution points that have been established, but if this is to be one of South Sudan’s newest towns—and this is no temporary camp—then infrastructure needs to be developed. 

 Workers here say that the government is focused on the referendum, and so everything here—aside from the land—is provided by international humanitarian organisations. The most urgent need is shelter, but the NGOs are trying to provide vaccinations for children, hygiene promotion, food security and job opportunities. “We are looking for professionals” says a representative from the International Rescue Committee, hoping to source teachers and nurses from those arriving from the north. “Malaria is a big problem here, as it is not prevalent in the north.” 

 Over the next three months, the size of the “town” is expected to grow to over eighty thousand people, making it a major settlement in South Sudan. 

 Despite the difficulty that these returnees face, both from the arduous journey here, and the situation that faces them on arrival, many are upbeat. “I am really happy to be back in my original place” says Yel Yel Anei, who has lived in the north since 1993. During his journey back to the south, his convoy was attacked by armed militia in South Kordofan, extorting money from those traveling if they were found with “illicit” items. “My father was stopped because he had an American dollar bill” says Yel, who had to pay 150 Sudanese pounds (over $50) to release him. 

 Nyibol Deng was less fortunate. Her convoy was attacked in South Kordofan, and militia demanded money from them. “We didn’t have anything, so they started beating us” she says, sitting on a stool with a suspected broken leg from the attack. “I have lived in Khartoum all my life and never seen my ancestral land.” 

 She is now back in that land, and will begin the long process of constructing not just her new life, but the town in which she will live it.

A new town in a new nation

The tok-tok weaved its way through the pot-holes and sand-traps on the long, dusty road from Aweil to Apada.

Just a few months ago, this place was “nothing but trees and scrub-land” said one man. There is little evidence of the trees he spoke of, as ten-thousand people have arrived from northern Sudan and need homes; the trees form part of their rustic shelters.

Apada is one of the biggest returnee camps in South Sudan, land allocated to them by the government. But little awaits them, with no homes, no jobs, and little in the way of water and sanitation. Long queues stand outside NGO-organised water distribution points that have been established, but if this is to be one of South Sudan’s newest towns—and this is no temporary camp—then infrastructure needs to be developed.

Workers here say that the government is focused on the referendum, and so everything here—aside from the land—is provided by international humanitarian organisations. The most urgent need is shelter, but the NGOs are trying to provide vaccinations for children, hygiene promotion, food security and job opportunities. “We are looking for professionals” says a representative from the International Rescue Committee, hoping to source teachers and nurses from those arriving from the north. “Malaria is a big problem here, as it is not prevalent in the north.”

Over the next three months, the size of the “town” is expected to grow to over eighty thousand people, making it a major settlement in South Sudan.

Despite the difficulty that these returnees face, both from the arduous journey here, and the situation that faces them on arrival, many are upbeat. “I am really happy to be back in my original place” says Yel Yel Anei, who has lived in the north since 1993. During his journey back to the south, his convoy was attacked by armed militia in South Kordofan, extorting money from those traveling if they were found with “illicit” items. “My father was stopped because he had an American dollar bill” says Yel, who had to pay 150 Sudanese pounds (over $50) to release him.

Nyibol Deng was less fortunate. Her convoy was attacked in South Kordofan, and militia demanded money from them. “We didn’t have anything, so they started beating us” she says, sitting on a stool with a suspected broken leg from the attack. “I have lived in Khartoum all my life and never seen my ancestral land.”

She is now back in that land, and will begin the long process of constructing not just her new life, but the town in which she will live it.

The calm after the storm

The calm after the storm 

 The build-up finished, the Sudanese turned out  en-masse  to  vote  and the  count  has been done. Now begins the wait. 

 There will be no surprises with the result—every indication, and intention is of a landslide—and al-Bashir in the north seems dedicated to accepting the south’s secession. 

 Much of the press has now left Sudan, and all that remains now of the  referendum story , at least, is the announcement of the result.

The calm after the storm

The build-up finished, the Sudanese turned out en-masse to vote and the count has been done. Now begins the wait.

There will be no surprises with the result—every indication, and intention is of a landslide—and al-Bashir in the north seems dedicated to accepting the south’s secession.

Much of the press has now left Sudan, and all that remains now of the referendum story, at least, is the announcement of the result.

The Circus

Juba, not the most animated of “cities”, became a bustle of foreign correspondents from the world-over during these early weeks of January 2011. The media’s plat du jour. Although when voting was over, a rather stale taste was left in the mouths of many. The circus rolled into town, and then wondered what it was doing here.

When I arrived in early December, I was issued with press card number 60. The day before voting started, the Southern Sudanese Referendum Bureau had issued around 2000. Juba was exploding with media.

What passes for a quality hotel room in Juba is invariably a container—the porta-kabins of building sites in Europe—which go for ludicrous sums. For those of us on a freelance budget, we were sharing tents or small rooms for the same sum with which I lived in a rather nice Haussmannian apartment in Paris. The starting rates for a container were $80 a night; mediocre meals were $10. Me, I was on the rice-and-beans diet; $1 a pop. Hand-washing laundry in water fresh from the Nile, I was reminded that this is indeed one of Africa’s least developed regions, despite the oases of luxury afforded to NGO, UN and media workers.

The story—the birth of a nation, or a variant thereupon—is strong. In the five decades following independence from British colonisation, the north & south were engaged in civil war for all but 11 years. That ended in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which included the right to self-determination; the reason that we all find ourself here in January 2011.

The act itself, though, is not the most scintillating of events. Three million people putting a ballot in a box. The first day, full of colour, was quite a spectacle. Queues had already formed at sunrise; traditional dance troops & joyous voters filled the grounds of the primary voting station in Africa’s soon-to-be newest capital. But following that, what was there really to cover? We engaged in feature stories, capitalising on the media spot-light for Sudan to cover other issues. A seasoned war-photographer with whom I was acquainted was bored out of his mind. “This story is fucking dead.” The clashes or unrest that some predicted, did not arrive. And happily so for the Sudanese.

What’s more, a senator in the US was shot, Tunisia ousted its president, and Australia was ravaged by floods. The calm pace of the “final walk to freedom” was lost in the chaos.

Now, the circus is packing up its tents and leaving. Many will be in Uganda for the forthcoming elections. But come July 9th, the day of independence, Juba will be buzzing again. The beer flowing to the agency expense accounts.