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Optimism of the people in South Sudan

With more than 80 per cent of the referendum votes counted, interim results from south Sudan are showing 98.6 per cent of voters in favour of secession from the north.

A wave of optimism is sweeping through the people, as they anticipate the final count. One voter, Susan Tombe, said “this is our moment in history, when we get to choose our destiny for the first time in our lives”.

With a resounding ‘yes’ vote for independence, South Sudan could potentially become a new nation on the 9th July. Before that happens, there are still details on citizenship, border demarcation and the splitting of oil revenues to work out with the North. In spite of tensions, officials on both sides are however insisting that the risk of renewed conflict is low. Gier Chuang, Internal Affairs Minister, declared “we are working for a peaceful, stable South Sudan”.

Even with a peaceful resolution, the South has enormous humanitarian and development issues to deal with. Most immediately, over 180,000 Southerners have returned from the North over the last few months, adding pressure on scarce resources. The United Nations (UN) Humanitarian Coordinator in the region, Georg Charpentier, says “every effort is being made to ensure that the basic needs of the returnees are met, including food, access to water and sanitation”. But the long-term needs of the people are colossal, particularly outside the capital of Juba. Oxfam’s spokesperson in South Sudan, Melinda Young, points to the “chronic poverty, lack of development and the threat of violence that blight people’s daily lives”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) have warned that any new government will need to address with some urgency “the excessive use of force by soldiers and systematic abuse in the justice system” before solid state-building can take place. Better training of the police and discipline among soldiers is essential for creating the security and stability longed for by the citizens of the South. As one journalist in Juba commented, the major source of uncertainty for the future “is a lack of laws”.

Many Sudanese are putting their faith in the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, to transform the country. Though a former rebel, he has been running the government in the South for some time in a way described as “consultative” and has already made efforts to include opposition figures in his government to keep the various ethnic groups and tribes united. A special adviser from the International Crisis Group believes he is “the right man to build a consensus”.

But are the hopes of the people too high? One expert on the region says that the Southern Sudanese expect independence will mean “all children will go to school and everyone who is sick will be able to go to a hospital”. In this chronically underdeveloped country, currently one in ten children die before the age of one and in the poorest regions, less than one per cent of young children finish primary school. However, some would argue that hope is a vital element for any country about to embark on nationhood. Ajal Kaba, a 15 year old orphan who lives on the streets of Juba, symbolises that hope. Ajal talks of children receiving an education in the future South Sudan and speaks for many when he says “I hope my life will change for the better after the referendum”.

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