On Monday the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announced the preliminary results of the self determination referendum of Southern Sudan. The results showed that 98.83 percent of all voters chose independence. The overwhelming voter turnout is an official and monumental reflection of the will of the people of Southern Sudan. View the UN Secretary General’s statement here.
Throughout the voting period, the referendum was widely expected to pass. The passage of the referendum makes South Sudan its own country, with the hope of ending its long history of violence. The creation of an independent Southern Sudan also means rearranging commercial and political alliances throughout the region.
The next step is defining the borders between the North and South which is highly disputed due to its rich oil fields, mineral deposits, fertile land, and access to water. Beyond the access to oil and other resources, the country is also divided by religion and language barriers. Click here for a detailed map of the disputed areas within the Sudan.
This is a historic week in the Sudan, from January 9th- January 15th, two referenda are taking place: one where the people of Southern Sudan will either vote for unity or secession, and another in which the people of the Abyei Area, which straddles north and south boundaries, will vote to remain in the north or become part of the south.
The UN has played a vital role in aiding the preparation of the referenda. The UN Security Council established the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to support the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The UN has also assisted local authorities, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), in conducting the vote, by providing logistical support and technical advice, and administering a UN fund key donors have provided. UN peacekeepers, volunteers, and staff have played a vital role in delivering ballots to the voters that the SSRC has registered within the region in addition to the nations where many Sudanese have settled.
Massive efforts have been made in the last few weeks to ensure that every last voter in the more than four-million-strong electorate will have a ballot, no matter how remote and inaccessible the location. UNMIS used helicopters to distribute ballot papers and voting materials to voting centers in rural areas of the Sudan that are inaccessible by roads. To date, UNMIS has delivered materials for over four million voters in the region.
Ballots were designed to include the 85% of illiterate southerners in the vote. The ballots contain a picture of two clasped hands stands for unity with the north, and a single raised hand means independence.
Beyond assisting in the distribution and design of voting materials UN Police have trained 17,600 police officers in southern Sudan and 4,500 in the north to secure the polls. A UN Panel has also been tasked to monitor the referendum with a three member team that will travel throughout the country throughout the duration of the voting period.
You can read more about the UN’s role in the referendum here! And keep track of how the voting goes – the world is watching and hoping for peace in Sudan.