We have received numerous questions regarding the election that has been going on in South Sudan. Many are wondering what it was all about and what effect it will have on our mission work. So this issue of the newsletter will be devoted to an explanation.
In 2005, at the end of the 22-year civil war in Sudan, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. This provided for the citizens of South Sudan to hold a referendum in five years to determine if they wanted to become a separate African country. If 60 percent of the citizens of South Sudan participated in the election and if they voted to become a separate country, Sudan (the Muslim controlled northern section) would agree to allow this to happen.
An estimated two million South Sudanese were killed in that war, 4 million displaced, and the region decimated. The northern part of Sudan consists almost entirely of Arab Muslims and government, while the south is considered Christian and black. The Muslim army swept through the south striving to kill all males and capture the women to sell as slaves, a horrific example of ethnic cleansing.
Those who survived fled the country and were resettled in UN refugee camps mainly in Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya. From there, thousands were eventually allowed into other countries as international refugees. Nashville, Tennessee, for example, has more than 8,000 Sudanese refugees, the second largest contingent in the U. S. Most of the refugees were separated from their families and never reunited.
During the war, all the infrastructure of the southern or "Christian" part of Sudan was destroyed. Most cities had no buildings left standing. No passable roads, schools, postal services or police security existed. The new southern government had to start from scratch without even any buildings in which to work. Non-governmental organizations arriving in the country to assist had to sleep in tents.
A Taste of Democracy
When the promised election time arrived, millions of Southern Sudanese all over the world lined up to cast their ballot to decide whether the south should secede from the north, splitting Africa's largest country. The vote was held during the week of January 9, and final results will be announced in February.
Eight U. S. polling places were established, Nashville, Tennessee being one of them. Buses were organized to deliver voters to voting places. In Sudan itself, voters proudly lined up, often outside of grass-shack polling places, to vote in their first taste of real democracy.
Said one refugee, "This is the day...my family longed for. I can now die in my homeland!" Another said, "I feel like a bird that has been flying for years and can now finally set down." After the civil war causing half a century of economic deprivation and violent persecution at the hands of the northern government in Khartoum, most people were eager to vote and expected to opt overwhelmingly for secession.
Birth of a Nation
At this time, voting figures are incomplete; but more than 80 percent has been counted, and there is a 98.6 percent vote for secession. Preliminary results show that the once sleepy south Sudan town of Juba that hopes to become the world's newest capital opted 97.5 percent for independence.
Preliminary results from some of the south's 10 states showed landslides for secession as high as 99 percent. In Unity state, the south's main oil-producing area, organizers so far report more than 471,000 votes for independence and just 91 against. Almost all of the Southern Sudanese who registered in Nashville voted in favor of separation from Sudan--which reflected the voting at all eight U.S. polling places.
Affect on the North
The only question we see is what reaction will the Muslim north have to this separation. In spite of likely losing an oil-rich chunk of the country the size of Texas, the Sudanese leader, al-Bashir, has made a number of conciliatory public statements promising to respect a vote for separation.
However, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his government have also made pronouncements about creating an Islamic state governed by Shariah law if the referendum splits the country in two. This is causing millions of non-Muslims living in north Sudan to fear for their future. Thousands of them are fleeing the north to live in the south because they fear that fundamentalist Muslims and state security forces will come after them if they stay.
The new southern nation is going to need all the help it can get for many years to come. Much of the population relies on outside agencies for food aid and ranks among the poorest in the world for education, health and social welfare. Children in Southern Sudan are some of the most vulnerable in the world...one out of seven children dies before the age of 5. These problems will require years of focused efforts to change.
Many commercial concerns have been waiting to invest in the south to see what happens in the referendum. If the country votes for secession, it is believed investment from the outside will be quickly forthcoming.
Affect on Our Mission Work
The vote of the southerners to secede from the north will probably not affect any of the present or future church work except in a good way. South Sudan has always had good relations with the U.S., and this will undoubtedly continue.
The Government of South Sudan has been very receptive to churches coming in to teach and work. We have found cooperation on nearly every hand. The church of Christ that meets in Juba has been told to wait until after the election and a decision will then be made about giving it free land for a meeting place. God has blessed us in innumerable ways in Sudan, and we pray that He will continue to do so.