south su­dan rev­els as a nation’s birth nears

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY SU­DARSAN RAGHA­VAN

IN JUBA, SU­DAN

Mil­lions of south­ern Su­danese head to the polls Sun­day to de­cide whether to se­cede from the north in a his­toric vote that is widely ex­pected to cre­ate the world’s new­est nation.

Af­ter a long and bloody civil war, and af­ter decades of sec­tar­ian and eth­nic an­i­mosi­ties, the mood in this south­ern cap­i­tal was elec­tric. Banners on street cor­ners urged peo­ple to vote for se­ces­sion. Cars car­ried south­ern Su­danese flags and bumper stick­ers that de­clared “Sep­a­ra­tion.” Peo­ple danced and sang at ral­lies and spon­ta­neous cel­e­bra­tions, shout­ing their sup­port for in­de­pen­dence.

“ This vote is about gain­ing our free­dom. It’s about gain­ing our dig­nity,” said Kur Ayuen Kou, 32, who had re­turned to south­ern Su­dan from Aus­tralia. He was one of 4 mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed by the con­flict. “It’s about end­ing our slav­ery.”

But the week-long ref­er­en­dum, the last stage in a U.S.-backed peace process that ended the war, will take place un­der a cloud of un­cer­tainty.

Many is­sues that will de­ter­mine the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the north and south re­main un­re­solved, key among them cit­i­zen­ship rights, con­tentious border ar­eas and the shar­ing of Su­dan’s mas­sive oil re­serves af­ter the ref­er­en­dum, the ma­jor­ity of which lie in the south.

The ten­sions have trig­gered fears that con­flict could erupt again in the months ahead, desta­bi­liz­ing a re­gion where theUnited States is fight­ing the rise of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism.

A day be­fore vot­ing be­gan, six peo­ple were killed in clashes be­tween south­ern Su­dan’s army and rebel mili­tias in an oil-pro­duc­ing re­gion.

An in­de­pen­dent south­ern Su­dan would be­come one of the world’s least de­vel­oped coun­tries,

its pop­u­la­tion among the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble, de­spite re­ceiv­ing nearly $10 bil­lion in oil rev­enue since 2005. But the re­gion, which is roughly the size of Texas, has few schools, hos­pi­tals and paved roads. Il­lit­er­acy and mal­nu­tri­tion re­main high.

A peace­ful vote, and an out­come ac­cepted with­out dis­pute, could lay the ground­work for one of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s most sig­nif­i­cant pol­icy suc­cesses in Africa. Ac­tivists and aid groups have crit­i­cized the ad­min­is­tra­tion for not be­ing more en­gaged on the con­ti­nent and lack­ing a co­he­sive pol­icy, es­pe­cially for Su­dan.

On Satur­day, U.S. of­fi­cials ar­rived in Juba, the south­ern re­gion’s cap­i­tal, to sup­port the ref­er­en­dum and of­fer as­sur­ances that the United States is com­mit­ted to south­ern Su­dan’s fu­ture.

“Pres­i­dent Obama has per­son­ally in­vested in Su­dan. . . . He’s briefed ev­ery day on what hap­pens here,” said J. Scott Gra­tion, the U.S. spe­cial en­voy to Su­dan. “That same com­mit­ment will con­tinue af­ter the ref­er­en­dum.”

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), stand­ing next to Gra­tion, added, “ The sta­bil­ity of Su­dan is im­por­tant for all of us, for a world that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly more com­pli­cated, in­creas­ingly more volatile, in­creas­ingly more ex­treme in var­i­ous places.”

More than 2 mil­lion peo­ple died in the 22-year-long civil war, which pit­ted Arab Is­lamic rulers in the north against the south’s an­i­mist and Chris­tian rebels.

Since 2005, when a peace treaty was signed, the south has been semi­au­tonomous, ruled by the for­mer rebels of the Su­dan Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment. As a con­di­tion of the peace deal, bro­kered by the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, the south was guar­an­teed a vote on in­de­pen­dence.

Nearly 3.9 mil­lion peo­ple have reg­is­tered to vote, and a turnout of 60 per­cent is needed for the re­sults to be valid. Tens of thou­sands of south­ern­ers have ar­rived here from north­ern Su­dan and from around the world to par­tic­i­pate, some car­ry­ing all their pos­ses­sions and hop­ing to re­set­tle in the south.

The killing in south­ern Su­dan, though, hasn’t stopped. Last year, at least 900 peo­ple died in tribal fight­ing and 215,000 were dis­placed, aid groups say. Weapons are widely avail­able, and mili­tias are abun­dant. Clan ri­val­ries and cor­rup­tion are rife. And the gulf be­tween light-com­plex­ioned Arabs and darker-skinned Africans re­mains wide.

Only a few months ago, it was un­clear whether the ref­er­en­dum would take place as sched­uled. Nearly 80 per­cent of Su­dan’s oil is in the south, and few be­lieved Pres­i­dent Omar Has­san al-Bashir would ever al­low the south to gain in­de­pen­dence. South­ern lead­ers and U.S. of­fi­cials ac­cused Bashir and his rul­ing Na­tional Congress Party of arm­ing mili­tias to desta­bi­lize the south in or­der to de­lay the vote. Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton called south Su­dan “a tick­ing time bomb.”

Four months ago, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion stepped up its en­gage­ment with Bashir, of­fer­ing him in­cen­tives, in­clud­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that the United States would re­move Su­dan from its list of state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism if a timely ref­er­en­dum took place.

Bashir is fac­ing pres­sure from out­side and in­side Su­dan. The In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court has in­dicted him on geno­cide charges, ac­cus­ing him of or­ches­trat­ing eth­nic cleans­ing in the western re­gion of Dar­fur. Both Washington and the United Na­tions have im­posed eco­nomic sanc­tions on Su­dan. Clashes be­tween Bashir’s army and rebels in Dar­fur have in­ten­si­fied in re­cent months.

But Bashir and other se­nior of­fi­cials ap­pear to have ac­cepted that the south’s se­ces­sion is un­avoid­able, break­ing from party hard­lin­ers who want to keep the south at any cost. Last week, Bashir de­clared he would be “ the first to rec­og­nize the south” if vot­ers chose to cre­ate their own coun­try.

An in­de­pen­dent and mostly Chris­tian south Su­dan would also al­low Bashir to ful­fill a long-held vi­sion of en­shrin­ing Is­lamic sharia law in the con­sti­tu­tion, mak­ing Is­lam the north’s of­fi­cial re­li­gion and Ara­bic its of­fi­cial lan­guage.

One flash point is the oil-pro­duc­ing border re­gion of Abyei. The south claims it, but the north wants part of it. Tribal mili­tias aligned with both sides live in a tense co­ex­is­tence, tus­sling over land, wa­ter and graz­ing ar­eas.

“If you don’t re­solve Abyei and you don’t have some kind of a so­lu­tion for the border, you risk con­tin­u­ing a sort of low-in­ten­sity con­flict along the border, which could spi­ral out of con­trol,” said Zach Vertin, Su­dan an­a­lyst for the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group think tank. A sep­a­rate ref­er­en­dum for Abyei on whether to join the north or the south has been post­poned as lead­ers work on reach­ing a com­pro­mise.

Na­tion­al­ity is also an is­sue. It is un­clear whether dual cit­i­zen­ship will be al­lowed be­tween the north and south. If not, many an­a­lysts fear that north­ern­ers liv­ing in the south and south­ern­ers liv­ing in the north could face tar­geted attacks or be stripped of their cit­i­zen­ship. That could trig­ger dis­place­ments that would add more stress on poor com­mu­ni­ties al­ready fac­ing short­ages of food, wa­ter and medicine.

“We­have an un­fold­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis lay­ered on top of an ex­ist­ing and for­saken one,” said Su­san Pur­din, the south­ern Su­dan di­rec­tor for the In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, an Amer­i­can re­lief agency. “And then there’s the po­ten­tial for mass dis­place­ment, an up­surge in po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic vi­o­lence and a larger-scale hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency.”

De­spite its vast oil rev­enue, south­ern Su­dan has less than 40 miles of paved road. An es­ti­mated 80 per­cent of adults can­not read or write. Less than half the pop­u­la­tion has ac­cess to clean wa­ter; one in 10 chil­dren die be­fore their first birth­day. The po­lice force is poorly trained, and the ju­di­cial sys­tem is weak.

“We face many chal­lenges ahead of us,” said Zachariah Peter Cham­pail, 40, a teacher. “ Tribal ri­val­ries is the fa­tal dis­ease that could kill us in the south. I hope, by the mercy of God, we can over­come this. We have to sing to­gether in unity.”

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST

South­ern Su­danese rally Fri­day in the re­gional cap­i­tal of Juba. On Sun­day, south­ern vot­ers get their long-awaited chance at in­de­pen­dence.

PHO­TOS BY JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASHINGTON POST

Su­danese Chris­tians pray at a Juba church. Su­dan’s 22-year-long civil war pit­ted Arab Is­lamic rulers in the north against the south’s an­i­mist and Chris­tian rebels. Now the south is on the verge of in­de­pen­dence. Nearly 3.9 mil­lion peo­ple have reg­is­tered to vote. I For more pho­tos from south­ern Su­dan as it pre­pares to vote on se­ces­sion, go to wash­ing­ton­post.com/world.

The south­ern Su­danese cap­i­tal of Juba was abuzz as Sun­day’s ref­er­en­dum neared. Peo­ple gath­ered at vot­ing ral­lies and spon­ta­neous cel­e­bra­tions. Still, the post-in­de­pen­dence chal­lenges to come are daunt­ing.

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