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South Sudanese Want Independence From North

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On January 9, Sudanese are to vote on the future of the country's unity. Southern Sudan's mostly African Christian and animist population is widely expected to vote for separation from the mainly Arab and Muslim north.

It is difficult to find a person on the street in Juba who says they want to remain a part of Sudan. Many were emphatic about the coming divorce, like Abraham, a 26-year-old student.

"And for us, we the citizens of South Sudan, no one is going to vote for unity," Abraham said.

Asked why they want to break with the north, most say they feel discriminated against and marginalized by their Muslim-Arab compatriots.

Riw, 26, is studying telecommunications engineering in Ukraine. He says unity only serves the northerners, who he, like many people here, accuse of being racist against southerners' ethnicity and religion.

"This unity actually it is not serving us. Because the Muslim in the north they always, you know, like [favor] themselves," Riw said. "They never, never give any rights for non-Muslims and they never, never value any non-Muslim to be a human being like them. They call you names, they put you in [a] very difficult categories and you get yourself, you are very, very different from them. So it is hard to stay with such a people."

Riw, like many southerners, also complains the south has been neglected in terms of development.

"The south never benefitted from the unity," he added. "I mean the development, the education, the health, everything is very, very poor in the south. So even this little development, these little services we have today has just started from 2005."

That is when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending the two-decade long civil war between north and south was signed. It is that agreement that calls for the vote on unity.

Some observers worry that the results of the referendum or the possibility that it could be postponed might lead to renewed violence between north and south. But the southerners VOA talked to, like law student Samuel Kuir, 28, said if there is war it will not be initiated from their side.

"So that is why we, the youth, nowadays actually, we are not ready for war, that is what I want to tell you," Kuir said. "But if it is the only solution to protect our rights and our freedoms then we will opt for that. But we are not really calling for it, because we were subjected to war during that 21 years and we are not actually willing to have a war again in Sudan."

He says he hopes Sudan's international partners in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement will intervene to make the referendum go smoothly.

Samuel Cadhor, 37, a health worker, agrees. "We need the international community, United Nations and the American government to coach and guide this referendum, this is what we need," he said.

Southerners say they will choose independence because they have suffered too much as a unified country and are better off on their own. Then they say, development and prosperity will come to their region.

Article by Margaret Besheer, VOA News