Joy in Sudan
A Claretian working in Southern Sudan reports on mood on the ground in the midst of the referendum for independence.
Guest blog by Callistus Joseph, C.M.F.
It’s a long-awaited moment, fought for by many wars, with millions of their brothers and sisters lost. The day of reckoning—January 9, 2011, the day of Referendum—has dawned. It had been very peaceful leading to this day. An air of hope and an air of eager expectation were felt in Juba. Just seven weeks ago no one thought this is possible.
Many thought that there would be another war. Many said the southerners were not prepared for this. Others said that the Khartoum government, the loser in this whole affair, would not let this to happen. Many discounted the possibility of a referendum.
But here we are into the third day of voting. We know that the 101 days of prayer campaign initiated by Solidarity with Southern Sudan , which was endorsed by the Sudan Catholic bishop's conference and sponsored by Catholic Relief Services, has contributed to this peaceful atmosphere.
For many of us this feeling of joy is overwhelming. It’s the feeling of being part of a privileged moment. How many new countries are born in our time? How many of us have the chance of being in a place where a new nation is being born? How many of us can feel the pain of a nation that is experiencing the pangs of its birth?
People were lining up in thousands on Sunday and Monday to vote. And today, Tuesday, there are fewer people turning up as the election officers say almost all the registered voters of their polling stations have cast their votes. We noticed that there were only a few women there to vote on Sunday but on Monday an equal number of women turned up for voting. Our housemaid Assunta wanted a day off for voting and she came back rejoicing, showing off her finger with ink, which indicates she has voted. She shed tears of joy as she could not control her emotions.
The vast majority of the people show their hands in a high five, a sign that they voted for separation. Many of them are very emotional as they know this is historic and long awaited opportunity. They recounted that they do it on behalf of those who have laid down their lives fighting for their freedom and for those who will be born in a free land, the New Sudan.
We are in daily contact with our Solidarity with Southern Sudan members in Wau, Malakal, and Yambio, who have been touring the polling stations to show our solidarity with the people of Southern Sudan. Polling has taken place very peacefully in all these places. Aside from the huge number of media personnel present in southern Sudan, most non-governmental organizations pulled their staff out fearing trouble during the referendum. People are very grateful that the religious missionaries stay with them in their journey towards freedom.
As an expression of solidarity with the Church in Sudan and the people of Sudan, Cardinal Nabiir of Durban, South Africa has come to Juba. He celebrated the Holy Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral with the Archbishop of Juba, the visiting Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria and a bishop from Mozambique. It was also attended by the president of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir, the delegate of the U.S. government John Kerry and many other dignitaries. Yesterday, the President of the Southern Sudan spent one hour with the visiting church delegation. The outcome was a great success. The church leaders have assured their accompaniment in times of transition. They have proposed the Catholic social teachings to be the foundation of the new nation. They have pledged their support to work on reconciliation and healing.
All are awaiting the birth of a new nation. But the unresolved issues are many. How will the government of Southern Sudan provide the people with such basic services as water, roads, education, and health in the coming months? People who have waited for freedom for years soon will start asking or demanding these services from their government.
How will the issue of the border demarcation be resolved? The region of Abeyei is not voting as their vote is postponed. What will be the future of the two nations of Sudan—with oil in South and the refineries and pipelines in the North? How will all the resources be shared?
What will be the fate of Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile state? We have seen thousands of Southerns returning from the North. What will be situation of the returnees? Will they be provided with land and facilities to restart their lives here in the south?
What if there is tribal conflict in the near future—with all wanting a share in power? How about the militias? Will the northern government use the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to destabilize the south?
These and many other questions are still unanswered.
But for now, the talk of the moment is freedom. Huge billboards with the statement "Final March to Freedom" welcome everyone to Juba. The air is filled with hope. As the secretary of state of the U.S. government said recently, an independent southern Sudan is inevitable. The ripple effect of this euphoria is felt throughout the country. All await the joyful declaration of Independence on July 9, 2011. But the long march to freedom will take years, as this new nation builds itself from the ruins of war, years of oppression and marginalization, where all are treated equal with dignity, opportunities are available for all to grow into full human persons God has created us to be.
Guest blogger Father Callistus Joseph, a Sri Lankan Claretian, is director of SSS Projects with Solidarity with Southern Sudan  in Juba, Southern Sudan. Claretian Father Alberto Ruiz of San Antonio, Texas also works with Solidarity with Southern Sudan and is currently in Yambio, Western Equatoria. U.S. Catholic is published by the Claretians.