Sudan’s Blue Nile State did not take part in the just completed independence referendum in Southern Sudan. Technically part of the north, its sympathies often sided with the south during the long civil war. Now, its residents are wondering what their relationship with the Khartoum government will be if the south breaks away.
Irish Journalist Simon Roughneen toured the region while the south voted on succession.
He says, “Blue Nile State is sort of a border land on the north-south border. It’s actually further south geographically than Upper Nile (State), which is nearby…. During the war it was one of the most heavily contested areas. The people are mainly Muslim like the rest of the north of Sudan, which Blue Nile State is politically a part of and going to be part of even if the south does secede, which seems almost certain.”
Upper Nile State is part of Southern Sudan.
Roughneen says the people of Blue Nile State “fought alongside the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) to a large degree, especially in the more southern part of Blue Nile State, which is of course closer to what will be the formal north-south border.”
“There is a bit of dismay there because the people are not getting to vote on whether they have a new political status in the new…two Sudans going forward. They’re getting something called ‘popular consultation,’ along with another state called South Kordofan further to the west. This popular consultation is aimed at giving the people in Blue Nile and South Kordofan some form of self determination and some form of say over their status in northern Sudan or whatever the constitution arrangements are,” he says.
There were polling centers in Blue Nile State for the southern referendum. These were set-up for people in the state who were considered southern Sudanese. However, Roughneen says many voters crossed the border and cast their ballots in the south because they thought voting might be rigged in Blue Nile State.
“I was at a couple of the voting stations in Blue Nile during the course of the week, and they were almost empty. They were desolate. And it was a huge contrast between that and what I had seen in Juba where there were huge queues on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of the week of voting,” he says.
Roughneen says conditions on Blue Nile State are very much like Southern Sudan.
“Southern Sudan has long been one of the most desolate, deprived, under developed areas in the world,” he says, “The 20 years plus civil war left a devastated region. Even now the capital Juba has around 40 kilometers or so of paved road, but that’s the only paved road in the whole region, which is bigger than France and Belgium put together.”
Roughneen says NGOs are providing assistance in Blue Nile State, including the Irish group, GOAL, which receives funds from USAID.
“They are doing a lot of primary health care, education, water and sanitation projects,” he says. However, aid operations in the state are fewer than those found in Southern Sudan in general, where U.N. and other agencies have had a presence for years.