Increasing voter turn-out among the Diaspora was a key theme of the 10th Conference of the Equatorian Sudanese Community in the United States.
As citizens of South Sudan, thousands of Sudanese living in North America are eligible to vote in next year’s referendum on independence for the south – a key part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, C.P.A., signed between the north and south five years ago.
Conference participants pressed for voter registration and education to begin as soon as possible.
Agnes Oswaha is an official with the mission of the Government of South Sudan, or GOSS, in Washington, DC. She says the mission is involved in this effort, as it was in last April’s vote for the presidential and legislative elections for the government in Khartoum and the government of the semi-autonomous southern region.
"The GOSS has been doing the ground work to get the Southern Sudanese ready and also well informed about the South Sudan referendum and Abeyei.," she said. "We have been doing some massive mapping work since November 2009, in an effort to be prepared and also be proactive. [We also want to learn] how the Sudan national elections went especially in the Diaspora and learning from the irregularities as well to get ready to have a referendum done in an efficient manner."
Oswaha says the GOSS mission has been holding regular meetings with various stakeholders in the Diaspora, including leaders of civil society organizations.
Oliver Tunda, the chair of the Equatorian Sudanese Community Association in the USA, says he hopes the conference will help to alert potential Diaspora voters to the upcoming poll.
As part of that effort, the conference, which included many intellectuals and politicians, held a live hook-up with referendum workers in Juba. They gave an update on voter education efforts there.
"It was very amazing that we were able to see them right from Juba," he said. "They discussed issues of how the referendum should be, people should be registered and then vote."
Also at the meeting, Henry Lejukole, a Sudanese community activist from the U.S. state of Iowa, gave a presentation on the history of the conflict leading up to the CPA.
He says his lessons were geared mainly to the hundreds of Sudanese youth in the Diaspora who left Sudan as children and are now of voting age.
"My own feeling is that people don’t have a very clear understanding on the actual causes of the problems in the Sudan," he said. "After the presentation we had made, people understood the issues."
The referendum is the final step of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Tunda said the poll will determine the future of South Sudan, and the goal of the conference is to be sure, as he puts it, “that we do it right.”