News / Africa

Southern Sudanese in US Vote in Independence Referendum

NBA star Luol Deng paid for two buses that transported dozens of voters from the state of Michigan to a polling place in Chicago
NBA star Luol Deng paid for two buses that transported dozens of voters from the state of Michigan to a polling place in Chicago

Multimedia

Kane Farabaugh

Approximately four million people have registered to vote in southern Sudan’s independence referendum.  Roughly 60,000 of those registered voters are casting their ballot in countries other than Sudan.  In Chicago, Illinois, home to one of eight U.S. polling locations, voters are celebrating the historic moment in what could split the country of Sudan in two.  

She is 27-years-old, and has spent the greater part of her relatively young life in Kenya and the United States, fleeing war in Sudan.  Much of what Flora Lujana knows about her homeland of Southern Sudan comes from her family, including her father, who lives near Juba. "I feel like I know it very well through my parents and through my memories as a child.  I was born there, but we fled when I was six or seven years old," she said.

Lujana says she has never before participated in an election.  But with her thumbprint marking a ballot representing her vote for Southern Sudan’s independence, she is marking a first in her own life.  She hopes it is a move that will change her identity. "I was always referred to as a refugee.  This is the one time this term is forever gone.  I am south Sudanese.  So this is a very important day for me.  I am not a refugee.  We have independence," she said.

One of the most important days in Flora’s life was the cause of much celebration for her fellow southern Sudanese in the United States.

At a polling location in Chicago, hundreds of registered voters like Simon Gouk crowded a small polling location for the opportunity to decide Southern Sudan’s future. "Everybody will say by their voice what they want to live.  Do they want to be living under the pressure of government of Khartoum or do they want to be living as free people," he said.

Many voters like Gouk got to the polling location thanks to NBA basketball star, Luol Deng.   The forward for the Chicago Bulls, who is also from southern Sudan, paid for two buses that transported dozens of voters from the state of Michigan. "This is big, this is huge.  Like I said we can finally do something about what has been going on.  A lot of people, what we could do in the past is run.  Now we are here today and everyone is showing up and we are not running," he said.

As Deng cast his vote in Chicago, he said he was doing so in part to honor the memory of another famous basketball player from southern Sudan.  Manute Bol was an influential figure in Deng’s life, and guided him on the path that led to the NBA.  Bol died in June. "Manute did a lot for us.  I always said one thing Manute showed everyone is the heart that he had to give back to his people.  Manute went through a lot, and he was the face of our nation," he said.

One of the main concerns of voters in the U.S. is the increasing violence connected to the referendum in Southern Sudan.  Even though he is thousands of miles away, Deng says all Southern Sudanese around the world can help end the violence by showing up to vote. "For us people, all we can do is show up and make sure we do our part.  For the violence that his going on it really breaks my heart and it is sad that it is still happening and people are still going through it as we speak right now so hopefully this will all end it," he said.

Peter Bul knows first hand how violence in Sudan can lead to war.  He is one of the so-called "Lost Boys," refugees orphaned and displaced by Sudan’s second civil war.  He became the face of the Lost Boys, appearing in documentaries, articles, and U.S. talk shows to raise awareness about the plight of Southern Sudan.  

Bul says he is grateful to the United States for playing a role in making his vote for Southern Sudan’s independence possible. "If Lost Boys were not in America, perhaps this referendum would not be possible.  But because the United States of America allowed the Lost Boys to come to this country, we are able to do our part to get our story out, to let people know what is going on in the country, and because of that I think that is what led to this day today, so," he said.

But voters like Bul and Flora Lujana temper their current excitement at the prospect of a new country with the reality that nationhood for southern Sudan is a difficult road ahead. "South Sudan has issues that have to be tackled, from political to economic, social, different communities.  So it is exciting for everyone right now, but I think in back of everyone’s mind they realize there is a lot of work to be done, and that is why I am excited to be a part of it," he said.

Southern Sudan’s independence referendum runs through January 15.  Electoral law requires that 60 percent of registered voters participate in the election.  Organizers estimate that most, if not all, of those registered at the Chicago location will return to cast their ballot by the deadline.  The final voting results could come as early as February 6.

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs