News / Africa

For Young Sudanese, Referendum Brings Political Aspirations

Southern Sudan's landmark independence referendum got underway Sunday, with witnesses reporting scenes of jubilation at polling centers

A southern Sudanese man chants pro-independence slogans outside a polling station in the southern capital of Juba Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011
A southern Sudanese man chants pro-independence slogans outside a polling station in the southern capital of Juba Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011
Noel King

Thousands of Southern Sudanese went to polling centers across the country today for a crucial referendum vote that will determine whether Sudan's south and north remain united or split into two countries. Voting will continue until next Sunday. Southerners are expected to vote overwhelmingly for independence.

It may have been the biggest day in Sudan's recent history. But at the Catholic cathedral in Juba, Sunday church services went on as usual.  The choir sang hymns.  Families with children sat in pews at the front. Several bored young men stood in the back.

A few hundred yards away, lines of people snaked through the dust in the courtyard of a local school.  The school doubles as a polling station, and hundreds of southerners waited patiently to vote despite the searing heat.

It was a day of excitement for everyone.  Southern Sudanese have been waiting six years to cast their votes in this referendum, since the signing of a 2005 peace agreement ended the war.  But for young Sudanese people it was weighted with extra expectation.  They will be the ones leading their country into the future.

Carter Ohisa is 30 years old.  He was named for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who is currently in southern Sudan to push for a peaceful referendum.

Carter says he is voting for separation. He has big plans for his future. And he does not want to waste any time remembering the past. 

"You know those days, we are always second class citizens in this country," Carter said. "We are not given priority to be president.  President is first class.  Always third class, I could say.  But now, I could even run for an MP (parliamentarian). I have that right, you know?"

Sudan's northern Arab government has controlled the political sphere since the end of colonial rule in 1956.  The 2005 peace agreement created a semi-autonomous government in the south, lead by Salva Kiir Mayardit.

But some young southerners advise caution for their countrymen who are keen to enter politics.  They say the south has always been a place where politics is a tricky and divisive business.

Nyaduol William Nyuon is twenty-three years old.  She grew up not in Sudan, but in Australia.  The war forced her family to flee the south when she was a child.

She is excited about the referendum.  But she says it is even more important for young Sudanese to look toward what happens after the vote.

"What the young people need to think about, which, I think sometimes it's left out of the discussion is what is going to happen after the referendum and what kind of country we want to structure and live in," Nyoun said. "Historically, because of war, because a lot of young people participated in war, we carry a lot of wounds with us.  And its very easy for these young people to be used in divisive politics."

The Government of Southern Sudan pushed publicly for southern unity in the months and weeks leading up to referendum.  But there are cultural and ethnic divisions in southern Sudan that continue to pose a threat to stability.

But young people do not seem to mind.

Ladu Reuben Joseph is a professor of public administration at Juba University.  He was one of the few lucky voters who managed to escape the searing heat with a spot under a shade tree.

Ladu teaches men and women in their late teens and twenties.  He says that many of his students have only one future profession in mind. 

"Politics here is very, very important," Joseph said. "Especially for those who have just come. In fact, that is the field that everybody wants to be in.  They think that when you are a politician, you will be heard of and you will express yourself freely.  Everybody will wish even to aspire to politics."

For those young people who decide to take up the challenge, governing in southern Sudan will never be an easy business.  

The nation's two-decade civil war claimed over two-million lives.  Southern Sudan is desperately poor and education, healthcare and infrastructure are sub-standard.

Still, for many young southern Sudanese today was not just an opportunity to cast a vote for unity or secession.  It was a chance to imagine themselves as leaders of a nation of their own.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

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

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs