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

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan

Ninety percent of world’s heroin comes from Afghanistan More

Here's Your Chance to Live in a Deserted Shopping Mall

About one-third of the 1200 enclosed malls in the US are dead or dying. Here's what's being done with them. More

Video NASA: Big Antarctica Ice Shelf Is Disintegrating

US space agency’s new study indicates Larsen B shelf could break up in just a few years 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.
Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriagei
X
May 21, 2015 4:14 AM
The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.
Video

Video Women to March for Peace Between Koreas

Prominent female activists from around the world plan to march through the demilitarized zone dividing North and South Korea to call for peace between the two neighbors, divided for more than 60 years. The event, taking place May 24, marks the International Women's Day for Peace and Disarmament and has been approved by both Koreas. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Drug Use Rises in Afghanistan Following Record High Poppy Crops

Afghanistan has seen record high poppy crops during the last few years - and the result has been an alarming rise in illegal drug use and addiction in the war-torn country. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem has this report from Kabul.
Video

Video America’s Front Lawn Gets Overhaul

America’s front yard is getting a much-needed overhaul. Almost two kilometers of lawn stretch from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument. But the expanse of grass known as the National Mall has taken a beating over the years. Now workers are in the middle of restoring the lush, green carpet that fronts some of Washington’s best-known sights. VOA’s Steve Baragona took a look.

VOA Blogs