In an outcome that was exciting but not unexpected, the final vote tally for South Sudan’s secession revealed that the region voted almost unanimously for independence. The vote will split Africa’s largest country, which ended a 22-year civil war with a peace agreement in 2005, in half.
The south will declare independence on July 9. In the final vote count, 98.83 percent of voters backed secession. When the news was announced in the main square in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, the BBC described the atmosphere as “electric.”
“I was born in war, and I grew up as a soldier,” said Robert Duk, a student. “So for me to see this day, something I dreamed of but never could believe, is something I find hard to put into words.”
The results of the vote have been anticipated since the election, which took place in January. Women especially hope to gain significant rights as a result of the split, which will leave North Sudan governed by Islamic law. The violence that continued after the peace agreement in 2005 affected women in particular; a study showed that during the conflict, “36 percent of women had been gang-raped, 28 percent had been raped during abduction; other women reported being forced to have sex in exchange for food.”
But there are also worries of increased repression in North Sudan. Many Christians fled south in anticipation of the election, and churches in the north said in January that they feared repression if Sharia law was tightened following the country’s divide.
Meanwhile, human rights advocates are warning that this outcome does not mean that the world can stop paying attention to Sudan. Olivia Warham, director of Waging Peace, told the Guardian, “The final results of southern Sudan’s referendum on secession come as student protesters are beaten and killed on the streets of Khartoum, serving as a reminder that the world cannot see the referendum as a ‘job well done’ and turn away from Sudan.”
The north is in the midst of an economic crisis, and as refugees begin to move south, severe food and water shortages could occur. But for now, it’s hopeful to see that the elections were conducted without violence, and that the citizens of South Sudan were able to express their desires with such conviction.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.