JUBA, Sudan—Hundreds gathered on a rainy morning in Sudan’s southern capital of Juba to mark the countdown to southern Sudan’s self-determination referendum.
The southern referendum, slated for January 9, 2011, was a key provision of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, a landmark accord that ended decades of war between the Khartoum government and the southern rebels, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army.
With only six months until southerners cast their votes in a referendum that analysts widely believe will lead to separation of Sudan’s North and South, youth activists took to the streets of Juba today with one clear message: “separation is our ultimate goal.”
That was the slogan emblazoned on the bright orange shirts distributed en masse by a newly formed organization, the Southern Sudan Youth Forum for Referendum. One leader of the new group, Angelo Diing, a 32-year old businessman from Northern Bahr al Ghazal state, described the forum’s members as “young people who care about the future of southern Sudan.”
“We are all volunteering our time to help,” said Nya Willliam, a young southern Sudanese women who helped plan the inaugural rally of the youth forum. William said she is a civil servant in the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan, though the organizers of the event are careful to note that the youth forum is not being sponsored by the southern government.
Diing said the forum plans to launch events in the coming months in all 10 states in the South. He said the goal of the group is to educate the mostly illiterate southern population about the referendum and to inform them that “this is their chance to decide” their future.
Men, women, and young children flocked to Juba’s football stadium in an ad hoc parade of motorcycles, “matatu” minivans, and the white 4x4s that are ubiquitous in this town, as organizers of the event threw t-shirts out the windows of cars and from their perches in the back of flatbed trucks. Yelling “SPLM Oyee,” a common refrain here, demonstrators voiced support for the South’s ruling party.
Basing themselves at a tall building in town that they’ve named the “Referendum House,” the Southern Sudan Youth Forum is one of a number of youth groups that have sprung up in recent months to raise awareness about the upcoming independence vote. All of these groups have a strong secessionist leaning, indicative of the general sentiment among southerners. Various signs attached to minivans and trucks reinforced these views: “No to the Arabization and Islamization of the South. Yes to Southern Sudan Independent,” read one banner.
Simon Kamis, 20, a secondary school student in Juba, said that he came to rally because he had been informed by his friends about it, and he said that he would definitely vote for secession. “We have been marginalized by the northerners,” Kamis said, echoing a common refrain among the population here that the Khartoum government has not done enough to fulfill the promises they made when they signed the CPA and promised to work with the southern government to “make unity attractive” to all Sudanese citizens.
Said one government official, “This is our ‘orange revolution.’”