“I’m not going backward, I’m moving forward, forward to freedom.” – Southern Sudanese voters in Cairo, Egypt (Source: Reuters Africa)
Jubilation. Euphoria. Joy. Hope. Freedom.
Those are some of the words Southern Sudanese used to describe the elation they felt as they took their final steps towards freedom. The first day of the South’s referendum passed peacefully on Sunday, better than expected with twenty percent turnout of registered voters.
But on its second day, fighting in Abyei, a highly contested area along the North-South Sudan border, resulted in the killing of at least 33 in clashes between the Dinka and Misseriya, sending worrying signals of what’s to come after the referendum.
Abyei is perhaps the golden key to Sudan’s peace and cinderbox to its security. As with the rest of the transitional areas across the border, the heart of Sudan’s future lies in the fate of the Abyei and administration of these contested areas. Rich with oil, Abyei is an area of contestation between the North and the South. The borders remain undemarcated, a decision that was to be implemented immediately after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Longstanding tensions continue between the local Dinka and nomadic Misseriya tribes dating back to the two North-South civil wars. There are regular clashes between the two groups and it is feared they will only intensify after the referendum if steps are not taken to avert further conflict soon.So a country not even born yet is already experiencing serious birthing pains in what should be a wholly joyous time.
It should be a period of jubilation and excitement for all. It should be an exciting moment of reflection and hope for everyone. But its not. The underlying questions of Abyei, border demarcation, and administration of the transitional areas remain unanswered, making the threat of conflict still a possibility after the referendum.
I don’t know what to make of the second day -should we be thinking about the jubiliation felt at the ballot box or the pain from violence at the border?