Sunday, January 9, 2011

Voting Begins on the Sudanese Referendum~

This morning I woke to the sound of drums beating out a steady rhythm, waking the world with the good news. It was time to vote.

At church we spent the service in prayer for this nation’s leaders and especially for peace. It’s a historic moment. I’m glad I get to be a part of it.

This afternoon, I was able to visit the voting stations and see history unfold for myself. In spite of the afternoon heat, dozens queued happily for their chance at the blue inked ballot. Since most of the Southerners are illiterate, they are casting their vote by putting a fingerprint beside one of two images. If they want to stay a part of the North, they must choose two hands clasped together in unity. If they want independence, they must put their mark beside the hand waving goodbye. And as they leave the polling station, they must dip their finger in permanent blue dye, to prevent them from voting over and over again.

Snapping off a few pictures of the crowds, I could feel excitement and hope hanging in the air. The day had finally come....and it only took 55 years.
Polling station at neighborhood school.
As we drove from one polling station to another, Sabet, our Sudanese director, explained the history of his home country and why today was so special. Fifty-five years is a long time to wait for independence. Many had to die for this day to come.

He explained that the Southern Sudanese wanted independence in the 1950s but it was denied them. In 1955, a group by the name of “Anyanya” (Rebellion in Dinka) declared war and started fighting the North for freedom. War continued until 1972, when a peace agreement was brokered.

In that agreement, the South was awarded semi-autonomy and a budget to run its own affairs. For this concession, they agreed to remain a part of Sudan and not insist on secession anymore. However, it only lasted 10 years.
Women waiting in line to vote.
By 1983, Sudan was miserably in debt and could no longer afford to let the South govern itself. The nation’s leaders reneged on their agreement and war broke out again. This is when the “Rebellion” resurfaced, calling themselves the SPLA (Sudanese People Liberation Army). Years of bloody skirmishes tore the South apart, leaving generations of widows and orphans. It was ugly.

In 2005, a powerful and well educated SPLA director, John Garang negotiated another peace agreement with the North. But this time the South refused to settle for autonomy. Independence and nothing but independence would do. They would put it to a vote -- thus today’s referendum.
Excited to cast their votes in this historic event.
Garang became Southern Sudan’s first president. Six months later he was killed when his helicopter crashed. The investigation into his death was officially declared an accident, but if you ask anyone in the South they’ll laugh at the thought. It’s widely believed he was assassinated for his political clout and radical ideas.

I’m told he was not asking for independence as we see it today. He was pushing for Sudan to remain one country but with a new constitution that protected religious freedom. He no longer wanted Sudan to be considered a ‘Muslim’ country; but one where even a Christian could be president.
Hanging around after the vote, holding registration cards.
Many believe that had he lived, the South would be in control of hotly disputed lands; The blue Nile region, Abeyie and the Nuba mountains. Had he lived, I wonder if Sudan would be splitting like this. I wonder if the North would be threatening to adopt Sha’rai law. I wonder...

A nation’s hopes, fears and future rest on what happens this week in the polls. Everyone believes independence is assured, so long as Bashir keeps his word. Pray that he does. Also pray that with independence strong, godly leaders will carry this neonate of a nation toward peace. May it one day be called a Christian nation.

Here is an inside peak at the voting process...
Police guard monitoring that voting goes unmolested.
After voting, he dipped his finger in blue dye.
Evidence that his vote is cast.