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SUDAN: Some Southerners Have Hope For Unity By 2011

Yazeed Kamaldien

KHARTOUM, Jan 28 2008 (IPS) - Citizens from Sudan’s southern region, long caught in a power struggle with their country’s northern-controlled government, are looking with a mixture of hope and uncertainty to 2011 when they will vote in a referendum on whether or not the south will remain part of Sudan.

Referendums will be held simultaneously in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and Abyei on whether to become part of Southern Sudan or of Sudan.

Conflicts between the Sudanese government and rebel groups in various parts of Sudan have ensured that the country is home to the world’s largest number of internally displaced persons – six million at last count. This includes citizens from the south, Nuba region, eastern Sudan and Darfur.

Because of inexperience, corruption and the international media&#39s decision to focus on Darfur, Southern Sudan has been slow to build a viable infrastructure after its government was formed following 21 years of north-south civil warfare in 2005.

Southerners who have settled in the north – particularly in the capital city Khartoum – say they want unity for their country. But they also say that unity depends on whether the country’s government implements the decisions outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed between it and the former rebel fighters, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), in 2005. One of the CPA’s provisions is the referendum, it also aims to develop democratic governance countrywide and share oil revenues.

"The peace agreement made everybody happy, especially in the south," said Charles Wani Ladu, a journalist at the Khartoum Monitor newspaper based in the capital who left his home in south Sudan to study mass communication at Juba University. "It’s changed things for the better. It has changed people’s feelings. There was a lot of suffering in people’s minds. Now, with peace, there’s rest in their minds."

"This gives a path for unity," Ladu told IPS. "The southerners took up arms because of marginalisation. After the signing there must be rights to services and job opportunities. There should be equality in everything. A united Sudan can be attained. The authorities can do it."

Focusing on the 2011 referendum, Ladu says, the "unity of Sudan or separation of the south depends on the implementation of the CPA on the ground".

"There has been so much conflict in Juba," Ladu says. "We were going to school while there was fighting between the [Sudanese] government and rebels [SPLM]. The rebels injured civilians while attacking the government. But now people are going to school peacefully," he explained.

"For some it will be different to go back [to the south]. They’re used to services that they got in the north. There are no services, maybe a little, in the south. There’s not a lot of public transport. The roads are still few. It’s just beginning to be constructed," Ladu said, stressing, "Others will go back and maybe they will support development."

Sebit Ernest Apuktong, a third-year veterinary student at Bahr al-Ghazal University in Khartoum, was born shortly before the north-south bloodshed began. Apuktong is involved with the Sudanese Association for Youth Development and conducts workshops to encourage trust between youth from the south and north. Although Apuktong saw the southern region only during his childhood, he says he dreams of returning to "start youth groups".

"I saw the south when I was in primary school. I travelled to Upper Nile State. I visited two towns. I stayed there for a few months. But my family decided to stay in Khartoum because there are better services and education here," Apuktong told IPS, alluding to the lack of basic services in the south. The south has not seen which has not seen development since the days of British colonialism, he says.

"My father is a self-employed engineer working in the construction industry. But he’s not a member of any political party so it’s more difficult to find a job. My mother is a nurse. When my parents have no work in Khartoum they go back to the south to find work and me and my siblings stay in Khartoum," he adds. Apuktong says that life in the north ensures that his "needs are filled".

"Right now I am studying to develop myself. And the first area that should benefit from me is south Sudan," says Apuktong.

"To stay in Khartoum is good for me. But if I stay here, what will I give the south? I want to see improvements in the south so I need to go there and make it good. I want to help make it better." He says his friends who have travelled to the south tell him that there "are many resources but there are no services".

"Things are starting to develop and education and health services are improving, but slowly. This makes life difficult. Many southerners stay in the north," he adds. "They have jobs. Their children are at schools here. The north is better. It’s very safe. There are too many problems between tribes in the south. In some places, people carry guns during the day. The only problem in the north is that you cannot say anything against the government."

Apuktong says it is difficult to tell which would be best – unity or independence from the north for the south – because "we don’t know what either would be like". "Too many people have died and too much money has been spent on fighting," he says.

At Angie’s Beauty Salon in Khartoum, two young hairstylists talk about their hopes for Sudan. Susie Taban says she left Juba for Khartoum in 1991. She hasn’t been back to the south but says she has heard that the "situation has changed".

"Peace between north and south is good for Sudan. Before the peace agreement, I preferred separation, but after peace was signed it looks like unity is okay," says Taban.

"We’re all Sudanese citizens. We can solve our problems together. We had a lot of problems in the past. The northerners mistreated us here in Khartoum. It was difficult to find a house or a job. Most of our people lived in camps and to get a good job was difficult. I was young but I saw how my parents suffered," she says.

Peace has also brought a sense of freedom, Taban explained, "we can talk freely about anything without being humiliated. In the past we could not discuss anything. We could be taken to prison."

Taban’s colleague, Esther David, is a college student who helps out at Angie’s on a part-time basis. She was born in Uganda but grew up in Khartoum. "I know that peace is good for Sudan. In the past, we had no chance to visit our relatives in the south, because of insecurity," she said. "I don’t usually go to the south but I visited my family in Juba when we had holidays. I want one Sudan. It’s all the same and we are all the same. There’s no need for differences."

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