By Bill Hammink, USAID/Sudan Mission Director
JUBA—It has been an uplifting and moving week in Sudan, as we have witnessed the joy and resolve of millions of southern Sudanese as they exercise their right to vote in the referendum on self-determination promised to them in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended more than 20 years of deadly and ruinous war between northern and southern Sudan.
U.S. government observers from USAID and the Department of State have witnessed voters stand for hours in long lines in the hot sun, patiently and cheerfully determined to vote, particularly on Sunday, the first of seven days of voting. We have seen voters swim across a tributary of the Nile to reach their polling station after a local ferry broke down. We have witnessed elderly and handicapped voters being assisted by poll workers who were trained, with USAID assistance, to help voters in need of assistance to cast their vote. We have seen poll workers cheerfully cradling infants in their arms while the babies’ mothers voted. Southern Sudanese have been singing in the streets to express the joy of being able to freely choose their own future.
Voting is scheduled to end on Saturday, but this will not be the end of USAID assistance to the referendum process. USAID’s comprehensive assistance to the referendum process included the establishment of a data center at the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) bureau in Juba, which will tabulate the total number of registered voters and polling results for the referendum. We are also supporting domestic and international observation of the referendum, which is ongoing. In partnership with other donors, including the United Nations, and the SSRC, the Sudanese body in charge of the process, we are extremely gratified that the referendum began on time, and has been peaceful and orderly, with a high level of participation.
Regardless of the outcome of the referendum—whether southern Sudanese choose continued unity with northern Sudan or secession and the launch of a new nation—USAID will continue to work in partnership with the people of Sudan, north and south, to reinforce peace and improve lives and livelihoods.