On Sunday, the fate of 8.2 million southern Sudanese will be put to vote: whether or not to pursue independence. The referendum comes six years after the end of a civil war that cost two million lives. But the prospect of renewed violence is real, causing Christian leaders and others to redouble their efforts at reconciliation.
"It is our golden choice. It is time to choose now," said Joseph Garang Atem Zorial, the Anglican bishop of Renk, a town along Sudan's north-south border. He joins hundreds of religious and political leaders working to make the election fair and fraud-free. He also believes this is the best chance for self-determination in southern Sudan, whose citizens have been subject for decades to rule by an Islamic majority.
There is little doubt what outcome Bishop Joseph favors. "I am campaigning for separation," he told Christianity Today. According to a recent survey, a majority of southern Sudanese support political independence. Bishop Joseph's view is that 95 percent of southerners will vote for it.
Local referendums in oil-rich Abyei and in the border states of south Kordofan and Blue Nile allow advisory votes on political separation. But preparation for the critical vote in Abyei, where the border is in dispute, is behind schedule and it is unlikely to occur on January 9.
Many factors make separation necessary, according to southern Sudanese leaders, including the following:
- Poverty: Sudan's national government exports about $35 million per day of crude oil, mostly from the South. Very little of the oil wealth gets shared with southerners, despite the 2005 peace agreement that required the North to do so. More than half of southern Sudan lives on less than $1 per day. Economic development has stalled for decades.