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A Sudanese election official shows a sample ballot paper to people being trained as fellow election officials ahead of Sunday's general election, in the village of Mvolo in Western Equatorial State, April 7, 2010.
Ishbel Matheson is director of media at Save the Children and is blogging from South Sudan over the election period.
Juba election fever?
Tuesday April 6, 2010
We are flying above a scrubby desert, then suddenly close to a large rocky outcrop. There's the silver glint of the river Nile as it snakes through the hot earth, and the town of Juba scattered on either bank.
Juba: a historic town in the vast territory of south Sudan. Wars have been fought here, colonial explorers struggled to reach here, and deals determining the future of the peoples of the south have been struck here.
Now the first elections in the south for over 20 years are approaching. Not that Juba seems gripped with election fever.
Massive election posters with solemn pictures of the president and vice-president are on display at the airport and on road corners. But otherwise, it looks and feels pretty much like many other towns across the region - only the rusting tanks in the streets tell a different story.
Since a peace deal was signed between North and South Sudan in 2005, and Juba was selected as the capital, the town has boomed, I'm told.
In a tell-tale sign of the first flush of peace, new buildings have sprung up everywhere - tall mobile telephone towers and hotels to accommodate the new influx of visitors, NGOs and businessmen. My hotel is run and staffed by Kenyans.
But there are negatives too. Children beg in the markets because of shocking levels of poverty. South Sudan remains one of the poorest places on earth.
So five years of peace, but kids are finding it tough. Much has been done, but as one Save the Children staff member told me yesterday, "This is just the beginning..."
Twelve votes each
Wednesday April 7, 2010
We're driving from Juba north to Mvolo to see some of Save the Children's health work, on what's been described to me as the 'highway'. In fact, it's a good, red dust road, rocky in bits, but a huge improvement on the one before.
Before the North-South peace agreement, my colleague Antony tells me it used to take three weeks to do a journey which today will take six hours. Wearying in the heat - but not impossible.
In one of the villages we pass through, there's a small group seated in plastic chairs under a spreading mango tree, listening intently to a woman official. It's not electioneering - but voter education, I'm told.
Later, chatting around dinner at the Save the Children guest house, I understand why such sessions are needed. Every voter in the South has no less than 12 separate votes to make during the poll. I'm pretty incredulous - 12?
We start trying to add them up, but once we've got past presidential (national), presidential (in the south), MPs (national), MPs (in the south), state governors and state assemblies, we begin to lose track.
It's an awful lot of voting though - especially in a place where the vast majority of the population has never voted before.
We figure out that in the Mvolo area, only someone over the age of 50 would have voted before - no-one sitting around me has ever taken part in an election.
I can't help but compare it to the UK election, which was also called today. In the five-week campaigning jamboree, it'll be difficult to ignore the politicians out touting for votes.
Here in South Sudan, it's not a question of 'getting out the vote', but getting to the vote in this vast country.
And yet, despite the complexities of the poll being organised in a country that's mostly inaccessible by road, and where ballot boxes are dropped off by U.N. helicopters, everyone I meet is planning to vote, taking days off work to travel to their home regions where they've registered.
There is a genuine sense of quiet anticipation - a recognition that this election is an important milestone on the way to an enduring peace.
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