Southern Sudanese vote for independence nearly unanimous
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Feb 9, 2011 - 6:51:43 AM
|Southern Sudanese vote for independence nearly unanimous
By Dale McFeatters
Africa's newest country is so new it doesn't have a currency, a national anthem or even, really, a name. Some call it Southern Sudan, others South Sudan. Maybe its people will give it a new name before full independence in July.
On July 9, the Southern Sudanese voted on independence. The final margin, announced Monday, was 98.8 percent for. That kind of near-unanimity is more typical of the reelection of Third World dictators, but this election appears to be not only honest but also wholly representative of the will of the people. In the run-up to the referendum, The Economist's reporter on the scene said he couldn't find a single person prepared to vote for continued unity.
It was a long bloody slog getting to that point. A two-decades-long civil war killed 2 million people, most of them southerners. The war ended in a truce in 2005, with the north grudgingly conceding that the south could vote on independence. Perhaps surprisingly, the north honored that commitment with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, a wanted war criminal for his brutal suppression of separatist movements and ethnic minorities, saying he wanted to be the first to congratulate the south on the vote.
A newly independent Southern Sudan goes against the dogma of the African Union, which firmly believes any changes in the borders imposed on it by the European colonial powers, no matter how arbitrary and inconvenient, only incites tribal dissension and bloody breakaway attempts.
But dividing into two separate countries was the only solution for Sudan. The larger north is Arab, Muslim and determined to impose Islamic sharia law. The south is black, Christian and animist, with a long history of ethnic persecution by the north.
The two entities cannot totally disentangle themselves. They will of necessity become major trading partners and they must still agree on a final border and particularly the division of oil fields that straddle the border. The north has further incentive: The United States has indicated that if the north does not impede the south's independence or meddle in its internal affairs, Washington would lift its designation as a state sponsor of terror, meaning sanctions would be lifted and diplomatic relations restored.
The United States has promised to recognize Southern Sudan as soon as it becomes formally independent. The U.S. is already the largest aid donor in the region, sponsoring road, electricity and water projects. But the challenges remain enormous. Southern Sudan has barely 60 miles of paved road; 85 percent of its 8.7 million people are illiterate; a health care system doesn't exist.
But the Southern Sudan or South Sudan or whatever is finally on the road to full independence, and that counts for something.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer of Scripps Howard News Service (www.scrippsnews.com).
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