FBB’s Peace beneficiary helps secure peaceful referendum in South Sudan


Pictured: NP field team in Mundri, Sudan

After a Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended Sudan’s generation-long North-South civil war in 2005, citizens remained polarized along political and tribal lines.  Resource shortages and human displacement have long contributed to conflict throughout the region, and arms are abundant. As a January 2011 referendum on southern independence approached, the governments of Sudan and semi-autonomous South Sudan maneuvered for partisan advantage.

For two years prior to the referendum in South Sudan, FBB’s current Peace beneficiary Nonviolent Peaceforce worked with local partners to build Sudanese-led violence prevention teams. These teams act as adjuncts to traditional dispute settlement and peacebuilding activities in districts where the risk of election-related violence is especially high.

In addition to providing a proactive presence and protective accompaniment for vulnerable civilians, trained civilian peacekeepers from Nonviolent Peaceforce work with local groups to foster dialogue among parties in conflict. 

Approaching the referendum

While it had been clear for a long time that the south of Sudan would vote overwhelmingly for secession, mixed messages had been coming from the Khartoum-based northern government of Omar Hassan al-Bashir. On December 19, al-Bashir announced that, in the event of southern secession, the north would adopt an Islamic constitution, adding that “at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity.” 

While the aerial attacks that hit the south in November did not continue into December, there were periodic skirmishes between the northern Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The most violent of these clashes took place in Unity State, where an SPLA convoy was ambushed, reportedly by SAF troops, and 12 SPLA soldiers were killed. All involvement in this event has been strongly denied by the north.

For the past two years the Christmas period has seen a spike in Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) activity, and last year was no exception. On 21st December the LRA attacked a village in Maridi County, Western Equatoria, killing two people, injuring four, and abducting around 50. There are fears that the LRA will take advantage of the instability following the referendum to step up their attacks.

Referendum Day

On January 9, inside the main polling center grounds, long lines finally ended at voting tents. Woven among the Sudanese were international elections observers, nongovernmental organization workers and countless media personnel from around the world. Behind the tents, the festivities roar. NP peacekeepers joined in the dancing, much to the delight of the local dancers. “Everywhere, people were hugging and crying,” recalls Tiffany Easthom, Sudan Country Director for NP. “One woman bursts into tears immediately after voting, remembering the father she lost during the war. We drove to center after center and observed the consistent orderliness of the voting.”

Easthom underlines the ongoing seriousness of the situation in South Sudan. “Regardless of the result, Sudan will have to navigate enormous challenges in the coming months. We must not lose focus on the countless vulnerabilities ordinary citizens must manage. Yet, it is worthwhile too, to pause a moment and appreciate the efforts made throughout all of Sudan that have made this referendum a reality.  There is value also in creating space to celebrate the commitments made and honored by all parties to make choices through peaceful processes rather than by force.”

On January 30, the referendum committee published preliminary final results showing 98.83 percent in favor of independence. An independent South Sudan will be created on July 9, 2011.


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