JUBA and ABYEI, South Sudan — Millions of southern Sudanese turned out to vote this past week, forming long, winding lines at polling stations. When polls first opened on Jan. 9, many voters had been standing in place since 2 a.m.
When counting is finished, which might take weeks, it is expected that the 4 million registered voters in South Sudan will have decided by an overwhelming margin for the South to become independent from the North.
The vote has been marred only by small-scale violence, partly related to land disputes between farmers and nomads in the Abyei area, along the border between North and South.
For the most part, the atmosphere was one of celebration. Southern Sudanese cheered in the streets after casting their votes in the historic referendum. Southern officials said Wednesday that the turnout for the vote — a culmination of decades of civil wars between the mostly Christian South and the predominantly Muslim North that left millions dead — had reached the 60 percent threshold required to validate the results.
Salva Kiir, the president of southern Sudan, which has been semi-autonomous since a peace treaty was signed in 2005, cast his ballot on the morning of Jan. 9 at the John Garang Stadium, named for the former rebel leader and first president of southern Sudan.
Even if the south secedes as expected, the two sides will still have to decide on how to share oil
revenues, a potential flashpoint for further conflict.
Decades of civil war and marginalization have left the economy of southern Sudan in shambles.
Most people scrape by on less than 75 cents a day and more than three-quarters of adults cannot read.
It's a reality they hope independence can help turn around.