Home Discussion Papers Optimistic Africa Southern Sudan: The impact of the referendum on real lives
Southern Sudan: The impact of the referendum on real lives
Written by Veleska Langeveldt (1) Monday, 02 May 2011 05:20

Sudan is the largest country on the African continent. Its geographical, ethnic and cultural diversity contributes much to the conflict in this African ‘hot spot.’ This country has witnessed two rounds of north-south civil war, which claimed the lives of approximately 1.5 million people and displaced millions more.(2) The ongoing crisis in Darfur alone has resulted in the loss of more than 200,000 lives and the displacement of two million people.(3) Darfur has proved to be one of the most challenging African conflicts to resolve. According to Adebajo, the situation in Darfur “is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the world today, and represents the biggest test for the African Union’s new peacekeeping ambitions.”(4)

Sudan is due to split into two separate states in July 2011.(5) Citizens living in the south of Sudan clearly expressed their desire to form an independent state in the January 2011 referendum. The promise of Africa’s newest state has sparked much optimism in southerners and the international community at large. Abiong Nyok, a Southern Sudanese housewife told the BBC that "The results of the referendum mean I am free today... Now I am a first class citizen in my own country.”(6) Despite fear and speculation that conflict could flare up between the north and south again, peace in Sudan could yield great economic dividends. Sudan is rich in oil, gold, cotton and cultivatable land, which can promote prosperity amongst Sudanese people.(7) This CAI paper considers how the 2011 referendum has restored hope to the lives of many ordinary Southern Sudanese citizens after decades of conflict.

Women are making their voices heard

Thousands of women voted in the January 2011 referendum in the hope of better lives for themselves and most importantly, for their children.(8) Women suffered significantly during both civil wars. They were the victims of humanitarian crimes, rape, violence, and they watched helplessly as rebels tortured and killed their spouses and children. Aside from war, women in Sudan did not have access to social services over the past decades. For this reason, thousands of women jumped at the opportunity to vote in the referendum and make their voices heard. One such woman is Elizabeth Tiko, a young mother of two children, who felt that her vote was her contribution to peace and a prosperous future for her children.(9) Tiko believes that by voting, she placed an indelible mark on the future of Southern Sudan and contributed to sustainable peace.

Alice Zekia is another young mother who voted in the referendum. She voted with the hope of securing a bright future for her one-year old son.(10) Zekia believes that the Government needs to invest in education, water and health. Her desire is to see her child grow up in a safe and healthy environment, in which he can achieve his dreams. Sudanese women were eager to add their voices to the growing call for peace in Sudan and have consequently become more politicised, more aware and more hopeful in the belief that the can make a difference as women.(11)

Professionals return home

During Sudan’s second civil war, professionals were targets for violence and educational opportunities were very limited. This led to many professionals immigrating abroad, resulting in a ‘brain-drain’. Mayen Achiek, a Sudanese doctor, fled the country during the second civil war, and set up a new life for himself in the United Kingdom (UK). He has been practising in London for the past 17 years, but now expressed his intent to return home.(12) Achiek says that he feels very guilty for leaving a country that needed his expertise so desperately. He intends to return to south Sudan and work as a volunteer. Although he is realistic about the challenges that face this new country, the referendum has sparked much optimism in him. It has given him the courage to take his family back to his home to continue building a life there.(13)

Achiek is eager to render his expertise and service in his country’s attempt to rebuild itself. He states that “at my point of career and training it can be easier. It is the people who make institutions, and it is my strong belief that I can build a wonderful institution around myself that can mimic any institution in London.”(14) He realizes rebuilding southern Sudan’s infrastructure will not be an easy task, but he believes that his fellow countrymen are as committed to the task as he is.  The January 2011 referendum has given them hope that a once conflict-torn country can be transformed into one of peace and tolerance.

Hope and liberation for ordinary people

Street children have suffered greatly in Sudan due to hunger, exposure to the elements and violent gangsters who try to steal the little these children receive from people. Ajal Kaba, a 15-year old street child in Juba, hopes to finally attain the education he dreams of.  He says that, “My hope is for education and a better life after the referendum.”(15) Kaba’s parents lost their livestock in the civil war. When they became too poor to feed their children, Kaba left for Juba in hopes of finding people who would be kind enough to give him food. Kaba and other street children anticipate a better life under the leadership of the future Government of Southern Sudan.(16)

Joshua, a 27 year-old civic educator living in Kakuma, Kenya, lost contact with his parents when they were fleeing from a surprise attack on their refugee camp. He intends to return home and take care of his parents. As a civic educator, he played an important role in informing illiterate people about the referendum and how to vote. He says that being included in the voting process made people feel proud.(17) “I feel proud of the referendum because it is a historical process that will actually liberate people,”(18) he said. For Joshua and other displaced Sudanese citizens, the referendum has afforded them the opportunity to return home and be reunited with their loved ones after years of separation. The referendum has brought hope, liberation and freedom to millions of victims of the Sudanese civil wars.(19)

A new national anthem for Southern Sudan

Students and staff from the Juba University in Southern Sudan competed in an ‘X Factor’ type talent show, to create the best national anthem for their new country.(20) These individuals performed before an enthused crowd and musicians. The Chairman of the committee that were tasked with writing the anthem, Josepf Abuk, said that "It started with the idea that at this moment in history, it was very important to start building a national anthem.”(21) The hall was packed despite the harsh heat. The crowd came out to support the writing of their new national anthem. Many stood with tears in their eyes at the joyous thought of their new found freedom, after decades of turmoil and civil war. One of the composers of the final song, Mido Samuel, proudly announced that "The national anthem for me means I declare … that I am free... We declare that we are independent now, we are a country.”(22) A group of 49 poets contributed to what would constitute the final lyrics of the new anthem that would unite south Sudan, titled ‘South Sudan Oyee.’ 

Concluding remarks

The formal declaration of south Sudan’s independence is to be made on 9 July 2011, though there are still uncertainties about the stability of both regions.(23) The 2011 referendum has united the people of Southern Sudan in a sense of hope and excitement for what the future holds. It is their chance to finally achieve their aspirations and build a stable, peaceful and prosperous nation.


(1) Contact Veleska Langeveldt through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Optimistic Africa Unit ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).
(2) ‘Sudan country profile’, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Adebajo, A. 2008. The peacekeeping travails of the AU and the Regional Economic Communities. The African Union and its institutions. Centre for Conflict Resolution. pp. 131-161.
(5) Ibid.
(6) David Smith, ‘The Sudan referendum’, The Guardian, 7 February 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk.
(7) ‘Sudan country profile’, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk.
(8) Swangin Bismarck, ‘Women vote for peace in southern Sudan’s referendum to give their children a bright future’, UNICEF, 10 January 2011, http://www.unicef.org.
(9) Ibid.
(10) Ibid.
(11) Ibid.
(12) ‘The UK doctor planning to return to Sudan’, BBC News, 13 January 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(13) Ibid.
(14) Ibid.
(15) ‘In-depth: Sudan’s referendum’, IRIN News, 17 January 2011, http://www.irinnews.org.
(16) Ibid.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Ibid.
(19) Ibid.
(20) Peter Martell, ‘A song for south Sudan: writing a new national anthem’, BBC News, 12 January 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk.
(21) Ibid.
(22) Ibid.
(23) David Smith, ‘The Sudan referendum’, The Guardian, 7 February 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk.


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