Sudan: overwhelming vote in favour of southern independence
31 January 2011

Peaceful election process marks another step towards future stability, Juba, Sudan
To sit back complacently and expect oil revenue to simply develop the country, as if by the waving of a magic wand, would not only be disappointing, but a disastrous mistake.
Juba, 27 January 2010 – According to sources reported by Voice of America, more than 90 percent of Southern Sudanese have voted in favour of independence.

Although international monitors had expressed worries about the 2010 elections, the first ever in the country, the referendum has been hailed by all as free and fair.

"Many other African nations would do well to emulate Southern Sudan in terms of its electoral standards", said Coordinator of JRS Pastoral Programme in Lobone, Richard O'Dwyer SJ.

"I returned to Lobone the second week of January. There was not a hint of panic or complaint to be found. People here were voting as if it was second nature and a lifelong habit", continued Fr O'Dwyer.

"When one realises that Southern Sudan is one of the poorest and least developed places in the world, I feel a great deal of admiration for the manner in which both registration for and the referendum itself has been conducted", added Fr O'Dwyer.

Another promising sign for the future was the apology by Sudan's President Omar Al Bashir, who visited Southern Sudan a week before the referendum; few could have anticipated his turnaround. The Sudanese President said he would be the first to accept an independent Southern Sudan.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, Fr O'Dwyer recognised the dire need for good governance and significant investment in the autonomous region. The investment of public resources, particularly in terms of basic infrastructure, water, and electricity, as well as the establishment of schools, clinics, hospitals, phone networks, etc, must be considered a main priority.

Furthermore, the full and proper training of men and women in the public administration, teaching, medicine, law and every recognised trade and profession needs to be put into immediate effect.

"To sit back complacently and expect oil revenue to simply develop the country, as if by the waving of a magic wand, would not only be disappointing, but a disastrous mistake", said the Jesuit priest.

A vigorous civil society

In the days leading up to the referendum many groups organised events and initiatives to help promote tolerance and ensure a peaceful environment.

One such initiative, 101 Days of Prayer for a Peaceful Referendum, was organised by JRS partners Solidarity with Southern Sudan, Catholic Relief Services and the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference. Due to his experience in the field of peace education, JRS Southern Sudan Education Coordinator, Francis Biryaho, was invited to join the main working group to identify contributors and daily themes.

A central component of the initiative was a prayer book, Reflections for 101 Days of Prayer Towards a Peaceful Referendum in Sudan: Change Your Heart Change the World, which included reflections from the organisers and other civil society groups, including Dr Biryaho who wrote two articles: A Reflection on Justice and Peace and Peace and Development.

The initiative began on 21 September 2010, International Day of Peace, and ended on 1 January, Catholic World Day of Peace.




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James Stapleton
international.communications@jrs.net
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