Kirsten O'Brien/The AS Review
On Jan. 16, the people of southern Sudan made history by voting to secede from the northern part of the country.
Voting took place from Jan. 9 to Jan. 15, and according to preliminary results released by election officials, nearly 95 percent of voters in the southern Sudanese capital of Juba voted in favor of secession. The largest country in Africa has been entrenched in violent civil war since the country gained independence in 1956. The mostly Muslim north has clashed with the largely Christian south for decades, but now, as a result of a peace agreement signed in 2005 by party leaders on both sides, the southern Sudanese were given the opportunity to vote to secede from the north. The final tally will not be released until Feb. 14, and if secession is approved, the newly created southern Sudanese government will not be recognized until officials are sworn in on July 9.
Western student Deng Duot was born in southern Sudan, and immigrated to the United States in 2006. He proudly cast his ballot in a vote that may change the nation forever, and sat down with The AS Review to talk about where Sudan has been and the country’s future.
The AS Review: What has been happening in Sudan that has lead up to the vote for secession by the southern Sudanese?
Deng Duot: Sudan has been in a civil war for almost 50 years. The first war ended in 1972, but happened again in 1983 because the government did not respect the peace accord. So in 2005, southern Sudanese rebels and the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, signed the peace accord. When peace accord was signed, it gave the southern Sudanese the option of where they wanted to be. They could be a separate nation or they could remain part of Sudan.
Review: Where did you go to vote, and how did it feel?
Duot: I voted in Seattle. Sudanese who live around the world were given an opportunity to vote wherever they were.
Everyone who wanted to vote did vote. People from all over the world came to Seattle and other voting places in the U.S.
[Voting] was an unbelievable thing for me. There was this opportunity there so that I can decide my destiny and vote for my rights and be like any other citizen who has a country.
[The southern Sudanese] have a country in which they will be free to whatever they want to do, it’s their home country. For me, it is an opportunity that was there for the first time, and I was really happy to cast my ballot and for other southern Sudanese to cast their ballots to decide what to do.
Review: How has your life been affected by the conflict in Sudan?
Duot: I was born in Sudan, but because of war, my mom left and came to Kenya, and that’s where I grew up. In 2004, I had the opportunity to go home and I saw how beautiful the land was. And then in 2005, I went back to Sudan again. Over there, it’s like home, and home is wherever you feel free to do whatever you want to do. You are always happy because it is your home!
Review: How aware do you think people in the U.S. are of the situation in Sudan?
Duot: I don’t know. Sarah Palin was asked about Africa, and she did not even know where Africa was. And Sarah Palin was someone running for [vice] president. How come people in high positions do not know about what is going on in another part of the world? A few people might know, and I can’t say that the whole population doesn’t know. There are individuals who are interested in knowing what is going on in another part of the world, and they will know.
[According to Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron, Sarah Palin did not understand that Africa was a continent.]
Review: Do you think the southern Sudanese secession is something that people here should be talking about?
Duot: Well it’s not a matter of people talking, it’s a matter of people recognizing something that is new. There are a lot of things that are going on, and people seem to be interested in things for a short time, but after that they just forget. Back in the day, people were talking about the genocide in Darfur. And I don’t know now, how many people are still interested in solving what’s happening in Darfur? Obama was talking about solving the issues in Darfur, but I don’t know, is it still interesting? No. But there are a few individuals, like George Clooney who went to southern Sudan and got malaria, who are still interested in solving those issues. So, a few people are still concerned.
Review: What do you see in Sudan’s future?
Duot: Well, I think the future is going to be bright. That is what people have been thinking since the country’s independence [from England and Egypt in 1956]. These people have been affected by two wars, both internationally and within their own country. People are ready. In every nation there are difficulties, and there are so many means of overcoming them.
Review: On July 9, if the southern Sudanese government officials are sworn in and southern Sudan is recognized as a sovereign nation, how do you think you will feel?
Duot: It will be really good for me, because I’m looking forward to seeing what my future will be. And also, I will know that I am a free citizen in my own country. I want to go and do whatever I can do to help people [in Sudan]…. Seeing myself as a person who has a country, I will express my views, and even stand for something if I want to.