Preliminary results of a recent referendum indicate that Sudan's southern region is on track to become Africa's newest country. It will be known as “The Republic of South Sudan,” beginning in July 2011.
Officials in the semi-autonomous southern region announced their prospective country's likely new name, “South Sudan” for short, on Jan. 23.
During the week of Jan. 9-15, more than three million Sudanese citizens who belong ethnically or religiously to the country's southern population, participated in a long-awaited vote on independence from the country's north.
Most of these self-identified Southern Sudanese are black Africans, and practice either Christianity or native religions. They have, as expected, voted overwhelmingly to separate from the largely Muslim and Arab north.
By Jan. 24, with just over one percent of the votes remaining to be counted, 98.8 percent of the voters had chosen secession for the south.
As of that date, 98.7 percent of votes cast in southern locations had been counted by the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau, based in the southern administrative capital of Juba. All of the votes cast by southerners living in the north have already been tallied by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission in the capital city of Khartoum.
Most southern districts reported that voters had chosen secession almost unanimously, at rates typically approaching 99.9 percent. The southern state most favorable to maintaining unity with the north, Western Bahr El Ghazal, still voted for secession at a rate of more than 95 percent.
Only among the 70,000 self-identified southerners living and voting in the north, was there any significant ambivalence about secession. They favored southern secession over unity by a margin of only 15.3 percent. However, this population represented a small percentage of the nearly 3.8 million total voters who participated in the referendum.
Sudan's two dominant populations have fought two civil wars –over resources, religion, and political power– that left 2.5 million people dead between 1955 and 2005. The most recent peace treaty between the two sides gave the south, already semi-autonomous, the right to vote on becoming an independent country.
A final result is scheduled to be announced between Feb. 7 and Feb. 14, depending on whether the vote counts are challenged in any way. However, international monitoring agencies have not disputed the results, and the Khartoum government has indicated it will accept the referendum as legitimate.
Once certified, South Sudan's independence will not take full effect until July of 2011. A number of issues still remain to be worked out between the north and south, including questions about borders, debt, water rights, and the status of southerners living in the north – many of whom are concerned that the Khartoum government will attempt to implement Islamic law more strictly in the future.