x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Anger over prospect of division in Sudan

The mood in Sudan is just as divided as the country appears destined to be.

KHARTOUM // The mood in Sudan yesterday was just as divided as the country appears destined to be.

While most south Sudanese celebrated the start of voting for the creation of a new, independent nation, their compatriots in the north lamented what Hassan Mekki describes as a "black day for all of Sudan".

They blamed the referendum on machinations by the West and the procrastination of the government of President Omar al Bashir, and they doubted the viability of a future south Sudan state. Many like Mekki, a taxi driver, said that for all of the enthusiasm of the south's voters, many were actually opposed to the split of Africa's largest country.

"Many southerners left the south because they were not getting proper medical care or the right education," said Mr Mekki. "A few days ago, President Bashir said he would make many allowances for southerners if they voted for unity, but for them, this came far too late. Of course, there are some southerners who want to enjoy independence, but I do not think they make up the majority."

He believes the government had ample time to swing the vote in their favour but made little effort.

Fatimah Mahgoub, a housewife, said she had spoken to many southerners, who said they wanted Sudan to stay unified. She said they had given in to outside intimidation.

"The people themselves? They obviously don't want to be divided. We know this type of pressure can only come from the West, from places like America for their own benefit," Mrs Mahgoub said.

Iman Abdullahi Ibrahim, who works at a sugar company in Khartoum, said there were never any real issues between the people of the north and south. The problems, Ms Ibrahim said, were created by the leaders of the south and the north.

"At a time when we should have been developing together as a nation, this referendum instead set us far back. The government of Khartoum should have made more efforts to bring the south closer," she said. "We will soon see countries in the West dictating how the south should be run," said Ms Ibrahim.

Not all northern Sudanese blamed outsiders or their government for the likely outcome of the vote. Ghada Hassab al Rasoul, a schoolteacher in Khartoum, said the separation of north and south was inevitable.

"Even though we sought peace and share the same land, we do not share the same way of life. That is why I believe it will be good to split for the benefit of the southerners who will then be able to enjoy a better life and not just continue to be domestic workers," said Mrs Al Rasoul said.

The referendum perhaps posed the biggest dilemma to some of the 116,000 south Sudanese living in the north. They were some of the estimated four million registered southern Sudanese voters who went to polling stations yesterday, not only in the south but also in the capital Khartoum.

Outside one of the polling centres, The Tahnun Secondary School in Al Giref, tens of heavily armed policemen stood guard to ensure the safety of both staff and voters.

John Mading, from Wao in south Sudan, said his family had been living in Khartoum for generations. He was one of the 441 southerners who registered to vote at the centre.

"I have hope for unity. I do not understand how it is possible to suddenly separate," said Mr Mading. "It is really not a good situation."

He said most of the southerners he knows share his sentiments.

Osman Mohamed Hamad al Imam, a member of the Southern Sudan Referendum Committee and president of the Tahnun Secondary School polling centre, said the polling process was likely to be extended.

"The polling is to end on the 15th of January but there is a possibility it will be later than this date. The results may also take some time because all polling centres must send the ballots to Khartoum for an official count," said Mr al Imam.

By mid-afternoon only 37 voters had turned up at the Tahnun Secondary School polling centre, including Mary Akok, who has lived in Khartoum since 1982. She said that after the vote she might return south with her children, who had never been there.

"I want the country to stay as it is. However, if the north and south separate, perhaps it will be a good time to go back. It's a strange time."