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Reporter's notebook: Juba's hour has come

Text by Melissa BELL , in Juba, South Sudan

Latest update : 2011-01-10

As the January 9 referendum on the independence of South Sudan nears, joyful anticipation builds in the region. France 24's reporter Melissa Bell tells the story.

Monday, January 10, 2011

From weapons to ballots

For the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), it was the proudest of moments. And even the youngest stood a few inches taller. A long line stretched outside the headquarters of the rebel militia turned regular army. At its end lay the chance to cast a vote for that which guns had failed to secure: equality, more so even than independence.

When southerners first took to the bush in rebellion, their struggle was more about civil rights and equal opportunities than about breaking away. But after two wars failed to heal this feeling of injustice, more and more came to believe that equality could not be achieved without independance.

It is hard to find anyone, whether from the north or the south, who still thinks unity could be an attractive option for the people of South Sudan. The real question is whether the divorce can take place on friendly terms.

But for the soldiers at the SPLA's main barracks in Juba, the vote marks the end of a very long battle - one many of them, both young and old, have been fighting since childhood.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

First to vote

Many of them had camped out overnight. For others, even those who arrived several hours before polling station opened, it was already too late.

All of them had wanted to be the first to vote.

So they queued, young and old, for hours in the baking sun. Some had known the first civil war that lasted from 1963 until 1972. Others had known only the second civil war which lasted from 1983 until 2005. All had known more war than peace.

But now the ballot box can give them what they had fought so hard for. And the smiles on the faces of those who had just voted said it all.

I asked one man leaving a voting booth - who arrived at 4am and queued for 6 hours - why he did not just wait to vote later in a poll that is due to last all week. "Because," he said, "after voting I am free".

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Anticipation builds

Juba is celebrating. Voting will not start until Sunday morning, and the result of the referendum will not be known until mid January and even if the country does choose independence, it will not get it until July.

And yet, the people are already dancing in the streets.

That’s because in many respects the worst case scenario - which was that either logistics or Khartoum would get in the way of the holding a referendum at all - seem to have been avoided. And independence seems now so close to the people of southern Sudan, that they can almost taste it.

Generations have fought for it. Not just against the Arabs of Northern Sudan, but even before that against the Egyptians and the British. And tomorrow by putting a thumb print on a piece of paper the people of southern Sudan have the possibility of gaining independence and with it the right to bring this land that time forgot into the 21st century.

Already speculators and a varied assortment of chancers and adventures are turning Juba into a sort of Wild West frontier town. Everything here is yet to be built and the untapped ground is rich in minerals.

No doubt the future will bring its fair share of troubles. But for now Juba can look no further than the freedom that the people have long fought for.

Friday, January 7, 2011.

Unity's final hours

Juba has never been so hopeful. Its shabby walls are plastered with posters promising what so many here have spent much of their adult lives fighting for: peace. Trucks bearing loudspeakers encourage those who might still have any doubt of the need to vote on Sunday in favour of independence.

In this part of the world, more accustomed to fighting than to voting, there is a sense of disbelief that a simple cross on a ballot paper next to a hand held up against unity will bring what two civil wars failed to. And so the sense of hope and excitement in this town of former rebels and lifelong, war-weary soldiers is palpable.

A screen at the town's main crossroads counts down not just the days but the minutes and the seconds left before polls open and southern Sudan votes on whether or not it wants to become Africa's newest nation. And there is no doubt as to which way the vote will go. The will of the people has been written in blood here more often than anyone cares to remember.

Date created : 2011-01-07


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