United Methodist Women Register for Independence Vote in Southern Sudan
United Methodist women in Southern Sudan are joining their neighbors in enthusiastically registering to vote in a January referendum on whether their war-torn land will split off from the north of the country.
A 17-day registration period began on November 15, and in the village of Pisak in Central Equatoria State, United Methodist Women members were among the first in line.
“We all registered early the very first day. We are excited to be able to vote to separate ourselves from the northern government, because for years and years it has oppressed the south,” said Cecilia Akuyu, a United Methodist Women member in Pisak.
The referendum on independence is scheduled for January 9, and Cecilia Asha, another United Methodist Women member in Pisak, said she knew no one who planned to vote against secession. “Everyone in this village is voting yes,” she said.
Citizens of Southern Sudan lined up to register to vote in the January 2011 referendum on secession from the north of the country. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/response
“We’ve lived with war for too long because of the Arabs, and it’s our destiny to be independent. God wants us to be free,” he said.
Registration is taking place at more than 2,000 sites across the country and in eight countries abroad. In order to pass, the January referendum will need at least 60 percent of those who registered to actually cast a ballot.
The vote on independence was mandated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended nearly five decades of conflict—including two civil wars—between the north and south of Sudan. Yet implementing the peace deal hasn’t been easy, and many observers criticize the government in Khartoum for both dragging its feet on key provisions of the CPA while at the same time allegedly working to destabilize the south in the run up to the vote.
In several villages around Yei, United Methodists and other residents have suffered from repeated attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal Ugandan rebel group that has morphed into a transnational terror squad. Although mostly quiet for the past two months, the LRA has especially disrupted life in Western Equatoria State along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which the LRA is currently using as a base. Given the LRA’s use as a proxy militia for the government in Khartoum in years past, many believe the LRA is currently being encouraged by the northern government to launch a series of attacks in early January with the goal of disrupting voting.
“The LRA is ready to disrupt the elections because they don’t want the Sudanese to vote for separation,” said Mr. Sebit, who is the associate district superintendent of The United Methodist Church in Southern Sudan.
Another dispute threatening the success of the January referendum is the future of the border region of Abyei, which has a separate vote scheduled on whether to join the north or the south. The government in Khartoum has insisted that the Misseriya—a nomadic group that annually visits the Abyei region—be allowed to vote, a move that has been resisted by the mostly Ngok Dinka residential majority.
Given the fears that a peaceful referendum is unlikely here, Christian leaders inaugurated in September the campaign of “101 days of prayer for a peaceful referendum in Southern Sudan.” A joint effort of churches in Southern Sudan and abroad, the ecumenical effort has brought together people around the world to pray that no matter the outcome of the vote, peace will prevail.
Mr. Sebit said that on November 13, two days before registration began, United Methodists in Yei participated in an ecumenical service in the Roman Catholic cathedral, joining people of other denominations in specifically praying that the registration would be successful and peaceful.
“We know that God hears our prayers, and we prayed that God will help us to be independent and live in peace,” he said. “We want our children’s future to be different than the painful past we have endured.”
In the United States, Sudan was a special focus of United Methodist Women–sponsored schools of mission during the past two years.
Paul Jeffrey is senior correspondent of response magazine and currently on assignment in Southern Sudan. His coverage of events there will appear in a spring issue of the magazine.