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Sudan Vote Could Cleave Africa’s Largest Country in 2

December 30, 2010 at 5:42 PM EDT
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In the first of two reports, special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye examines the mood in Sudan leading up to a referendum that could split the war-torn country in two. He reports from the southern city of Juba, which is poised to become the capital if, as many expect, residents of the oil-rich South vote to split from the North.

RAY SUAREZ: And we turn to the African nation of Sudan. A referendum set for next month could split the already war-torn country in two.

Special correspondent Jeffrey Kaye has the first of two reports on the challenges and opportunities if the South declares independence.

JEFFREY KAYE: The dusty city of Juba in South Sudan could be on the verge of becoming the capital of the world’s newest country. With less than two weeks before the South votes on whether or not to secede from the North, there’s a palpable sense of excitement and anticipation.

If there is separation, do you think that your life will change?

MAN: Yes, my life will change.


MAN: My life will change, because things are now very hard, and a lack of job opportunities is also here in the South.

DR. JUSTIN BRUNO, Al Sabah Hospital: If independence comes, from day one, there’ll be a lot of development.

JEFFREY KAYE: Already, Juba has the hallmarks of a boomtown. Laborers are putting up commercial and government buildings. Storefronts are conducting a brisk trade in construction materials. There’s traffic congestion, vibrant commerce, and the hope by many for rapid change.

WOMAN (through translator): I will vote for separation, because then we will have water.

MAN: We were not accepted to join the national universities. We need to be free, so that we have our own school to be free.

JEFFREY KAYE: On posters plastered around Juba, an illustration of a hand waving goodbye has become an icon of independence. It’s the symbol of separation that will appear on the ballot when the referendum begins on January 9.

Opinion polls indicate that voters in South Sudan, which is largely African, Christian, and traditionalist, will vote overwhelmingly to secede from the North, which is mostly Arab and Muslim. Independence would split Africa’s largest country into two, after decades of civil war that ended with a 2005 peace agreement and semi-autonomy for the South.

South Sudan remains a largely preindustrial region, whose people are among the poorest on the planet, a cruel irony, since the area has vast reserves of oil. Its flow, however, is controlled by the North. That’s one reason the stakes are so high.

Right now, oil income is supposed to be equally divided, but many Southern Sudanese, such as Dr. Justin Bruno, believe the South isn’t getting its fair share.

DR. JUSTIN BRUNO: We’re supposed to get 50 percent, but the figures from the experts show that we get less than 26 percent, because we don’t control it. But if independence comes, that means the Southerners will be in control of their resources.

JEFFREY KAYE: But how will the oil riches be shared? There are fears of renewed violence if the South secedes and the two sides don’t reach agreement on the division of oil revenues.

The United States, which has no official position on secession, has been pushing for a peaceful and fair referendum. The U.S. is stepping up its presence in South Sudan.

R. BARRIE WALKLEY, U.S. Consul General: With an increased American engagement in Southern Sudan, we have to be able to house our people. And so we’re building new housing here on our compound.

JEFFREY KAYE: So, everyone is a boomtown, including the American Consulate?

R. BARRIE WALKLEY: That’s right.

JEFFREY KAYE: It’s amazing.

R. BARRIE WALKLEY: Juba is a boomtown everyplace.

JEFFREY KAYE: R. Barrie Walkley is the U.S. consul general in Juba.

R. BARRIE WALKLEY: I have never seen a country which will be starting out with as little infrastructure as Southern Sudan will be starting with, should the referendum result in a vote for separation.

JEFFREY KAYE: The U.S. has become the largest donor of humanitarian aid.

R. BARRIE WALKLEY: We spend around $280 million a year in Southern Sudan on development and assistance projects. And we spend about another $100 million to $150 million a year on food aid.

JEFFREY KAYE: One U.S. program headed by Ambassador Robert Loftis is the State Department’s six-year-old Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization.

AMB. ROBERT LOFTIS, coordinator, Reconstruction and Stabilization: All right, we’re heading up to Rumbek, which is the capital of Lakes state. The idea is to meet with the governor and some of his officials and talk about progress on the referendum.

JEFFREY KAYE: We accompanied Loftis during part of a recent fact-finding trip from Washington to South Sudan. Loftis flew with three staff members to the town of Rumbek, 190 miles northwest of Juba.

In Rumbek, like the rest of South Sudan, most people live in thatched huts without electricity. They have limited or no access to schools, health care or drinking water. Paved roads are rare. In South Sudan, the vast majority of adults, including police and government officials, are illiterate.

The first stop for Ambassador Loftis was the office of Lakes state Governor Chol Tong.

AMB. ROBERT LOFTIS: When we have our people here, what would be the most useful thing for you for us to help you work on?

CHOL TONG, Lakes State Governor: In the area of water, because the water issue makes people not to be stable and is one of the causes of the conflict.

JEFFREY KAYE: People often move with their cattle to obtain water, so its control and availability is a major source of tension and violence, particularly among rival ethnic groups. A year ago, at least 140 people were killed and thousands of animals stolen after raids on cattle herders.

Governor Tong says more water wells will reduce the conflict.

CHOL TONG: The long term for solution is that, at the rural areas, we have failed to help increase the number of bore holes. And we have to see to it how they are going to be maintained.

JEFFREY KAYE: Do you have the money to do that?

CHOL TONG: We don’t have money. And that is where our problem is. And that’s why we are asking our development partners and our friends to help in that area.

JEFFREY KAYE: Do you want money or do you want the equipment?

CHOL TONG: What I need is the equipment. It’s not money.

JEFFREY KAYE: What’s the most urgent need?

DR. MARTHA MARTIN, Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly: Roads are very important, because, in this country, we don’t have road in our country to even transport, to have things to come to the country.

JEFFREY KAYE: South Sudan Parliament member Dr. Martha Martin says the primitive state of roads, often impassable during the rainy season, hinders commerce and prevents access to schools, health care and food.

To address the problem, the U.S. Agency for International Development is funding construction of South Sudan’s first paved highway.

Right now, there are no paved roads or railways linking population centers, no efficient way to move people or goods in an area the size of France. This 120-mile stretch of road now under construction will eventually link the city of Juba to the sea. So, in a very real sense, by constructing this highway, the government is laying the foundation for a new economy.

Investors see opportunity. Among them is China, the Sudan oil industry’s largest investor and customer. China provides foreign assistance to South Sudan and recently opened a consulate in Juba right next to a Chinese-owned hotel. A Beijing-based developer is building another Juba hotel, the Eastern Pearl.

The time is right for Chinese investors, says Serena Chen, an official with the hotel firm.

SERENA CHEN, Chinese developer: Next year, maybe the South and North will separate, so we want to invest here. And the government give us plenty support, plenty support.

JEFFREY KAYE: The Chinese are not the only ones to see business prospects in South Sudan. Close to the River Nile, it’s Miller time. A subsidiary of SABMiller beer has invested $50 million in a beer and bottling factory, the largest foreign capital investment, other than by oil companies and cell phone providers.

The brewery employs nearly 300 Sudanese to produce beer and bottled water and soft drinks.

IAN ALSWORTH, Southern Sudan Beverages Ltd.: The biggest raw material in there is water, and that’s from the Nile River.

JEFFREY KAYE: And what do you have to do to the water?

IAN ALSWORTH: Well, all we really need to do with it is purify it, take out organic material, and then sterilize it. The water quality in the Nile River is still very good.

JEFFREY KAYE: Ian Alsworth, a South African who manages the plant, says, as a pioneer investor, SABMiller had the advantage of helping the South Sudanese write business-friendly legislation, such as tax breaks.

IAN ALSWORTH: I think we’re going to see a decade of great economic growth in Southern Sudan, as soon as the future is made clearer by the results of the referendum. And that, I think you — we’re going to see a lot of investment into Southern Sudan.

JEFFREY KAYE: These Juba residents say independence will bring not only development, but freedom.

MAN: We could have had a good education. We could have had good health care services. We could have — all these things could have been here. But they were not there because the government in Khartoum was not intending to do that for us. But we think, if we get independence, our government will do it. Our government will change all our life.

JEFFREY KAYE: You agree?

MAN: Yes.

JEFFREY KAYE: The government will change your life?

MAN: Yes, it will change it, because all these things are not happening because the government of Khartoum is still ruling the Sudan.

JEFFREY KAYE: If, as expected, the South does become a sovereign nation, many issues will be outstanding. Clear borders will have to be established.

Questions remain about the status of southerners who fled north during the war. And there is deep concern about whether referendum results might provoke violence. But, as the sun sets over what may be soon the old Sudan, South Sudanese hoping for independence see the dawn of promise and a new day.

JEFFREY BROWN: Jeff Kaye’s next report looks at building a health care system in Southern Sudan.