On Sunday, the people of Southern Sudan will begin voting on whether to remain part of a unified Sudan or become an independent state. Sudan, Africa’s largest nation, is an oil-rich country run by Islamist Arabs. What happens there matters to all of us for strategic and humanitarian reasons. Here’s what you need to know:
For generations, southern Sudan has been dominated by the Islamist-run government in Khartoum, which has sought to impose Sharia law on the south’s Christians and animists.
Religion is one of the main causes of two bloody civil wars that have killed two million southern Sudanese. Another point of contention: control of Sudan’s oil reserves that lie mostly in the south and along the border with the north. If, as expected, the south votes to secede, many fear another wave of violence, despite assurances from Sudan’s president, Omar al Bashir, that he will accept the results of the election: “If the south secedes, we will welcome it.”
But can Bashir be trusted? He has been indicted as a war criminal for his brutal military campaign against rebels and civilians in Darfur. That fighting, which began in 2003, has left 300,000 dead. Need to Know sent producer George Lerner to southern Sudan to report on one former refugee’s efforts to help rebuild his homeland in anticipation of a vote for independence.
For more information on Salva Dut and his organization, go to Water for Sudan.