South Sudan Poised To Create New Nation

  • A billboard counts down the days before the independence referendum in Sudan's southern capital of Juba. On Sunday, millions of people in south Sudan will vote on whether to split the country in two and establish the world's newest nation.
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    A billboard counts down the days before the independence referendum in Sudan's southern capital of Juba. On Sunday, millions of people in south Sudan will vote on whether to split the country in two and establish the world's newest nation.
    Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images
  • Former South African President Thabo Mbeki speaks to a group of southern Sudanese in Juba on Friday.  Mbeki traveled to south Sudan in his role as the chairman of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan.
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    Former South African President Thabo Mbeki speaks to a group of southern Sudanese in Juba on Friday. Mbeki traveled to south Sudan in his role as the chairman of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan.
    Pete Muller/AP
  • Young Sudanese in Juba participate in a rally in support of independence. A historic 2005 peace treaty brought an end to decades of civil war between the Arab north and predominantly Christian south that killed more than 2 million people.
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    Young Sudanese in Juba participate in a rally in support of independence. A historic 2005 peace treaty brought an end to decades of civil war between the Arab north and predominantly Christian south that killed more than 2 million people.
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • Southern Sudanese wait aboard a bus in the al-Andalus area outside the northern capital of Khartoum on Thursday. Some 55,000 Sudanese have returned south ahead of the election, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
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    Southern Sudanese wait aboard a bus in the al-Andalus area outside the northern capital of Khartoum on Thursday. Some 55,000 Sudanese have returned south ahead of the election, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
    Khaled Desouki/Getty Images
  • The sudden influx of people has caused considerable strain on the already fragile nation. The U.N. has appealed for more than $32 million in emergency funds to help support returning southern Sudanese.
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    The sudden influx of people has caused considerable strain on the already fragile nation. The U.N. has appealed for more than $32 million in emergency funds to help support returning southern Sudanese.
    Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images
  • Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter arrives in Khartoum on Thursday. The international community is watching Sudan closely, as many fear the vote could spark nationwide violence.
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    Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter arrives in Khartoum on Thursday. The international community is watching Sudan closely, as many fear the vote could spark nationwide violence.
    Khaled Desouki/Getty Images
  • Members of a branch of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) play during a pro-independence march Wednesday in Juba. The south is expected to vote overwhelmingly to secede from the north.
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    Members of a branch of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) play during a pro-independence march Wednesday in Juba. The south is expected to vote overwhelmingly to secede from the north.
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • Sudanese supporters of secession display signs on their vehicles.
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    Sudanese supporters of secession display signs on their vehicles.
    Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images
  • Secession supporters wave regional flags and placards upon the arrival of Sudan's President Omar Bashir in Juba on Tuesday. Bashir said he would celebrate the result of the week's referendum even if it resulted in secession.
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    Secession supporters wave regional flags and placards upon the arrival of Sudan's President Omar Bashir in Juba on Tuesday. Bashir said he would celebrate the result of the week's referendum even if it resulted in secession.
    Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images
  • Sudan has waited more than five years for Sunday's historic vote after decades of brutal civil war.
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    Sudan has waited more than five years for Sunday's historic vote after decades of brutal civil war.
    Yasuyoshi Chiba/Getty Images

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On Sunday, millions of people in Africa's largest country begin voting on whether to split it in two. After two decades of civil war with the North, the people of south Sudan are poised to create the world's newest state.

Thousands of people pour through the streets of the southern capital of Juba in advance of the vote. They're driving in vans, they're on foot, they're waving flags and singing. The message from everyone you talk to is the same. They don't want to be a part of Sudan anymore. They want their own country.

"At last independence, at last," John Mojule laughs. "This is our time."

Mojule fled Sudan during the civil war. It was a time of incredible carnage when the Arab North armed militias that burned, raped and looted villages in the country's Christian and animist South.

The conflict cost 2 million lives and became Africa's longest civil war.

Now, Mojule is back from exile in Uganda to witness what he hopes will be the birth of a nation.

"Our people have suffered so much. So, so, much. Oppression from the Arabs. Not all the Arabs — the fundamentalists. Now, we have our opportunity to vote, then our oppressors will be gone," he says.

Just look at Juba, he says. "It's the biggest village in the whole world. No water system, not toilet, no nothing. Now, we need development."

This is the biggest complaint from southerners. They say the North exploited their resources — including oil – then neglected the region.

A few miles from the rally's excitement, the mood is more sober and southern Sudan's dire poverty and challenges come into relief. Here, the United Nation's World Food Program hands out sacks of sorghum to southerners who've just returned from the North to vote and live.

But there is no work for them here. Kator Andrato Salvatore has already gone through her first two rations and she's come to beg for more.

"I'm not sure my husband can get a job or not," she says. "Now, we're really suffering. Even the food we've received is finished. I don't know where to find more food."

Over the next week, southern Sudanese will have a chance to choose their own fate. Then, they will have to figure out how to make the most of that opportunity.

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