North Waits As Southern Sudan Votes On Secession

In Southern Sudan, polls are open for the second day of voting in the week-long referendum that is expected to split Africa's largest country into two. Southerners who live in the North are eligible to vote. Meanwhile, people in the North wait to see what the outcome means for the future of their country.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, let's hear from the northern part of this country that seems to be on the verge of splitting. Some southern Sudanese are in the north and are able to vote from there. And, of course, northerners are watching this process very closely.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is watching them from the capital Khartoum. Hi, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you seeing where you are?

NELSON: Well, we went to the polls this morning, and it's dead quiet. I know that they're lining up down south, but here, you see more poll monitors than you actually see poll workers or even voters. One polling station I went to -which has about 484 people registered - of those, only two showed up this morning thus far, and yesterday, they only had about 40. So you're looking at a less than 10 percent turnout, and that's certainly what I've seen at other polling stations that I've been to.

It's - part of that is because a lot of the southerners who registered up here apparently have decided to go south. I think many of them feared a backlash from some of the Arabs here, or from security forces and police. They just didn't trust that it would be as peaceful as it's been - or at least seems to be at this stage.

And the other reason is that the southerners who did stay to vote, there was not much encouragement on the part of the southern officials to get those people to register, because they're actually for unity - people who built their lives and businesses here and are not necessarily looking for Sudan to split apart.

INSKEEP: OK. So, those are the southerners who are in the capital, Khartoum, who are able to vote at a distance, as it were, in this referendum on the independence of southern Sudan. What about northerners? People who are watching, perhaps, their country, from their perspective, being torn apart here?

NELSON: They're not very happy. I mean, they're trying to put on a brave face, but they are, indeed, very, very concerned about what their future holds, especially since many of the oil fields that are in Sudan will be part of the south once the new borders are drawn if, in fact, the partition happens.

So, they're not very happy. I mean, division is very difficult, as the ruling party officials say. But the president here, President Omar al-Bashir, has really tried to put a positive attitude on it and say: Look, this is for peace. This is to prevent war. This will make for a better Sudan. We'll have a stronger Sudan for it. I mean, he really is trying to pump his people up. But there definitely is not much jubilation up here in the north.

INSKEEP: That's interesting you mention that some natural resources would go away from Sudan if independence is achieved for the south. What other challenges would there be for the remainder of the country, the northern portion of Sudan, if this referendum succeeds?

NELSON: Well, the economy is certainly foremost on everyone's mind. Besides the fact that oil reserves have been dwindling, I mean, even if the country stays as one, they do have to find alternative means of funding the budgets and doing exports. And so they're looking at things like boosting agriculture, and certainly sharing between in the north and the south.

I mean, they may be two separate countries, but both the government in Khartoum, as well as the officials down south and what will be the new government down south if the country divides, they realize they have to have a close, working relationship. This is not something where it's likely that one country will be completely separate from the other. I mean, there will be cross-border sharing. In fact, some of the oil fields will be in the soft border areas. But the economy is going to be front and foremost.

The other thing I should mention here in the north is that there is - has been for a while, and is now accelerating an effort to privatize the economy, to make it more friendly for foreign investment, which is badly needed to help reduce debt here.

INSKEEP: NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.

Soraya, thanks.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: Now, there was hope for a peaceful referendum, but this morning, we are hearing some reports of violence in a border region between the north and south of Sudan. We'll bring you more as we learn it on NPR News.

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