Sudan referendum: 'Peace at any cost'

Voting is underway in polling station across Southern Sudan for a historic week-long referendum on independence. Many believe southerners will chose to divide Africa's largest country.

The southerners, who are mostly Christian or follow traditional beliefs, deeply resent years of domination by the mainly Arab north whose politicians tried but failed to impose Islamic law right across the country, sparking two decades of war.

Here, people from south and north Sudan share their views on the future of their country.

Daniel Mwaka, 21, student, Juba, Southern Sudan

There are many reasons why I will vote for separation. We, the southerners, want to be in charge of our country and our resources without interference from the north.

We want to maintain our culture and language, we want to develop the south and stop the exploitation of resources by the north. We don't want to have Sharia law, which was imposed by the Khartoum government.

For me personally independence means a lot. It means I can be a first -class citizen in my own country. Independence also means opportunities for development. But above all, the people of Southern Sudan will have peace and stability.

Enough is enough. This time we say no to all the suffering we went through.

And we are ready for this - more than everyone else expects.

It's not going to be easy. We have to work hard for peace and development, for a better Southern Sudan. Everything needs hard work and determination.

Tribalism must be checked in the south in order to avoid inter-tribal tension and insecurities. I have even recorded a song about the referendum - it's about unity for the southern Sudanese and how to deal with tribalism.

My parents died during the war. I was eight. This forced me to work really hard for a living and to educate myself. Now I run a small business to help me pay my university fees.

We've been through a lot. We are hard-working, so we will make the south the most successful state.

Clement Lochio Lomornana, 27, journalist, Budi, Southern Sudan

I'm greeting you in the name of referendum and the birth of the world's newest nation - Southern Sudan.

The reason why I will vote for separation is clear - we are tired of abuses, we are tired of marginalisation and oppression, we are tired of being slaves, we are tired of being forced to go to mosques, we are tired of changing our African names against our will.

We are tired of being sidelined for government jobs, scholarships, military ranks and many many more. This is a golden chance to decide our own destiny.

Independence means freedom - physical, psychological, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is very important to me to be able to exercise my rights in my own country without religious interference.

All those years we've been led by the Koran, not the government. I lost my father in 1993 just because he refused to accept the name Mustafa after being appointed a chief representing our community in Khartoum.

We've been waiting for services from Khartoum since 1945 but the only thing we saw was northerners building mosques in the south for their own Islamic agenda.

Independence will be our new page, page full of happiness, good opportunities, development, democracy and integrity. We believe we are rich: we have the Nile waters crossing our country, we have fertile land and natural resources.

Yes we are ready for it. We have our own military, police, parliament, judiciary and various ministries. South Sudan Bank is in place, so what are we waiting for? Let northerners remain in the north while we in the south will have a country with diverse African culture and Christianity.

We will rebuild our infrastructure - we have what it takes to develop the economy, construct roads across all states. Southern Sudan will be a successfully country.

Akram Obaid Siddig, NGO worker, Khartoum, northern Sudan

I am from the north and I think it is better for all of us to split. We have tried wars and wars haven't taken us anywhere. So it's better to let them live their lives and let's see what will happen in the future.

Maybe we'll become one nation again. But for the time-being the best solution is to split - this is their wish and so be it.

I hope that with God's help all will be fine but I can't help but worry about the consequences. I have a brother who is in the army in the south. I am afraid that there might be problems, violence.

I am not worried that our government will do something, but there might be tribal tension, which could lead to violence. There might be a power struggle and that will surely hurt us in the north.

I don't think the south is ready to be independent. There's no basis for a new state: there's practically no infrastructure, no roads, no schools and lots of corruption.

Yes, they do make money from the oil, but it's not clear where this money goes. All the ministers of the south are living the high life, while ordinary people live in poverty.

I think we will be fine. We'll charge for the pipeline to go through the north, although I guess fuel prices will go up, which will have an effect on us.

I respect southerners very much - I've got lots of friends among them, and most of the people here in the north feel the same way. There are no problems between us on a personal level, the problems are all political.

We just want peace and stability, that's all we all want. People fear for the country. We don't want to be another Somalia, another Iraq, another Afghanistan.

Yasseen Abdel-Moneim, 42, from northern Sudan, now in the UK

I really hope we don't split. The south is home, the north is home and we are all brothers, one nation, one people. Let us have the courage and conviction to be one. Let's celebrate our similarities and not be divided by our differences.

I am a Muslim, but I went to a Catholic missionary school in Khartoum. We were children from different ethnic and religious background but that was never a problem.

We were all in it together - Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians - and that nurtured tolerance in us, it showed us how similar we are, despite our differences.

I would love Sudan to remain united. It's the biggest country in Africa, we should come together as brothers and be together for the future.

The best way forward is to share, not split. We are stronger in unity. Two men together is more than one man alone.

Sudan is such a vast country, I don't think the government can be central because it doesn't represent the views of everyone. So we should have a system similar to the one in the UK, where there is a central government, but each region governs itself.

But, if people in the south want their own government, let them have it. Let them be empowered, be in charge of their own destiny.

I can see it happening, the independence. The south and the north are so intricately entwined, it will be a difficult split. I hope there'll be open borders and business continues as it is.

Sudanese people are fed up of civil war. They want to see peace at any cost. It's just a shame that a country has to be divided.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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