South Sudan celebrates as independence vote confirmed

Southern Sudanese celebrate the formal announcement of referendum results in the southern capital of Juba . Photo: 7 February 2011
Image caption As the result was confirmed, crowds in Juba began dancing and cheering

The speakers were crackly and the outdoor cinema screen flickered in Southern Sudan's capital, Juba.

Those at the back in the dark of the giant thousand-strong crowd could hardly make out what was being said.

But for the southerners gathered to watch the results of their historic independence referendum, only one message mattered: the confirmation that the south will become a nation of its own.

As the result was confirmed, that 98.83% of the voters had backed independence, those at the front leapt up, waving flags and cheering.

Those at the back, hearing the shouts of delight, began to dance.

"We are free, we have won our independence!" shouted former soldier William Machar.

"This is our moment in history, when we watch our baby-nation being born."

Juba residents flocked to the grave of former rebel leader John Garang, the first president of the south, to hear the results broadcast live from Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

Hundreds sat on plastic chairs, craning their heads forward to hear the historic words.

'Happy birthday'

The atmosphere was electric.

One woman, like hundreds of others, waved a southern flag.

"This is the symbol of the 193rd country in the world," she shouted, followed by an ear-splitting ululation.

One group of young men came with candles rammed into plastic drink bottles, pre-emptively welcoming in the birth of the new nation.

"Happy birthday our country, happy birthday Southern Sudan," they sang, arms draped around each other in celebration.

The south is not due to declare formal independence until 9 July.

"I was born in war, and I grew up as a soldier," said Robert Duk, a student. "So for me to see this day, something I dreamed of but never could believe, is something I find hard to put into words."

'Great relief'

Despite the excitement following the result, people quickly sat down to listen to the next speech, intent on hearing all that was said.

Image caption The south is due to declare formal independence on 9 July

"This is what happens when you oppress and marginalise a people for over 50 years," said Puok Dieu, who fought in the civil war. "One day those people will rise up and say: 'It is enough.'"

"The results of the referendum mean I am free today," said Abiong Nyok, a housewife. "Now I am a first-class citizen in my own country."

The crowd was in a mood to party.

"We are going to take to the streets and celebrate until dawn," said Peter Deng, a youth leader. "All us here grew up during the war, so we are so happy to be celebrating our freedom in peace."

But away from the live screening in the centre, Juba seemed quiet.

Many in the south have already privately been celebrating the results, which have filtered out in recent days.

"We in the south never had any doubt what the results would be," said Alfred Juma, a teacher.

"But it is a great relief to hear it confirmed, and to hear that the north have accepted it too."

Others however were more reflective.

"We will celebrate at home," said Mary Akoch, a widow whose husband died in the two-decades of conflict.

"The young will go to the bars, but there are many like me who will remember the cost of this achievement, the deaths of so many of our people, so many of those who we loved."

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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