Holding their breath

There are two ways that Sudan can go. Separation or resumption of civil war. There is no middle way.

I have reached this conclusion after spending a week in Juba, speaking to the locals here, many of whom are fixated on a single date: January 9, 2011.

This is when the people of South Sudan will get the chance to vote on whether or not to break away from the south. The UN is said to be pushing for a postponement of the vote, believing that logistically things are not going to be ready, but one businessman who owned a car hire company told me that would be a mistake.

“People want independence and they want it now,” he said. “No one in any position of power could possibly suggest that the vote should be postponed.”

I cannot see the vote on January 9 – or, if it is postponed, later that year – being anything other than a resounding “YES!” Almost everyone in South Sudan wants independence from the north. It is what they have spent most of the past 50 years fighting over. It is what has been the cause of so much bloodshed. It is what John Garang, still much revered here (I went to his memorial shrine the other day), spent his life fighting for.

No one could possibly think, after so much spilled blood, that the south should still be linked to Khartoum. Southerners want to find their own way now.

Today, I spent many tiring hours wondering around hotels, in order to update our guidebook. What I discovered is that hotels here are changing. Whilst, two years ago, they were all prefabricated huts, container rooms, tukuls and tents (and many still are), a number of hotels are starting to make the switchover to more permanent concrete structures.

The previous, more temporary buildings were created by investors into the region – Kenyans, Ugandans, Eritreans and Indians mainly – so that, in periods of intense fighting, Juba could be dismantled almost instaneously.

This was a time of war. And investors, drawn by the aid money sloshing around, didn’t want to take any risks.

Now, though, Juba is starting to feel like a proper city. It is taking on an air of permanence.

That suggests people don’t think that war will return, and that South Sudan will indeed get its independence.

Citizens here are holding their breath. If their expectations are not met, then conflict almost certainly will return.

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One Response to “Holding their breath”

  1. Talal Says:

    Hi Blake,

    John Garang was very much pro unity of Sudan, albeit under a new secular and democratic system.
    Indeed any person in the SPLM calling for unity now is politically classed as a member of the ‘Awlad Garang’, which literally means ‘sons of Garang’ or could be politically translated to ‘Garangites’.
    Cheers,

    Talal

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