BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: Welcome to this month’s episode on Voices on Genocide Prevention. With me today is Edmund Yakani, who we’re speaking to from Juba in Southern Sudan. He’s the Coordinator for Sudanese Network for Democratic Elections. Edmund, thank you for speaking with me today.
EDMUND YAKANI: Yes, hi, hi. Thank you.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: So please tell our listeners what your organization does.
EDMUND YAKANI: SuNDE is working the area of democratic transformation in Southern Sudan. All of us all over the world, we know Southern Sudan has come out of a civil war of fifty years. So within the democratic transformation many have forgot the electoral process. We have engaged in the elections effort by carrying out two activities, broader education and observation of the electoral process. Also in this event, the political event of the referendum. We are engaged in carrying out what education on the referendum, and also we are observing the Sudan’s referendum process.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: So the Southern Sudan referendum process is the culmination of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And as this really final piece of it, Southerners have been voting since last Sunday on whether or not to remain a part of Sudan or to vote for independence. What have you seen at the polling stations?
EDMUND YAKANI: Really, it is an amazing situation. It is really something that we are expecting a scenario which was like a worst scenario, but really now we are seeing a peaceful scenario. In general, the process was smooth, peaceful. There was no sense of like, violence where people are fighting or conflicts sort of like, classes on the process. So really the process was smooth and peaceful. And there was a high turn-out of the voters.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: There were a number of concerns, not only about the potential for violence between the North and the South, but within various groups in the South. There were a few renegade generals and other armed groups. What do you think was the key to setting up the conditions where the referendum could be carried out peacefully?
EDMUND YAKANI: Yes, in Southern Sudan, only one specific area, it’s called the Unity State. It’s the area where the oil-- one of the states in Southern Sudan that has a big amount of oil. And in the instance, you remember in the elections, there’s one of the police officer who had jumped into the bush as a guerilla, forming an initial group. He carried attacks two days prior to polling day. But what I can say is that the government of Southern Sudan has taken the steps to control the situation, to make the citizens remain calm enough. And so the citizens… they are really at the high preparation to ensure the situation can work out a peaceful condition. So I think the attack before the two days prior to polling had never affected the process. The area where the attacks were carried out, I think the citizens have turned out massively to vote without any fear.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And there have been some reports of violence around Abyei as well. Have you heard anything about those?
EDMUND YAKANI: Yes, Abyei is one of the potential political points between the two partners or between South and the North, simply because there’s a dispute going over the ownership of Abyei. Is Abyei owned by Dinka Ngok or by Missiriya? Or in another scenario, in the Abyei Referendum, can the Missiriya vote or it’s only Dinka Ngok voting? This is the area where the tensions are. And admittedly, also there’s two, I think, two days prior to polling day, the Missiriya militias have carried out an attack against the Dinka Ngok in Abyei. But what has happened, is it’s not like… Southern Sudan Armed Forces against SPLA. But it is a militia group that is owned by the Missiriya attacking the pollers and the controlled areas of Dinka Ngok. So they have extended clashes and as a result a number of people were killed, as the media has said, since we don’t have a presence of having live information. Whatever second information the media has: these people killed like nine or eight.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And could you describe for our listeners how Juba has been different over the past week? What are there-- are there more crowds on the street? Are people celebrating? What’s life like in Juba during this voting?
EDMUND YAKANI: The fact is that Juba is steady. Juba is like music theater. You find every corner, everywhere people are outside, traditional dances, dancing on the streets. So you find really Juba is like a place which is-- it shows the first day of the celebrating the CPA’s signature, when people sign the CPA, it’s like the first day on the polling day. Things were calm. Things were easy. And then the following days after the first day it was really peaceful, calm, sort of like political debates were cooled. But like, everything everybody’s expecting a child to be born. Until today, the stress is like people are waiting for a child to be born. That is how Juba is.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And how much time is expected between the finishing of the voting period and the announcement of results?
EDMUND YAKANI: It may not be clear immediately, but they are expecting in the early beginning of the second week of February next month or… before the 14th of February the results will be out. So the results may come until next month, the early week or the second week of next month.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And what do you think are going to be the major challenges for the people of Southern Sudan as they move forward?
EDMUND YAKANI: I think the great challenge for the people of Southern Sudan: it is an issue of reconciliation. Southern Sudan is really concerned among themselves, as you know, sixty years of civil wars. There were political grievances among the Southern Sudanese, themselves, that we need a reconciliation. That is one of the big things. The other thing is that institutional wise, there’s a challenge of capacity building, in which I feel like it is not big, but it is one of the challenges, because in six years I’ve seen that the government of Southern Sudan have demonstrated some skillful sort of managing institutions, but yet more is needed. Because as it is becoming now as an independent state, if the situation comes that they have voted for secession. And if it comes that they remain united, yet reconciliation is needed between the Southern Sudan and the Northern Sudan, if they remain united. The other thing is that also if South becomes as an independent state, there is the question of human rights status. And in civil society, we may be in a dialogue with the government for endorsing the international treaties. And if things go well, we will see those as one of the first instruments that Southern Sudan can sign to unveil the human rights to give us a tool for fighting violence against women. As you know we are in context where among the pastoralists, the cattle raiding, women are targeted and women are taken. So these are the challenges, and there are more.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: Yes. And for you, if you think back 10 years, could you have pictured today, this moment happening?
EDMUND YAKANI: Yes! The picture of Southern Sudan today or 10 years ahead of us or Southern Sudan after 10 years from today, the picture that I will see: one, I will see that Southern Sudan will demonstrate in Africa a bit of democratic transformation. This is one. Two also, Southern Sudan may serve as an example in the world—an example of peaceful coexistence between two states. I will say it will give an opposite scenario of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Yes, two countries can be living peacefully. Why? Because South needs North economically. North needs South economically and also, one of they key things that is building is the Nile, the water agreement. The Nile is connected too. That is really very key. And also, Southern Sudan made demonstrate a part of an economy in the world, because Southern Sudan has really fertile resources that are yet untouched. So investments may come. Southern Sudan may become a nation that imagine that it will apply the technology life, because really it is really rural, and it will apply the current modern technology of the world life.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And if you look backwards in time, back during the days, as you said, the civil war went on for decades, and I think there were probably many dark days when people questioned how you would ever pull out of that scene of violence. Were there times when you imagined there would be no end?
EDMUND YAKANI: Yeah, you know, the first one of the really, really very terrible situations I have experienced in my life is the first SPLA attack of Juba 1992 when SPLA came to Juba and after the SPLA left the town, and the town is controlled by the government forces… the way how the Sudan Armed Forces brutally killing people. I tell you I’ve seen times where a human being is tied into a sack of sorghum with a very big heavy stone thrown into the Nile. You find a person being shot like any animal. You find people have been slaughtered.
BRIDGET CONLEY-ZILKIC: And Edmund, on behalf of everyone here who’s followed events in Sudan and who’s watching the as referendum takes place, I wanted to offer congratulations to the people of Southern Sudan. Whatever the outcome is, the path this far has been extraordinary, and it’s been thrilling to see the vote taking place and the conditions in which it’s taking place today.
NARRATOR: You have been listening to Voices on Genocide Prevention, from United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. To learn more about responding to and preventing genocide, join us online at www.ushmm.org/genocide.