Hundreds of southern Sudanese turned out on Saturday to support the independence movement that is growing here. Pro-separation marches have become a ritual activity on the 9th of each month, the date on which southern Sudan’s referendum is scheduled to take place in January.
Despite looming concerns that the vote may be delayed due to political and administrative wrangling, southerners seem more resolute than ever that the referendum proceed on schedule.
The referendum commission has announced a tentative start date for voter registration on the 14th of November, leaving a very short window for a massive logistical undertaking. According to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, southerners are mandated to achieve at least 60 percent participation in the referendum in order for the results to be considered valid. The threshold issue has political implications given that pro-independence groups want to ensure that separation supporters are registered. Conversely, in areas where unity sentiments might run higher than others, some believe that registration might be intentionally impeded.
Some here claim that votes for unity will be cast through abstention. If those who support unity register but do not vote, it could exert pressure through the threshold channel.
We hear very little talk of unity here in the south. I wonder, at times, if unity sentiments, while certainly the minority, might be more common than the discourse suggests. The more time I spend in southern Sudan, the more I believe that local level politics play a significant role in determining national sentiment. It seems, at times, that intertribal tensions within the south are paramount in the decision making process. I wonder if some marginalized and/or minority tribes might tacitly support unity based on localized fears of power imbalance. In some remote areas it is hard to imagine groups voting based on macro level considerations.