Hundreds of activists rallied in Juba today in an expression of support for southern independence. The rally was held exactly five months ahead of a referendum during which southerners will decide whether to secede from the north and form a new, independent country.
Despite torrential rains, spirits ran high among activists. “Even the rain has come to support southern independence,” a female activist told me. “We’ve got God on our side.”
The rally comes amid mounting concerns that administrative and logistical challenges could force the vote to be delayed, a prospect abhorred by southerners. The commission tasked with overseeing the referendum was slated for formation in 2008 but was only put in place one month ago. Among other responsibilities, the commission is tasked with the formal demarcation of the north-south border, a difficult and as-yet unresolved sticking point between the two sides. Owing to heavy rains and impassable roads, on-the-ground demarcation activities were temporarily suspended until conditions improve.
Northern Sudanese officials have been recently clamoring about the border issue. Members of the ruling, northern National Congress Party have warned that a failure to agree on the border could lead to renewed conflict. Some cite border conflicts between Ethiopia and Eritrea and India and Pakistan as examples of what could occur between north and south Sudan.
When pressed on the issue, organizers of today’s rally insisted that the referendum would be held on time and that border demarcation is not an essential prerequisite for moving forward with the vote.