(2011) Forty pre-registered African Sudanese voters along with Fr. Ron Sajdak boarded a Grand Tour Bus early Sunday, January 9th to begin a journey to Toronto Canada where they would cast their vote in the Historic Referendum for residents of Southern Sudan. The bus, sponsored by ROTA: “Reaching Out 2 Africa” Ministries of St. Martin de Porres Church and CRS: Catholic Relief Services of Western New York, was filled with great excitement and joy as these Sudanese “citizens in exile” exercised their new freedom in this way.
Most recently in Sudan’s complicated history, a peace agreement was signed in 2005 which brought an end to a violent civil war between the North and South that had been raging for over twenty-three years. Since the peace agreement, the South and North have had inter-dependent governments with government ministries in the South occupied by southerners and the president of the South functioning as the Vice-President of the unified government for the whole country. Another tenet of the agreement was the sharing of oil revenue 50/50 between the South and the North. These monies, in addition to providing for the government offices of the South ,assisted in the development of infrastructure that had been absent for all the years of the civil war. The final stipulation of the peace accord was the right of Southern Sudanese to determine if their country should remain unified with the Northern government or secede from the North to form an independent country; the fifty-fifth on the African Continent.
A stipulation of the Referendum Commission was that over 60% of the registered voters needed to actively participate in order for the election to be valid. To date over 98% of the registered voters participated. To register, people in Southern Sudan had to travel long distances by foot and wait for long periods of time to prove their citizenship as Southerners. Southern Sudanese in exile around the world had designated polling places established by the commission and many had to travel many miles to reach them. Then beginning January 9th until January 15th registered voters had to make the journey again; this time to place their thumb print on which they prefer: unity as it is or separation: South from the North.
Though the temperatures were frigid, the spirit during the two and a half hour ride to the polling station was at fever pitch. Songs of praise and worship filled the bus and both men and women led the call and response to songs and rally style cheers. Our bus delegation waited for over three hours in the bitter cold to finally enter the small community center and have the freedom to exercise their new found right to vote. As the world watched, this Biblical people stood up for themselves peacefully and with great order and dignity, participated in a life changing event for their whole country. The final results expected 99% have officially voted for separation. The implementation of the will of the people will take place on July 9th, 2011; a new Independence Day for Southern Sudan. Congratulations to all our Brothers and Sisters who remind us of the value of fighting for valuable freedom.