Amid anxiety and hope, southern Sudanese vote in Kenya
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan. 9 -- NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The shriek echoed down the line and everyone turned. The shriek didn’t come from fear or anger. Instead it was filled with laughter, tears and happiness. Then, all the southern Sudanese women in the line joined in with ululations, jubilant changing and a chorus of “Hallelujah!”
Some carried the Christian cross, others waved the flag of southern Sudan,. A pregnant woman massaged her stomach to attract the cameras’ attention to what is written on her T-shirt: “The Mighty Moment: Go Southern Sudan. Go.”
More than 2,000 registered voters were expected to cast their ballots at just one of the polling places set up in Nairobi. Voters started queuing at 3 a.m., bracing against a chilly night, but everyone trying to be the first one to vote. There were pregnant women, mothers carrying babies, disabled people leaning on walking sticks, sons and daughters holding the hands of elderly parents. A blind woman chanted excitedly as she was led down a corridor.
“I am so excited,” said Ruot Chawgath Kai, who works with the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission in Kenya. “When God opens that door today, no one will be able to stop Southern Sudan from seceding.”
The 2011 Southern Sudan Referendum is giving the people of southern Sudan the opportunity to vote for secession from northern Sudan. If the vote is affirmed, then the world will get its newest state on July 9.
The voting will last a week, until Saturday, and will require a turnout of 60 percent. This means that more than 2.3 million out of the 3.9 million registered voters must vote for the referendum to count.
The SSRC, a body that is independent from the governments of Sudan or Southern Sudan, alongside the International Organization of Migration is running the Out-of-Country Voting and Registration.
The OCV will also take place in eight countries -- Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Ethiopia, Australia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom -- in addition to Sudan.
The Referendum Commission said those eight countries were chosen because they are densely populated by communities of South Sudanese outside Sudan.
“It is a possibility that the referendum result will be accepted, given the successful voter registration, and this gives the commission high hope,” said Achuoth Philip Deng, the commission’s representative in Kenya.
About 4 million people are registered to vote in the referendum, he said. Kenya leads the way for out-of-country voting, with more than 15,000 southern Sudanese registered.
The referendum is taking place in eight centers around Kenya. Two centers are in Nairobi, one each in Eldoret, Nakuru, Kitale, one in the Dadaab refugee camp, and two more centers in Kakuma refugee camp.
Deng said Kenyan police officers will be deployed at the eight voting stations around the country during the seven-day process of voting.
At Blue Springs Hotel, one of the two voting centers in Nairobi, people were ecstatic.
As voters trickled into the center on time, there was mismanagement as to how they were supposed to line up. As disorder affected the queuing process, officials from the SSRC were at a loss on how to control the crowds, as voters started pushing each other for space.
Even so, voters were determined to stay in line until they vote.
“People are eager to vote” said Oliver Bakata Frazer, head of the Consideration Committee at the voting station. “They came here at 3 in the morning, and they are determined to finish the process.”
Electoral observers arrived early to witness the referendum kickoff at 8 a.m. Representatives from the Institute for Education, Sudan Council of Churches, All Africa Conference of Churches, the Carter Center and Kenya’s Interim Independent Electoral Commission were all in attendance.
“I believe us, the youth in Kenya, more than others, will change the future of southern Sudan,” said Stephen Duol, who was draped with a Southern Sudanese flag as he voted. “It is a change we believe in. Yes, we can.”