In the past decade, the African nation of Sudan was in the news because of massive violence in the region of Darfur. Today, the world watches as the country takes part in a referendum on the south’s potential secession from the north. Voting has gone on for one week and finished this past Sunday. In some areas of the south, over 80% of registered voters took part, and the stringent requirement of 60% total turnout needed for validity of the vote has been surpassed.
Relations between the north and south have historically been strained, not least because of the racial and religious divide between the two. At the time of independence in 1956, the mainly African, Christian south fought against the Arab, Muslim north for greater autonomy. After decades of civil war, the two sides signed a peace agreement in 2005 which provided for this year’s referendum on secession. Although the referendum has been certified by international observers as largely free and fair, the vote has not occurred without disturbance. Recent violence in the oil-rich territory of Abyei has resulted in the deaths of 33 people.
As a close neighbor, Kenya is keeping a watchful eye on the result of the referendum. Over 15,000 Southern Sudanese live in Kenya, where “overseas voting” has taken place. Economic interests are also at play, as Kenya has invested hugely in the South, in sectors such as telecommunications, banking, and construction. The Kenyan government has even invested over $5 million USD in Southern Sudan since 2005, including support for training of the country’s civil service.
Official results of the vote will be announced mid-February, which could result in the splitting of Africa’s largest nation and independence for a region long beset by war. Sudan, Kenya, and the world will be watching closely to see what happens.
Jenny Coronel is a roaming Kiva Fellow based in Nairobi, Kenya. Click here to learn more about the Kiva Fellows Program and apply.