With preparations for next week’s independence referendum in Southern Sudan in their final stages, the United Nations is seeking to ensure that every last voter in the more than four-million-strong electorate will have a ballot, no matter how remote and inaccessible the location.
A helicopter from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) this week airlifted ballot papers, voting screens and other material into the road-less Tali region in Central Equatoria State, for distribution to a dozen voting centres for the 9-15 January referendum – the culmination of a six-year peace process that ended two decades of civil war between the north and south.
The UN Security Council established UNMIS in 2005, tasking it with, among other things, supporting the implementation of a peace agreement between the parties. For the referenda, the UN merged its electoral operations in Sudan in order to better support the upcoming Southern Sudan and Abyei referenda. In addition to the referendum in which the people of Southern Sudan will vote for either unity or secession, there will be another in which the people of the Abyei Area, which straddles north and south boundaries, will vote to remain in the north or become part of the south.
UNMIS has already delivered material for more than four million voters in Southern Sudan, each ballot carrying two pictures: one hand, signifying independence, and two hands, standing for unity.
“We are now ready for the final process of the referendum,” the Terekeka County referendum sub-committee chairperson, Charity Michel, said on welcoming this week’s airlift to the Tali region.
The residents of Tali mostly belong to the Mundari tribe and depend on farming and cattle rearing for their livelihoods. “We are very happy now and there is no problem for us to vote next week,” said Lino Diyo Ako, a 50-year-old resident who was among a large gathering of people who greeted the UNMIS Mi-8 helicopter.
Of the estimated 40,000 people eligible to vote, only about 8,100 registered, with officials blaming the low number on the migratory movements of local cattle herders during the registration exercise.
As another part of the effort to ensure that all Southern Sudanese can vote, UNMIS and the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur region (UNAMID) are helping the South Sudan Referendum Commission train staff at 20 polling centres in that part of western Sudan, where some 23,000 southerners are registered to vote. UNAMID is seeking to ensure swift transportation of polling materials and the peaceful completion of the voting process.