by Katy Snyder, JVA Consulting
The people of southern Sudan are in the middle of what could be the most important week in the history of the country—an historic vote to decide whether they should remain united with the northern half of the country, or strike out on their own as a new nation. Signs point to an almost certain vote for separation, given the nearly half decade of civil war between the two halves of the country, the continued oppression of southern Sudan (and that of other outlying regions, such as Darfur), and the stark cultural and religious differences that separate North and South.
Less certain than the outcome of the vote, however, is whether or not the North will allow the South to separate, and if the elections, which will end next Sunday, will be conducted peacefully. While reports so far seem to confirm that at least in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan and the site of the polling stations for the South, things have remained peaceful, there have been numerous reports of violence in the Abeyei region, a border area that one news article called the “Jerusalem” of Sudan because of its contentiousness. Reports state that over 40 people have been killed already in Abeyei, but overall, the vote in the South has so far been considered a success. One reason for this has been the presence of nonprofits, both as advocates and on-the-ground observers. Below are some examples of the great work being done by nonprofits to facilitate the vote:
The Carter Center The Carter Center is on the ground in Juba and in out-of-country polling locations where Sudanese refugees and immigrants can vote, with over 100 volunteers who are official election observers, including Carter Center Founder Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and Kofi Annan.
Sudan Now A coalition of eight nonprofits that focus on Sudan came together to form Sudan Now. The group took out articles in prominent newspapers like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to urge U.S. politicians to protect Sudanese civilians. They also have observers on the ground in Sudan, including big names like George Clooney and John Prendergast.
Locally, several nonprofits are raising awareness about the elections in Sudan and implementing development projects that will help the country remain stable, regardless of the election results. These organizations include Project Education Sudan, which builds schools and trains teachers in three villages in southern Sudan (and whose program director, Daniel Gai, was recently featured on CNN in a story about the vote), Leadership Institute of the New Sudan (LIONS), whose mission is to develop and train leaders so that the people of the new Sudan can experience the virtues of prosperity, civil rights and social equality, and which recently brought a group of Sudanese refugees, university professors and other leaders to Juba to train the future leaders of southern Sudan, and Nuba Water Project, which brings clean water to the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan.
While these nonprofits are making tremendous strides, we can all do more. This sentiment was perhaps best summed up by President Carter in a recent New York Times forum that allowed readers to post questions to him about Sudan. In response to a comment posted by a person who essentially asked, “Why should we care?” about southern Sudan, Carter had this to say:
… a resumption of civil war would inevitably affect the nine bordering nations. The entire continent of Africa could be affected, as well as the worldwide religious community. It is important to recognize the enormous size of Sudan—equal to the United States east of the Mississippi River.
Perhaps most importantly, we have all seen what inaction has led to in other African countries like Rwanda and the Congo. I urge you to get involved to see what you can do to help Sudan succeed. The best way to do this? Contact one of the local organizations above and see how you can help, or go to http://www.sudanactionnow.com/take-action.