From the Boston Globe, writer Jeffrey Gettleman takes a look at how the voting has started.
“I feel like I’m going to a new land,’’ beamed Susan Duku, who works for the United Nations.
People were hollering, singing, hugging, kissing, slapping high-fives, and dancing as if they never wanted the day to end, despite the sun beating down and voting lines that snaked for blocks.
Salva Kiir, president of southern Sudan, which has been semiautonomous since a peace treaty was signed in 2005, cast his ballot as the polls opened.
Southern Sudan has suffered a lot, and after years of civil war, oppression, and displacement, many people here saw the vote as an unprecedented chance at self-determination.
The referendum ballot offered two choices, unity with northern Sudan or secession.
Unity was represented on the ballot by a drawing of two clasped hands. Secession was a single open hand. Many people rely on these symbols: More than three-quarters of southern Sudanese adults cannot read.
The independence referendum will continue through Saturday to allow residents of remote areas to vote. The votes are expected to take at least a week to count.
The mainly Christian and animist south is widely expected to approve secession from the mainly Muslim north, splitting Africa’s largest country in two.
The referendum is a result of a conflict that lasted for decades and an American-backed peace treaty in 2005, which granted the south the right to self-determination.
For Duku, the choice was simple.
“Separation,’’ she said. “One hundred percent, plus.’’