Last week saw the launch of the campaign for a yes vote in the referendum for independence in south Sudan. I, along with many others across the country, will spending the time before polling day doing my best to mobilise voters to turn out on 9 January.
The constituency I represent in the legislative assembly, Ikotos, is not the easiest place to campaign. There are mountains, the roads are poor and frequently blocked and the population is spread out across large distances. Fortunately we have a great many volunteers and supporters. There is a huge enthusiasm across the south for this change.
The civil war was terrible for all of south Sudan. My own home town of Katire was completely destroyed. Katire is the site of a teak plantation. The sawmill employed many local people and the town was a bustling place. But after the war, there was little left standing, the buildings bombed or pulled down to make bunkers, the population fled or killed. Even after the peace, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance army continued to cause havoc until they were finally pushed out.
I thank God for the peace that has brought so many benefits to the people here. Over the past five years people across the country have been able to return home after more than 20 years of exile in Uganda or Kenya or from mountain hideaways.
The villages to which they returned were, more often than not, completely destroyed or overgrown. My people have had to rebuild their homes from the materials nearby; they have tilled fields by hand and with the most basic of tools. They have dug-out watering holes and have had to learn new farming techniques that will allow them to provide for their families.
The war, and the damage it caused, has set back the development of my country by years. Peace has brought change. It fills me with pride and hope to see people taking their produce to markets. Simply to be able to transport their harvest or basic goods like sand for building works, means that there is trade and all the benefits this brings. Stability gives the opportunity to educate our children, to build roads and hospitals. During the war we lost a generation of doctors, teachers, engineers and more. Now we can train people again.
But peace alone is not enough. One of the key articles of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement was that both the south and north would work together to promote unity as an attractive option for the people of Sudan.
I do not believe that the northern National Congress Party has kept to this promise. During the negotiations and afterwards the NCP agreed that there would be real investment in the south. We were promised hospitals, schools and roads. But there has been nothing. Recent news from WikiLeaks serves only to confirm what we knew already, that the government in the north is more concerned with lining its own pockets.
Self-determination is the only way that the people of south Sudan will be able to join the modern world. I want my people to have ownership of their land, to have ownership of their future and their destiny.
I hope and I pray that the elections will be free, fair and without incident. But I fear otherwise. There have been reports of vote-buying, vehicles have been ambushed and there is real tension. The north of course denies all involvement but they have recently attacked positions along the border so there is no doubt that they are trying to disturb proceedings.
The ordinary villagers in places like Katire and across south Sudan are not looking for vast wealth or access to oil fields. They want only to be able to travel freely, to send their children to school and to know that their homes are safe and secure.
I am certain that the popular vote will be won in favour of independence. It is the will of the people. But I worry about the reaction of the north when this happens. We know that they do not want to let us go freely, and with their recent actions I am sure that they are trying to provoke a reaction. The government in the north is aggressive, volatile, criminal even, and I fear for the safety of south Sudan if and when we become independent.
I hope very much that the international community will take note and help us to ensure that the peace can continue. Since the peace accord I have been stunned by the friendship of people from across the world. In my own county we have schools built by churches, roads funded by governments, and countless vital projects carried out by charities such as the one with which I work, World Emergency Relief UK. All this progress will be lost if the north starts up a war once again.
I urge all who care about peace and about the people of south Sudan please to watch what happens next carefully. I hope that we will not need help, I pray for peace, but if conflict comes please ask your government to help us, ask the charities you support to campaign on our behalf and pray for us.
Tobiolo Almero Olberto, a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) who was elected as a state legislative assembly member for Ikotos County in the first-ever local elections in 2009.