On another day, they would curse.
Southerners view the plebiscite as their final step on a long and bloody road to freedom from northern oppression which has seen them at war for all but a few years since 1955. The majority cannot wait to finally rule themselves.
As jubilant southerners waited patiently for hours to vote on Sunday, the south’s semi-autonomous government was riding on a wave of popular support, seen as the heroes of the new nation.
But when the independence celebrations subside, life in the capital Juba or anywhere else in the war-scarred region will be far from easy and high expectations to build a state from scratch will weigh on the new government.
“The south has high expectations which are not going to all be realised … almost immediate economic prosperity, education and healthcare … so there will be a great disillusionment,” former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told Reuters during a visit.
The south has one of the lowest rates of primary school education in the world, and the peace deal brought a rush of pupils into Juba’s bursting schools. One teacher asked for a megaphone to make himself heard in his overcrowded classroom.
It has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world and its population suffers from a plethora of both preventable and rare diseases.
“They’ve managed to build a few roads and some nice houses for themselves, but look — Juba hospital is still a mess,” said one minibus driver.
Government meetings are often interrupted by electricity blackouts which affect only the lucky few who are connected. The towns which have electricity are run on unreliable diesel generators in the absence of any national grid.
There are few buildings over two storeys and many hotels use tents or pre-fabs instead of investing in permanent structures.
On the town’s main new road, massive buildings have emerged which at first glimpse could be the south’s ministries. In fact they are the minister’s homes, many of whom zoom along the road in brand new 4x4s or even Hummers.
Southern officials often have two or three phone numbers because of unreliable mobile networks. Despite huge interest from telecoms companies, licenses were given to small companies with limited capacity. One firm even uses Uganda’s call code, almost impossible to phone from most Sudanese networks.
Juba has struggled to stamp out corruption, an evil which reared its head as guerrilla fighters took over a government with almost $2 billion a year at its disposal.
In the north, corruption has become endemic in the system and siphoning off margins from contracts is the norm. But in the south the graft is less sophisticated.
Airport officials charged visiting journalists hundreds of dollars to bring in equipment to cover the vote.
But that’s small fry. In 2008 the south’s former finance minister signed grain contracts for the hungry population worth more than the south’s annual budget. Much of the grain never materialised. The former minister denies any wrongdoing.
Where there is rule of law, it is often random.
Women who thought they were escaping the strict Islamic dress codes in the north in the mostly Christian south have discovered they were mistaken.
Dozens were arrested in Juba in 2008 for wearing trousers. More recently others have been beaten or arrested for their clothing.
“In Juba you don’t know what is allowed and what is not,” said Ugandan Betty Namusoke, who was beaten by a policeman because her trousers were too short.
Southerners who lived through the north’s imposition of sharia law have retained a more conservative view of society at odds with the hundreds of thousands of younger refugees who returned home after the war. Culture clashes often arise.
The government has tried to punish unruly security personnel but the gun still rules. The south has failed to demobilise its huge army since the peace deal and police recruits are often under-trained.
Some women found they were being served after all the men in a restaurant. When they complained, they were told the policy arose because often the men were military or police and would cause trouble, even start shooting if service was slow.
At night drunk and armed security men demand bribes or worse, so internationals are often told not to go out.
“Someone was shot at a bar down by the river, another time a gun was pulled in an argument outside a place that’s popular with international staff,” said one U.N. staffer, adding they had to limit staff going out at night.
“Juba better sort itself out or it will just turn into another Khartoum,” Namusoke said. Reuters