Scenes from the Capital City of the World’s Next Country

JUBA, Sudan—With less than 48 hours before polling begins for Southern Sudan’s independence referendum, the mood in what will likely soon be the world’s newest capital city is beyond buoyant. Daily referendum rallies, pro-separation demonstrations and blaring music all deliver one message: “yes for separation, no for unity.”

The optimistic mood has drowned out the many analysts, diplomats and other observers—international and Sudanese alike—who had good reason for much of the six year period of implementation of the CPA to fear for the worst. There were countless worst case scenarios that were envisioned.

It’s too early to know if some of them will materialize, but already, there are indeed reasons for optimism.

The south’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement had legitimate concerns that the National Congress Party in Khartoum would attempt to delay the referendum at all costs, as it had done with the April 2010 national elections, which happened 18 months late.

On Tuesday, when President Omar al-Bashir visited the Southern Sudanese capital, he pledged to offer support to the south should they vote for independence on Sunday. He even said he expected southerners to. This surprising statement is just one of many examples of how things are going better than expected on the eve of a historic moment in Southern Sudan.

The head of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Southern Sudan told reporters in Juba on Thursday that violence in the south is at an all-time low since the 2005 peace deal was signed, and that the environment was conducive for a peaceful and credible vote.

“The many skeptics who never thought Southern Sudan would be ready to hold its referendum by next Sunday were proven wrong,” he told reporters in the regional capital Juba.

As an non-Sudanese person who has lived in Juba for more than a year, I am also excited for Sunday. Sitting in a packed auditorium of more than 2,000 people—mostly southerners but also Western diplomats and journalists—I don’t think I was the only one who got goosebumps listening to former South African president Thabo Mbeki say that the entire continent was in solidarity with the people of Sudan, who about to begin “a process of reconstruction of Sudan, both North and South.”