South Sudan Watch #3: Soldiers Ready to Take Up Arms

Here’s a quick tip for following events in Sudan from afar: go to and look on the right side of the home page for the latest readers’ poll. This poll often gives an accurate indication of an important issue of the day in Sudan. Right now the polling question is: “How should the SPLM [the southern ruling party] respond to a referendum postponement?” The three options are 1) agree to it 2) negotiate to keep the referendum date unchanged and 3) go to war with the North.

On the topic of the third option, I had a disheartening conversation with a southern Sudanese soldier yesterday in the southern capital Juba while I was interviewing some young men playing dominoes on the roadside. He told me that the possibility of having to fight the North again to gain their freedom is not out of the question, despite the fact that the internationally-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by North and South in 2005 guaranteed the southerners the right to a self-determination referendum.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this soldier had more than enough of war and fighting in his lifetime; I could tell from the sound of his voice when he told me that southerners had already fought a war for 22 years to get their referendum but now they’re not sure if this referendum will really happen. It’s hard not to notice the direct impact of high-level political dynamics and disputes in Sudan on the everyday citizens who fight the battles (literally and metaphorically) on the ground. This relationship could not be more clear in the front line North-South border region of Abyei, which I visited earlier this week on a reporting trip. More from that trip soon.