Following a referendum in the contested Abyei region, a prominent ethnic group has voted overwhelmingly to join South Sudan – but it’s unlikely that the unrecognised vote will have much of an impact in an area beset by poverty and unrest.
Thursday’s poll in the oil-rich Abyei region, which straddles Sudan and South Sudan, was not recognised by either Khartoum or Juba. The African Union, meanwhile, warned that referendum was a “threat to peace”.
More than 99 percent of voters chose to be part of the world’s youngest country – South Sudan was established in June 2009 following a referendum for independence, the final stage in a peace deal which ended the two-decade Sudanese civil war.
Patrolled by about 4,000 Ethiopian-led UN peacekeepers, the area is home to the settled Ngok Dinka tribe, closely connected with South Sudan, as well as the semi-nomadic Arab Misseriya, who traditionally move back and forth from Sudan grazing their cattle.
Only the Ngok Dinka voted – although organisers insist it was open to all residents – and the Misseriya have already angrily said they would not recognise the results of any unilateral poll.
“The people are celebrating, there is dancing and music, and the nine chiefs of the Dinka Ngok are marching, they will sign a declaration of commitment to join South Sudan,” Luka Biong, spokesman for the Abyei Referendum High Committee, told AFP news agency.
Despite the celebrations, few believe the situation on the ground will change as result of the referendum.