Note: This story was updated to include official election results released Monday.
WASHINGTON – Gatluak Kang never thought he would see an independent Southern Sudan. Kang,38,who lives in Omaha,Neb.,was certain Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government would disrupt the referendum that Southern Sudanese anticipated for years and the country would be thrust back into violence.
“Until I heard the results,I never thought it would happen,” Kang said. “I thought Sudan would go back to square one.”
The widespread chaos Kang feared never arrived during the weeklong vote in January.
Official results released Monday show 98 percent of voters opted to created a separate country. Bashir said he accepts the results of the referendum.
President Barack Obama said in a statement Monday the U.S. will recognize South Sudan when it achieves independence in July.
“After decades of conflict,the images of millions of Southern Sudanese voters deciding their own future was an inspiration to the world and another step forward in Africa’s long journey toward justice and democracy,” Obama said.
A committee has been formed to review Southern Sudan’s constitution,and citizens will choose the nation’s president following independence July 9.
The 150,000 people from Southern Sudan now living in the U.S. are proud of their new country and aware of the daunting challenges it faces as Southern Sudan inches closer to independence.
Before Sudan gained independence from Egypt and Great Britain in 1956,the Arab north and Christian south were already embroiled in a civil war that lasted until 1972. Civil war erupted again in 1982 and continued until 2005,when a peace agreement was reached that established an interim government in Southern Sudan. The peace agreement said a referendum on Southern Sudan’s secession would be held after six years.
The wars have left Southern Sudan without necessities such as roads and health-care providers.
“Southern Sudan has to start from scratch,” Kang,a case manager and interpreter for the Southern Sudan Community Association,said.
Tom Dannan,executive vice president of the John Dau Foundation,said his organization and other foreign nonprofits administer most of the health care in Southern Sudan. An American who has spent the past year in Southern Sudan,Dannan said improving health care will be one of the country’s first obstacles.
“Some Southern Sudanese have the assumption independence will solve everything,” Dannan said. “But when people wake up during independence in July,hundreds of midwives won’t appear.”
Southern Sudan’s other big challenge is building reliable government institutions. Dannan said local governments make decisions informally with no attempt at transparency.
Chuoul Puoch Tut,36,executive director of the Southern Sudanese Community Center in San Diego,said no one in the country has experience running large administrative organizations. Tut said there is a large gap between those who are educated and those who are not.
Kang said the government must make sure violence does not erupt in potentially violent areas.
“Tribal issues still exist,and the government must disarm civilians,” Kang said.
Kang and Tut said Southern Sudanese are already beginning to tackle the country’s many challenges. Both men said they know about 10 people from their communities who have recently returned to Southern Sudan to work with organizations that provide safe drinking water,educational services and help to small businesses. Kang said his friends have happily returned.
The two men have bright hopes for the country,despite its numerous challenges. Tut left Southern Sudan as a child in 1983 during the second civil war and spent time in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia before arriving in the United States. He said he hopes South Sudan will blossom into a democratic country where citizens will speak out and share their ideas with the government.
Kang first came to the United States in the mid-1990s and settled in Nebraska in 1998. He envisions a diverse country that is respected throughout the world. He said he hopes to return to South Sudan in July to celebrate independence.
“I expect the new country to be a free country,where people have a lot of freedoms,” Kang said.