PORTLAND, Maine — Abbakar Mohamed was one of about 45 Sudanese traveling by bus from Portland to Boston to vote in a weeklong independence referendum likely to create the world’s newest nation.
The 49-year-old Mohamed said hostilities prevented him from returning to southern Sudan after he moved to Egypt to study 20 years ago. He moved to Maine in 2001.
Mohamed, who traveled Sunday to vote, said people from the region want to show that southern Sudan doesn’t have the same problems as the rest of the region.
In Juba, in southern Sudan, voting in the weeklong referendum began Sunday with jubilant celebrations, and most everyone agrees the vote will result in the south splitting off from the Khartoum-based north. The two sides ended a 23-year civil war in 2005 that killed some 2 million people. The peace deal called for this week’s vote.
Mohamed is among more than 2,000 Sudanese refugees who live in Portland. Mohamed is Muslim, and his wife is Christian.
Southern Sudan is among the world’s poorest regions. The entire France-sized region has only 30 miles (50 kilometers) of paved roads. Because only 15 percent of southern Sudan’s 8.7 million people can read, the ballot choices were as simple as could be: a drawing of a single hand marked “separation” and another of clasped hands marked “unity.”
Independence won’t be finalized until July, and many issues are yet to be worked out, including north-south oil rights, water rights to the White Nile, border demarcation and the status of the contested region of Abyei, a north-south border region where the biggest threat of a return to conflict exists. Most of Sudan’s oil is in the south, while the pipelines to the sea run through the north, tying the two regions together economically.
Southerners, who mainly define themselves as African, have long resented their underdevelopment, accusing the northern Arab-dominated government of taking their oil revenues without investing in the south.