Southern Sudan is preparing for independence. Its people have voted to separate from the North. The media for their part are calling for more freedom – and for greater responsibility. DW-AKADEMIE will lend them support.
Approximately 3.8 million Southern Sudanese – almost 98.8 percent of the electorate – voted to separate from the country’s North in a referendum on independence held January 9-15, 2011. The secession is set for July 9, 2011.
James Magok Chilim, director of Radio 98FM
As part of the upcoming independence, Southern Sudanese journalists are calling for more freedom and for a media law. In the past, the Southern Sudanese government repeatedly attempted to intimidate journalists and influence their reporting. Media workers were nevertheless able to play a constructive role in the tense situation leading up to the vote. “The media sensitized people to the referendum,” says James Magok Chilim, director of Radio 98FM in Rumbek, Southern Sudan. Chilim is a DW-AKADEMIE partner and praises his colleagues for trying to let both sides have their say in the separation debate – the supporters and the opponents.
In a peace agreement signed in 2005, Northern and Southern Sudan agreed to a referendum. Following 21 years of civil war and more than two million deaths, the former autonomous region will become the 53rd African state.
“Journalists will take on a watchdog function”
The media are to have an important function in the new state. Chilim believes the media will help “change and transform the war-like mentality that the Southern Sudanese have adopted as a way of life.” The media will also become the link between the people and the government. Chilim hopes journalists “will take on a watchdog function and become the advocates of justice, freedom, equality and development.“
DW-AKADEMIE has been holding workshops in Southern Sudan since 2006. The workshops are aimed at journalists, media workers and local politicians, and are focused on political reporting, communication and conflict prevention. DW-AKADEMIE will continue to support the regional media. There is still a need to professionalize and extend local reporting, particularly in the provinces, and to establish a network linking the isolated stations.
The new state will face immense problems. Religious and ethnic tensions remain, some two million internal refugees need to be integrated, and the infrastructure requires significant improvement. Southern Sudan is approximately seven times larger than Germany and to date has less than one hundred kilometers of paved roads.
Still unresolved: The border along an area rich in raw materials
The media will focus heavily on the building of the new country, says Chilim. “The most important topics will be how Southern Sudan establishes itself as a state and how it will provide security for its people and for investors. At our station, Radio FM98, we’ll be reporting almost daily on education and health. Issues of war will be replaced with reports on development, democracy, human rights, education and economy.”
Most important, nevertheless, will be the relationship with the North. The Sudanese president, Omar al Bashir, announced he would respect the referendum results. The border, however could be the cause of renewed conflict. Southern Sudan has large oil reserves. The North, however, has the necessary refineries, pipelines and access to the sea for export.
“I hope there will be peace and stability between the North and the South. After all, we share a long border and we’ll still be neighbors,” says Chilim. “I do think our relationship will change – the North will want to benefit from the South’s abundance of oil, and the South will need the established economic structures of the North.“