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Africa

Southern Sudan: The Referendum and the Media

Southern Sudan has held a referendum on whether the region should separate from Sudan. James Magok Chilim, director of Radio 98FM in Southern Sudan and DW Akademie partner, talks about the media’s role in the region.

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James Magok Chilim, director of Radio 98FM

In Sudan conflicts have repeatedly flared up over ethnic, religious and economic interests, and there are fears that a civil war could be re-ignited following the referendum. Many questions remain unresolved if the south should separate, such as where the border will run and how trade with raw materials will be regulated. Large oil fields exist in Southern Sudan but only the North has the necessary refineries, pipelines and access to the sea.

The media play a key role in this tense situation. Since 2006 DW Akademie has conducted workshops in Southern Sudan for journalists, media workers and local politicians. The workshops focus on political reporting, communication and conflict prevention.


What role did the media play during the weeks and months preceding the referendum?
James Magok Chilim: The media sensitized people in Southern Sudan to the referendum preparations, informing people about the registration process and covering the election campaigns in a fair and balanced way. The media did its best to give everybody a voice - to the separation supporters and to the opponents. Still, nobody really wanted to talk about unity. Even the international media didn't discuss unity very much.

Overall, the media have played an important role in Sudan at large and in Southern Sudan, particularly since the southern Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the Government of Sudan signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. The media have kept people informed and created an awareness of the importance of peace.


Which role will the media play in an independent Southern Sudan?
The media will help in changing and transforming the war mentality that the Southern Sudanese people have adapted as a type of "culture". The media will be the link between the people and the government, advocating human rights and democracy so that Southern Sudan becomes a democratic African state. And the media will be a watchdog promoting justice, freedom, equality and development.


What main stories do you expect to emerge in Southern Sudan following the referendum?
The focus will be on the construction of Southern Sudan as a state, a nation. Stories will also look at how Southern Sudan can remain secure for citizens and investors. At our station, education and health will make the daily headlines. Overall, the focus will change from war stories to reports on development, democracy, human rights, education, economic and business.


What are your personal hopes after the referendum?
I hope that the South will use its resources for the benefit of the people here and that with democratization in both the North and South people will trust their governing systems. I hope there will be permanent peace and stability between the North and the South because we'll remain neighbors along our long border. Our relationship will change. The North will hope to benefit from the South because of the oil and we will hope to benefit from the North because of business structures and capacity building.