Sudan agreement brokered by Africans a landmark effort
The Times Editorial: Africa witnessed the beginning of the birth of a new nation yesterday as millions of southern Sudanese started voting in an independence referendum that is widely expected to result in the war-ravaged mainly Christian south seceding from the predominantly Muslim north.
The poll will run for seven days and the challenges - in terms of security and logistics - have been immense.
But the stakes are incredibly high: the referendum is the culmination of a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa's longest civil war - fuelled by ethnicity and oil - which killed about 2 million people.
It is significant that the broadly based agreement that paved the way for the poll, expected to result in the redrawing of one of Africa's colonial boundaries, was brokered by Africans and endorsed by the African Union.
South Africans can take pride in the fact that their former president, Thabo Mbeki, played an important role in the push for peace in Sudan.
South Africa has sent a team of 35 people, including MPs and civil society representatives, to observe the referendum and help ensure that it is free and credible.
Fittingly, southern President Salva Kiir, a former guerrilla leader, cast the first ballot in Juba at the mausoleum of John Garang, the rebel leader and independence pioneer who was killed in a helicopter crash six months after the 2005 peace deal was signed.
Though the south's vote for independence will raise the hopes of separatists elsewhere in Africa, the continent's leaders - and the West - have resisted efforts to redraw boundaries, fearing the potential for large-scale conflict.
Sudan and Eritrea - the latter hived off from Ethiopia in 1993 after a bloody guerrilla war - are likely to remain exceptions on a continent whose history of colonial conquest spawned dozens of bloody rebellions.