Southern Sudan Referendum OCRV Country Coordinator visits Omaha on last day of voter registration

 

OMAHA-- A majority of Southern Sudanese in the diaspora spent the last few hours of Wednesday doing last minute wrap-ups.

For some it was the inevitable drive to the centers for that last-minute registration which earned them a voting card and a purple left index finger, something many say they will cherish for a lifetime.

5centers
Southern Sudanese register

For the staff, it was a mixture of satisfaction stemming from having successfully completed the first phase of an historic exercise.

True to form, Sudan's Out of Country Registration & Voting (OCRV) ended today for the three initial Centers in the United States, leaving the five new centers that were recently added an extra window until December 22, 2010.

The Referendum Center in Omaha,Nebraska, one of the first three, got a nod from Mr. Andrew Cramer, the IOM Country Coordinator for Southern Sudan Referendum OCRV in the U.S., who paid a visit , managing to meet with the referendum staff and a small group of Southern Sudanese.

Although there was much enthusiasm from the staff and those who came for the last day of  registration, the elephant in the room for Mr. Cramer was how to counter the fact that those staff he came to meet went for weeks without  getting their salaries.

But in talking to some of the staff, The New Sudan Vision has learned that Mr. Cramer blamed the delay of salaries on 'prism', a payroll software that made it hard for timely wiring of money to individual bank accounts.

The problem, however, is said to have been resolved and it is a matter of days before those checks come to men and women who have done their job very well.

Mr. Cramer was accompanied by Benaiah Duku, who is the SSRC representative for the U.S.; Paulino Wanawilla Unango, who is SSRC Commissioner; and Regina Joseph Kapa, SSRC delegate.

 Faces of referendum

Our visit to the Omaha center, a small ,narrow-sized room belonging to sisters at the St. Richard Catholic Church, here in town, was met with courteous treatment from a friendly staff.

 The New Sudan Vision got clearance to talk to staff and registrants; had a short walk through the building thanks to Christa Yoakum, the IOM media  relations person in charge of media accreditation for the Omaha center.

Ms. Yoakum said the week of December 11-17 will be devoted to exhibition, a time during which the results of registration will be posted for all to see.

It is during that time that an exact number of all who have registered will be known.  

As part of capturing emotions of the last day of registration,we caught up with a couple of staff and how they felt about the whole experience. 

Ajang Awai talked about the daily experience, saying he was impressed with how Southern Sudanese have heeded the call. He said as staff, they were seeing 'crowds', sometimes prompting them to put in long hours.

He was "excited" about the whole exercise, saying it is "something i have had to witness for the first time." 

For James Luworo, " meeting people, listening, and talking to them," was a rich experience.

Pager Ajang said " it was a priviledge and an honor to work for the IOM--the process has been smooth", adding the number registered at their center is "significant." 

Banak Kueth, who became center's manager after the first manager was removed, was a little  surprised not a lot of people turned out to register on the last day as he had expected.

"Though it is not as much as we expected, registration has been good so far."

Nagging questions

At a meeting held after the closing hours, Paulino Wanawilla Unango who came from Sudan, gave a short briefing to those who were gathered in a room about what the commission is doing and how in two days, people will be allowed access to review for themselves the results of registration.

Mr. Unango said this is the time period during which the SSRC will anticipate complaints surrounding the registration ,but said the commission will stick to the January 9 for  the referendum vote.

He was asked about reasoning behind SSRC requirments of age 40 for staff; about why only three centers were approved before Southern Sudanese in the U.S. demanded for more, to which he gave a long-winded answer. 

Asked if it was hard for the commission to deal with the petition for more center, he said  "yes, it was the hardest thing."

The turn then came for Mr. Andrew Cramer of the IOM who was asked about the recruitment and whether hiring was compromised.

The explanation from him was that information about hiring was sent out to sudanese communities and other forums, but even some of the staff  were quick to counter that  argument by revealing that they got word of recruitment from friends, leaving questions as to whether such a huge exercise of global significance as hiring staff for the Southern Sudan Referendum should have gotten more transparency. 

In the end the impression that those who attended came away with was that of a process that was maybe done on the spur of moment, because even Mr. Cramer and Mr. Duku admitted how they had a " very short time frame to recruite over 150 people for the three centers" 

 On the home front

In Sudan, the SSRC announced the end of voter registration the same day. Southern Sudanese have just one month to head to the polls on January 9, 2011 in a self-determination vote on independence of the South, a key part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended 21 years of north-south civil war.

 

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