10 January 2011 – Jeremiah Gony Shuei was a young man of 23 when he joined the Anyanya One rebels in 1963 who were fighting to overthrow the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Abboud.
He can still recall the 15-day-long trek that he and other young southerners made through the bush that year to reach a training camp inside Ethiopia for their month-long instruction in guerrilla tactics.
Today Mr. Shuei is a balding, bearded asthmatic of 71 who lives in a hovel made of grass and sheets of zinc in the Luakkat district of Malakal.
On Sunday morning he rose at 5 a.m. and braved the pre-dawn cold to cast his ballot at a polling centre in his neighbourhood.
“I do not regret now that I have cast my vote for the independence of Southern Sudan from the north,” said Mr. Shuei. “I am sure my vote would accomplish what we have failed to do so through fighting.”
The father of 13 children spent nine years in the ranks of the Anyanya One rebels and had risen to the rank of captain when the Addis Ababa peace treaty was signed in 1972.
Resources were in chronically short supply for him and his fellow rebels. To buy weapons and ammunition, Mr. Shuei had to raise money from sympathetic civilians in the south – and when supplies really ran low he would fashion makeshift hand grenades from gasoline-filled bottles.
When Sudan’s first civil war ended, Mr. Shuei was given two options: join the Sudanese army or leave the military and accept a post in the government of Upper Nile Province. He opted for the latter in 1973, but within two months of joining the provincial government’s civil service Mr. Shuei had been made redundant.
Many of the ex-rebels went back to the bush and resumed the armed struggle against Khartoum in the late 1970s. But Mr. Shuei was done with fighting and made the transition to civilian life, taking on two wives and finding work as a driver for a Roman Catholic church in Malakal.
He has not forgotten his former comrades-in-arms, however.
“I have voted for those ones who have been killed, maimed (or have) shattered households and families,” he said. “I voted to free myself at last, this time not with bullets but through the ballot box.”