The plague of inter-communal violence that affected much of Southern Sudan last year took its toll on the residents of the Upper Nile State town of Bienythiang. Tribal clashes erupted in the predominantly Dinka community of 2,000 last September, killing 13 people including the paramount chief and leaving dozens wounded.
Many of Bienythiang’s townspeople were displaced by the fighting and several buildings including the local primary school were razed to the ground.
But hundreds of local residents went to the polls in Bienythiang this week to cast their ballots in Sudan’s first national multi-party election in 24 years.
It seemed all the more fitting that the town’s polling station was installed in the rebuilt primary school, which has yet to resume classroom instruction.
“We are now rebuilding our houses and starting to live normally, including participating in the elections,” said the local chief Ayuel Deng. “We people of Bienythiang are very happy and eager to vote.”
Located 60 kilometers north of the Upper Nile State capital of Malakal, Bienythiang is host to approximately 1,500 households.
Life is gradually returning to normal, said Mr. Deng, but the town is still grappling with food shortages and a lack of clean water.
“We will go to Malakal to request assistance from the state government and United Nations agencies, but only after the elections,” he said. “We want to exercise our rights to vote first.”
By the third day of the elections, about 500 of the 1,602 registered voters in the area had cast their ballots.
In explaining the low voter turnout, Senior Polling Centre Officer Ajak Wer said, “People who vote are not only coming from Bienythiang Town but also from surrounding villages. They have problem with transport, (and) it’s not easy for them to get here.”
Mr. Wer applauded the National Elections Commission’s decision to extend the voting period for Sudan’s historic vote by two full days. “We are happy that the election has been extended for two more days,” he said. “It gives people time to come and vote.”