12 January 2011 – Akot Chan Chol Ater, 96, never imagined he would live to participate in either this month’s self-determination referendum in Southern Sudan or the general election of April 2010.
“I thank God for all his blessings and for all things he did for all of us,” said the frail but determined resident of Aweil West County in Northern Bahr El-Ghazal state after he cast his ballot at the Marial Bai Polling Centre earlier this week.
Mr. Ater said that he is too old to leave his house under normal circumstances, but he made an exception for the referendum and used his walking stick to help him reach the nearby polling centre.
“I considered this process as one of the most important occasions in life,” he said. “I think the future will not be the same as what we had witnessed during our time, and the next generation will benefit from it.”
Mr. Ater survived both of Sudan’s civil wars, but it was the second armed conflict that ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 that left his life in “total disarray.”
“I lost 10 children from my family members alone after they were abducted by unknown gunmen in uniform, who raided our area around the end of the 1990s,” said Mr. Ater, adding that he and his neighbours abandoned their homes and fled into the bush on numerous occasions when government soldiers were spotted in the vicinity.
Mr. Ater blamed the war on politicians who did not want peace and stability in the region, and he insisted that he harbored no ill feelings towards northerners.
“We don’t have any problem with our brothers in the North or with anyone else in the region,” he said. “We are brothers and I do not see any problem among us.”
The elderly voter urged his fellow southerners to join forces to build a better future.
“My people need to work together for common good and development” he said. “The time is coming, and we need to use it wisely and with a big heart.”