9 January 2011 – As the weather was slowly warming up this windy morning in Sudan's capital of Khartoum, nine men were sitting on a bench in front of a polling centre, waiting to cast their votes in the country's long-awaited referendum.
The men were lining up in Khartoum's Baraka area, mainly populated by people displaced during Sudan's long-running war, just before noon on the first morning of polling for Southern Sudan's self-determination referendum.
"I have been waiting for about ten minutes," said John Malou, who came to Khartoum from Rumbek (Lakes State) in 2005 to study theology at the capital's St. Paul Major Seminary. "The referendum is very crucial ... it involves the destiny of people."
Commenting on the turnout, Widaa TajAldeen, chairperson of the polling centre, said, "Up till now we had about 80 people who voted," adding that they had registered 733 people there last November.
Earlier, at 8.15 in the morning, as an Omdurman polling centre was just about to open, only one man was waiting to cast his vote.
Forty-six-year-old Sadiq Ibrahim was born in Khartoum and had never visited his ancestral home of Raja County (Northern Bahr El-Ghazal State), but was determined to vote. He considered it his duty to partake in the polls.
"I am optimistic about the future," Mr. Ibrahim said at the centre in Omdurman's Morda area, where over 200 people had registered. "Unity (of Sudan) might still happen but with a new set of morals, ideas and opinions."
Bol Deng Chol, Vice Chancellor of Nile University, expressed a similar sentiment at the same centre, stating that he was happy to exercise his right in a democratic process. But he said he was afraid the outcome might affect other parts of the country and result in the "disintegration of Sudan".
Angelo Bol Acher, who hailed from Upper Nile State but had been residing in Khartoum since 1985, called the referendum a historical event both for the north and south of Sudan. He said the 4 January speech President Omar Al-Bashir gave about acceptance of the result was reassuring.
Mr. Acher said he considered the northern capital his home, either way the referendum result swang, although he might think about moving south in the future.
One of very few women showing up at polling centres was Mariam AlNagab, who came from Kapoeta (Eastern Equatoria State) to settle in Khartoum in 1988.
"The referendum is important as it gives people a chance to exercise their rights," she said, hoping the process would benefit the country's future.
Ms. AlNagab had no intention of returning south, however, as she had encountered difficulties when she visited during the elections of April 2009. "Many people called us Arabs or Jallaba (northerner) and didn't accept us."
"We want to support the right of the people of Southern Sudan," said Pasquale Otwel Ajanin, who comes from the Upper Nile State capital of Malakal but now works as a doctor at a Khartoum clinic.
Mr. Ajanin came to the capital in 1990 for his secondary education and stayed on to complete medical school. He intends to go back to his homeland after the referendum ends.
"People of Southern Sudan need our efforts," he said, as he left the Omdurman polling centre.
Some 117,000 people or three per cent of the 3.93 million people registered for the ballot registered in North Sudan, according to figures released yesterday by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission at a Khartoum press conference.