Lado Ladoka of South Portland believes the small voter registration card bearing his fingerprint is destined to be a family heirloom, tangible evidence of how his homeland in southern Sudan gained its independence from the north.

“They’re going to pass it down to future generations. ‘This is how we got to have our own country,’” said Ladoka, who plans a trip Sunday to Boston and one of the polling places that will serve the thousands in the Sudanese diaspora. “It’s a piece of history everyone is clinging to.”

The momentous vote is tinged with anxiety for Portland’s Sudanese residents, 300 of whom are registered to participate in the referendum. Some worry about whether Sudan’s northerners will accept the results, and wonder how the country will go about building the economic, public health and government infrastructure that an independent country needs.

“When we vote, we need to make sure these people who are voting understand the meaning of freedom,” said Rodents Biacho, a bookkeeper who came to the United States with his four children in 2004 after the death of his brother, a political activist.

With independence comes responsibility to care for the population, uphold the rule of law and avoid divisive internal conflicts that could make a new country weak and vulnerable, he said.

In southern Sudan, there is little electricity, many roads are seasonal and there isn’t enough housing for the population, Biacho said, so the challenges for a new government will be significant.


Sudan is the largest country in Africa. Many of its people have fled through years of civil war and persecution, some to refugee camps and others to host countries like the United States. Northern Sudan is predominantly Arab and Muslim. Southern Sudan is mostly black African and Christian.

The several hundred Sudanese in Maine represent the second-largest concentration in the United States, after a community in Nebraska.

The votes of Portland’s Sudanese will be a small fraction of the balloting. Most of the eligible voters — roughly 3 million — are in southern Sudan, with another 108,000 in northern Sudan, Australia, the United States and countries bordering Sudan.

Still, Sudanese in Maine anticipate the vote with reverence and joy.

“Everybody is feeling great,” said Alfred Jacobs, a community leader who is helping arrange bus transportation to the polling place in Boston. “This is very significant.”

Many believe the vote for secession is assured.


“People cannot wait for Sunday to be here,” Ladoka said. “There’s already discussion of raising money to celebrate after when the results are announced.”

Voting will begin Sunday and last a week. As results are tallied at each polling place, they will be announced there. Tally sheets will be sent to Juba, Sudan, the major city in the south, and to Khartoum, the country’s capital in the north.

If voters choose secession, the transition to independence will happen over the six months culminating on July 9. The vote affects only southern Sudan. The embattled region of Darfur, where government-supported militias have been accused of genocide, would not be separated from the north.

For the south, the vote has some parallels to America’s Declaration of Independence. But southern Sudanese hope their secession represents an end to bloodshed, not the beginning.

The vote will affect Sudanese who live in the United States. Most have family members in Sudan, and some send money there to help support them.

Some Sudanese in Portland say they plan to return to their homeland to help build the new nation or take advantage of opportunities there.


Biacho, who is studying business management at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, has no plan to return. He believes that many Sudanese in the United States will be reluctant to return because the infrastructure is so underdeveloped, disease is rampant and their views might not be welcomed by the new authorities.

Regina Nathaniel, a Portland resident who is helping to run the polling place in Washington, D.C., one of nine in this country, believes that Sudanese in the United States can help best by serving as contacts for people in this country who have expertise that can help development in southern Sudan.

Nathaniel said the Washington polling place has registered more than 8,000 voters.

“It is something they have been waiting for for 62 years,” she said, referring to the period since the outbreak of hostilities between the north and the south. “We have people driving from Michigan all day long (to register), and they’re going to come back to vote.”

If the vote goes against secession, many people worry that there will be a resumption of civil war, which has wracked the country on and off for decades. The president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has said the north will abide by the results of the referendum.

The division would be painful for the north.


The north has dominated the government and commerce for generations, but there are many natural resources in the south.

Also, many southerners work in the north in construction, agriculture and service industries. Businesses in the north worry about the impact of those workers leaving, Biacho said.

Many U.S. celebrities, and the U.S. government, have pledged to monitor the vote and its implementation. A group led by the actor George Clooney, along with the United Nations and Google, has implemented a satellite monitoring system to quickly get information about troop activities in potential hot spots in hopes of preventing violence.

That gives southerners some comfort that the results will be upheld, Biacho said. “We pray there should not be another war.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]


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