Sunday, 9 January 2011
Southern Sudan at long last is one step closer to reality
At one point in Canada, where I worked for RASS ( Relief Association for Southern Sudan), we had apx 4000 Southern Sudanese for several thousand more Northeners who were staying in the country. Those were hard years trying to kept refugees abreast of news from home, organize pro independence , self determination meetings and try to create small relief projects. We were so few,strung out over such a vast territory. It was not helped that we had near monthly visits from the latest RCMP officer charged with the Sudan refugee desk who was without a clue. Our own people, ,Nuer or Equutorian and even the Nuba, were spied on while the spies from the dictatorial rogue regime roamed free to harass and threaten people outside of Sudan. What truly was the most disheartening part of the job was surely the brick wall of officialdom we faced. Not just RASS but the relief wing of the SPLA/SPLM. Repeatedly we were told Canada could do nothing directly, it had to distrubute aid with the knowledge of the North and was working with third parties like Oxfam but could not work with us on the ground, even in areas where the SSIM or SPLA were in control. It was ok for big NGOs to hire freedom fighters in Loki to guide them in , but the likes of Oxfam could never admit that indigenous organizations could get the job done or that we knew what had to be done.
But now in about a week, all those people who believed in Self Determination, all the Jenubine and their supporters who went to countless , meetings , parties and church services will be able to turn the tables on these people who used the South for their own narrow political and organizational needs. Even John Garang the great believer in federalism, fought a rear guard action within the SPLA/SPLM against Independence, but failed most emphatically. The fact that despite his best efforts, the final round of talks had to include an interim Southern State and a definitive date for a referendum is proof of just how strong the idea and the need for it is. My then boss, Chairman and Commander in Chief Dr. Riek Machar worked hard, never giving up on Self Determination for a second. Our fortnightly or monthly phone meeting with HQ were always refreshing and however difficult the news, we knew that all those of Chairman Riek Machar in Nairobi and inside, were doing what they could with what they had. We were of course not alone in this work, there were those of the Dinka organizations in Ontario and in North Dakota who also beat the drums for the cause. One year when several of the leadership came to Washington for direct talks with the Americans, the Southern Sudanese delegation under severe financial hardship , still managed to make a few points with the big American NGOs. Our London, Frankfurt and Nairobi Offices often talked and faxed in the days before the internet and cheap long distance. It's hard to imagine for those who have skype, msn and e-mail what it was like trying to operate a movement on a shoestring in those days.
I'd like to do a short list of those whom I had the honour of working with, and apologies to those I will omit, as I cannot recall all of your names. When we stayed with you, you were perfect hosts, you made us feel at home and as if we were in the safe hands of family. In my own life I have never before or since felt as accepted as one of the family as when I travelled the length and breadth of Eastern Canada in the cause of the Dinka, Nuer, Equatorian and Nuba of Southern Sudan. First I must mention my immediate superior Paul Odiong, who as a boy, was forced to watch as his own father executed by Northern soldiers, his commitment and hard graft cannot be questioned and his service should not be forgotten. All those of Francis Apollo, Jenaro Lwal Ater, Dr Dominic Funda who stayed with me, Peter Pal Jola and so many others. Then there is the entire leadership of SSIM with whom I had the honour of working and of the course the late lamented Emma who we lost to a car crash in 1993. The Catholic priests from Torit and Loki, The people who we worked with on the dossier of the stranded Southern Sudanese students in Cuba and all the groups of young men living in crowded flats in Ottawa, Toronto, Kitchener and other points, who made us welcome despite their own poverty and overcame their own divisions to become more than people of a single tribe and embraced the Southern Sudanese identity. They rose above petty provincial differences and laid the ground work for the new Government that will stand for all Jenubine. So many have died , gone into exile or suffered cruelly for the cause, but their work should not be forgotten or wasted.
I wish I could be there myself In Juba , Abwei , Wau , Torit, Kapoeta, Rumbek, Malakal, Yei, Gogrial, all the places I could only ever hope to visit, but never did because .... until now it had been too dangerous and unlike the big Hollywood stars who drop in for a day or a week, I cannot afford to just pick up and go. But I am there, everywhere at least in spirit and wish you all a very peaceful, safe vote that leads to the mother of all birthday parties. If it's like the the evenings we had back in the day, I know the dancing will go on long into the week after the official result is announced.
I like most reasonable people am happy there is a referendum, am confident it will go well and that the political developments in the South are good augers for a healthy polity that will insure long. fair and democratic rule. But I am not blind to the danger signs that even now threaten the security and the stability of the new nation. But if the solid wall of proud Southern Sudanese who are as varied as they are familiar with each other continues in the near unanimity they currently maintain, the future cannot help but be a good one.
A useful link to an FAQ on all you could ever want to know about the referendum. A link to the GoSS
Good Luck in the vote, and if any of my now scattered old friends wish to get in touch, just e-mail the blog. Again my sincerest congratulations on a great campaign and an imminent result some of us have been waiting for, for quite some time. It has been in some cases far to long since I spoke to some of you. Take care and we shall surely speak soon.