On July 9th the world’s newest nation was born. Under the presidential leadership of Salva Kiir Southern Sudan’s 10 million people finally broke free from the grip of Khartoum.
It is twelve years since I first entered Southern Sudan, travelling in with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The country was still in the grip of the civil war – which claimed 2 million lives and displaced 4 million people. Akio Johnson, then Auxiliary Bishop of Torit, showed me some of the scarred remains of schools, health centres, churches and homes – and the graves of the dead. Memorably, he told me that “every barrel of oil which the West buys from Khartoum is half filled with our blood.”
The ending of the war and secession leaves Southern Sudan and the Republic of Sudan with a whole host of unresolved issues and formidable challenges.
Half of the South’s population is below eighteen years of age; 72% below the age of thirty; 83% of the population is rural; only 27% of the adult population is literate; 51% live below the poverty line; 78% of households depend on crop farming or animal husbandry as their primary source of livelihood; 80% of the population does not have access to any toilet facility; Infant Mortality Rate is 102 (per 1000 live births); under 5 Mortality Rate is 135 (per 1000 live births).; Maternal Mortality Rate is 2054 (per 100,000 live births); and just 17% of children are fully immunized; 38% of the population has to walk for more than 30 minutes one way to collect drinking water; 50% of the population use firewood or grass as the primary source of lighting. 27% have no lighting at all; 96% of the population uses firewood or charcoal as the primary fuel for cooking; a mere 1% of households in Southern Sudan have a bank account – daunting odds for any Government.
But at least the Africans of the South now have the liberty and freedom for which they have craved, fought and spilt their blood.
Countless generations of their forebears knew nothing of freedom, having been sold into slavery by Arabs in the north, while hardly a family was untouched by a fatality during the campaign of aerial bombardment waged by Khartoum.
Despite the phenomenal challenges the taste of freedom is sweet.
Tragically, though, just over the new border – in Abyei and Southern Kordofan – their African brothers and sisters have not escaped Khartoum’s yolk – and like the benighted people of Darfur – that other ravaged territory of Sudan – the killing continues. Dr.Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has presciently warned that Southern Kordofan could become another Darfur.
Sudan’s President, Field Marshall Omar al-Bashir – wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court – and having announced his intention to impose strict Sharia Law throughout the north, has begun a new genocidal campaign against the Nuba people and others living in the oil rich province of Southern Kordofan. Throughout the last two months I have challenged British Ministers about the abysmal failure of the international community to make good “the duty to protect.”
In questions and letters I have detailed a bomb attack on a hospital north of Kauda Valley and the killing of fleeing refugees while United Nations “peacekeepers” simply looked on. I sent the Government a report on events in Kadugli where UN soldiers, according to one witness, were themselves responsible for handing over people who were seeking refuge in the refugee camp “like lambs to the slaughter”.
On June 20th it was reported that northern military, dressed in the humanitarian clothes of Red Crescent workers, led 7,000 refugees, including women and children, out of U.N. protective custody in Kadugli. Since then there has been no sighting or trace of these 7,000 people. There are also reports of mass graves.
State sponsored ethnic cleaning is underway and let no one pretend that they didn’t know.
Two months ago the UN received a report (which one of their own agencies had compiled) detailing “aerial bombardments resulting in destruction of property, forced displacement, significant loss of civilian lives, including of women, children, and the elderly; abductions; house-to-house searches; arbitrary arrests and detentions; targeted killings; summary executions; . . . mass graves; systematic destruction of dwellings; and attacks on churches.” Yet the international community chooses to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes.
Like an unfolding Jacobean tragedy, it is not possible to predict how many bodies will lie scattered across the stage that is Southern Kordofan when this new Sudanese drama reaches its deadly and bloody climax. What is all too easy to predict is that the international community will plead ignorance and do nothing.
Earlier this month my friend, the New Jersey Congressman, Chris Smith, chaired a Congressional Hearing on the deteriorating situation and he concluded that “Whatever the numbers involved, we can be sure that the suffering of the people in Southern Kordofan, especially the Nuba people, has been catastrophic.” The human suffering can barely be imagined.
The Catholic bishop of the Nuba, the saintly Macram Gassis, once said “Peace without justice is like building a house without foundations; it is a pseudo-peace doomed to collapse at the very first storm”. Today there is neither peace nor justice for his Nuba people.
Bishop Gassis has warned that Janjaweed militia are currently targeting the Nuba and have embarked on Darfur-style ethnic cleansing. He says that chemical weapons are being held in readiness to use against his people. And, guess who has been appointed Governor of Southern Kordofan? None other than Ahmad Harun – like Bashir a wanted war criminal –and who oversaw the Janjaweed’s rape, arson, murder and pillage of Darfur and its people.
In 2004, with Rebecca Tinsley, another long standing friend, I visited Darfur. In a sprawling refugee camp we took first-hand harrowing accounts from some of those who had suffered so grievously.
Since then, through the small charity which she founded, Waging Peace, and with single-minded determination, she has doggedly kept the story of Sudanese suffering before political leaders and commentators. Now, she has published a wonderful and timely novel, “When the Stars Fall to Earth” ( http://starsfalltoearth.com/ Landmarc Press and available via Amazon).
It is the story of the brave and dignified 14-year-old Darfuri girl, Zara, whose struggle to survive ultimately takes her to England and to the United States. Zara’s story, and those of others whose lives meet hers, is a sobering reminder of the new tragedy now unfolding in Sudan. The American film actor, Martin Sheen says the book is “a must read.” He’s right. It is a must read but for the world’s political leaders, ignoring the new unfolding tragedy in Sudan, it should be must act, too.