Independence Day. It’s supposed to be a time of celebration, reflection, even jubilation. And for Americans it usually is. But for those in the world’s newest country, South Sudan, it seems to mark the beginning of what may be a long struggle.
Having reported in Sudan and South Sudan for several years my love and admiration for the Sudanese has grown. And it is sometimes heartbreaking to see the struggles they face, yet it’s is also inspiring to their determination and commitment to succeed.
The challenges are many: poverty, war, and genocide.
This is what the country started with: nearly 50 years of oppression, at best, by the government in the north.
The southern third of the country was marginalized, while its oil funded infrastructure projects in the capital. As a result there are 100 miles (160 kms) of paved road in a nation the size of France or Texas. And there are 120 doctors to serve a population of eight million people. A girl is statistically more likely to die in childbirth than finish elementary or primary school. (Source: Huffington Post)
I’m always surprise when Americans tell me they can’t understand why, now that South Sudan has seceded from the north, it is still unstable. It’s no wonder with the one year old country is struggling with the people of the Nuba Mountains being the latest victims of ethnic cleansing.
The Nuba Mountains are in South Kordafan. My most recent trip to South Sudan and Sudan was to the get a firsthand look at alleged bombing and starvation of the Nuba people by the government in the north. I say hundreds, thousands of people being starved to death, a tact similar to the genocide in Darfur. This has been going on for a year now and continues perhaps because there is so little news coverage therefore, no outrage.
To a certain degree I do understand why there are few reporters covering this latest version of ethnic cleansing in that the Nuba Mountains are rugged and difficult to get to. And now, during the height of the rainy season what dirt roads do exit, are nearly impassable.
The Nuba Mountains sit on the border between the north and the south but that boarder is being disputed. Another challenge facing South Sudan.
The history of oppression is deep, long and continuous.
From 1985 to 2005 the northern government in Khartoum sent the janjaweed, “devil on horseback,” to the south, killing or starving 2.5 million people, and at least 300,000 in Darfur. And none of these numbers include the thousands of people taken in to slavery who remain in bondage, now numbering millions, in the north.
The International Criminal Court indicted the president of the government of the north, Omar al-Bashir because of these crimes against humanity.
My sources in the Nuba Mountains more civilians continue to walk days, children in tow, to Yida, a UNHCR refugee camp.
Meanwhile, Sudanese in the north protest against the totalitarian government. They are upset over rising food and fuel costs and corruption of the National Congress Party, previously known as the National Islamic Front. Police are responding to the demonstrations with brutal force, not surprisingly and the government blames Westerners for encouraging the unrest.
Yes, it is Independence time for South Sudan, an opportunity to look forward, stay focused and understand there are no quick fixes to the challenges they face.
Do free press and political or community development play a role in solutions to these challenges? More on that later.