Post Referendum--A new chapter unfolds for Southern Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 20:16
Written by Joseph Deng Garang, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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 "In this Purple Journal--named for the purple ink in which we dipped our fingers during registration and referendum)--I want to share some fears/hopes and/or well wishes for my new nation," writes NSV President, Joseph Deng Garang. 

 (OMAHA, Nebraska) -  They say you should always keep a journal--- a diary of personal experiences or interests. And maybe by extension, one for journeys, those that start short or long.Sometimes a muted response goes: But there are some events that remain seared into our memories that we sometimes feel no regret when such records go unkept. A philosophic but a tenuous excuse nonetheless.

As a child growing up, I was not immune from the simple beliefs of childhood---the thoughts and the understanding that the world was just my beloved village, with all its lush surroundings, and that was it. I was a healthy boy, always on his feet, herding family cattle, and playing with friends. I had all the best things that the world could provide every child. At night, while by the firesides playing riddles with my brother, I would see the domed-like sky, with one moon for every household, touching down, reinforcing the very innocence that the physical world was finite.

That world changed. It was replaced by a world with all its inherent imperfections when the one I knew became shattered as all the trappings of injustice of old Sudan came bearing down on the very humanity of its citizens. I found myself confronting the best and the worst of inequity the world had to offer. I was suddenly robed of a sense of place as i began to comb deserts in search of safety. The civil war was at its lethal height in the early eighties and Southern Sudan was already a killing field until the peace deal was signed in 2005.

THIS MONTH a new chapter unfolded for southern Sudan. After six long years during which the SPLM and the NCP remained locked in  what came to look  like the reciting of a peace treaty to the point of paranoia, and after six days' moment of  fleeting voting during which millions for the first time participated  in the  historic exercise in self-determination---even though we are still going to wait for the next six months until the world welcomes the newest country in July--- the vote has brought catharsis for Southern Sudan, ending over half a century of conflict. The heavy burden that was weighting down on each of us for decades has been lifted off our shoulders.

Like millions, I’m thankful I was part of the vote that has defined a generation. The vote was, first and foremost, for the fallen, our posterity and then us. At first I was feeling subdued under the weighty symbolism of our historic exercise, but then my body began to feel lighter moments after what I saw as a perfect finality to the process.

In this Purple Journal--named for the purple ink in which we dipped our fingers during registration and referendum)--I want to share some fears/hopes and/or well wishes for my new nation. I want to share some thoughts on the aspect of a journey that seems to be almost winding down, but one that is taking on some interesting contours of the second journey that has already begun forming on my mind.

And even though i have always resisted talking about the very ordeals that came to define us as former child refugees, I feel the time has come for some sobering analysis in the form of powerful storytelling.

As people begin to truly reflect on the whole arc of experience that owes its beginnings to when all those artificial borders were created by the colonial masters, it is my hope that this personal reflection will provide some small measure of contribution to the national discourse that awaits us in earnest.

Although our journey did not fit the description of an ideal travel ---that ambitious notion usually reserved for adventurers, or sightseers---it bears a small resemblance by way of the lasting lessons we have learned in places we have been to. So we have no regrets. We have no regrets because we have witnessed first hand the humanity that exists in many people of this world, whether it is our hosts: the Ethiopians, Kenyans, fellow Sudanese, American friends or all the people of the world who I have not had the chance to meet. Or the random pen pals--those small children from Australia whose letters i read back in 1995 while in grade seven in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

I have seen plenty of testament that people the world over are capable of all acts of compassion and decency. They have lent us ears in our cause for freedom. They have been with us through thick and thin. And they have continued to show an enormous outpouring of support in causes we hold so dear like the recent exercise of referendum and I will forever be thankful to them.

In July when Southern Sudan announces independence, the fireworks, the message will ripple through--- its reverberation will be felt all around the world in ways the referendum was not.

So as we take this next journey home, I’m calling for a world solidarity with the people of Southern Sudan, one that continues to cultivate the needed partnerships because we still are not out of the woods yet. There will be heavy lifting for a generation that is expected to repair the damage done to the south by a system of hegemony, perpetuated against us for over half a century. We have a plethora of post-referendum challenges to deal with.

In taking up the mantle of full autonomy, it is my hope my fellow Southern Sudanese don't ignore the grim realties of societies but instead remind ourselves that history has shown time and again that all people are capable of carrying out injustice against one another, that even the most ardent of freedom seekers who know what oppression is like can sometimes turn into oppressors.

That should be early warning from history. It is normal human nature people tend to become complacent after achieving great milestones as ours and they tend to forget to build in early accountability mechanisms for the good of society. We have the freedom to mold the new country into whatever shape we deem optimal. But know that people will quickly start to group into social-economic classes. And still, there will always be those who are vulnerable.

Our young nation will come of age in turbulent times. But we have all the opportunity in the world to make it right the first time. I believe we Southern Sudanese are an exceptional people. We have endured so much suffering. When we were cast as undeserving of our quest for liberation, we have proven critics wrong without pontificating. We have handled the demonstrable events of referendum with poise and grace that comes from a lifetime of marginalization. We have ahead of us a land full of endless possibilities. The great question that has not been asked though is: how is the new nation going to leverage the human potential present in each of us?  Again, my hope is that the nation takes on new form of emerging leadership--one that informs and empowers citizens across societies.

But in the end, it will require us to create allied voices for solidarity to sustain it. How we continue to present ourselves to the world will provide a rare window into the new nation. Let's assure that we Southern Sudanese will someday contribute to making the world a better place, like our counterparts are doing around the world.

In this next journey, l hope we take to heart all the lessons of humility and service. As instructive as those lessons are, our generation can leave behind a lasting legacy--a perpetual flame that compels the society to share in the equal pull at the national heartstrings, because nations are great when they create a decent place where women, children and all the war orphans can live, learn and dream.

We had a leader in John Garang who trumpeted the first journey to bring about liberation and he won by bringing us the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. It is just so sad he is not here with us to witness history. But he shepherded us through the hardest part. He inspired us in a way that wove our hearts and souls into a shared goal for destiny. We know he has left footprints in the sands of times. I believe our current leader Salva is humbled by that as he takes us to the Promised Land in July. It is no easy feat trying to build a nation from scratch. The road to nation-building will be full of throes. It will require us to be obligated and to ease the cry of the war-affected children. It will require us to give voice to women.

Let's hope that in the next fifty years our nation will export a lesson of its own--one that says the success of post war societies or independent nation is not measured by the number of presidents it elects but by whether it educates, and moves millions to the middle class because that is the single surest way of breaking the cycle of poverty that haunts nations.

Finally, let us say good riddance to the brutalities and all the contemporary connotations of old Sudan. Let’s welcome Southern Sudan, where all imaginations are waiting to be unleashed. As we await the rich and sweet sound of independence, let's return to our birthplace to reassert and showcase the best of each hometown so that all those children who were born after the CPA and referendum can grow up knowing they, too, must add their stories to this great experience.

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