SPLM delegation ends ‘historic’ Canadian visit

splmcalgarymeeting(Calgary, AB NSV) –The crowd rises up abruptly to its feet and erupts in the singing of the SPLA liberation songs. Women ululate. Men and women sing and clap their hands cheerfully. They continue standing and singing as a strong SPLM delegation wades through a room packed with hundreds of supporters.

The delegates head to the front to a long white table decorated with southern Sudan flags, where they stand and sing along with a receptive and smartly dressed crowd.

Everybody seems to be savouring every moment of this unprecedented show of solidarity and unity, albeit temporary and fleeting, in a community noted for its rifts.

Edward Lino, who heads the delegation after SPLM southern sector deputy secretary general and GoSS minister of cooperatives and rural development, Ann Ito, went back to Sudan to head a ministerial delegation to China, nods his head in approval, his white hair and red tie stand out.

Antipas Nyok Kucha, the SPLM secretary for political affairs and mobilization raises his right fist in the air, in acknowledgment, and sings the familiar SPLA lyrics with the rest of his comrades.

From the look of the crowd to their enthusiastic chanting of “SPLA oyee” and “New Sudan oyee,” a causal observer might think the event is taking place at a venue somewhere in an SPLM stronghold in southern Sudan.

Welcome to Calgary, Alberta—the Wild Rose Country—where the local press put the number of Sudanese in this city at about 20,000, making it the largest population of Sudanese in Canada.

In recognition of the bond that binds them with their newly adopted country—if ever shaky in this province where numerous Sudanese young people die by the gun and the knife and where dozens others stay put behind bars—the Sudanese have plastered the wall with Canadian and southern Sudanese flags.

Although the Canadian flag is struggling to stay up, someone has been making sure it stays erect.

It’s late afternoon on Sunday and southern Sudanese have filled a downtown Presbyterian church to the brink, with some standing up at the entrance to steal glimpses of the delegates. They are here to listen to a rare SPLM delegation to Canada, in a gathering officials and participants laud for its historical significance.

“We were invited by the Canadian government,” says Antipas Nyok, to loud cheers and applause. “Something that was not there before,” he adds quickly.

The SPLM have been in Canada for a week as part of a joint delegation with the NCP where they had been learning how Canada conducted the referenda on Quebec in 1982 and 1995 respectively, none of whom resulted in secession, ahead of their own.

Gabriel Alaak Garang, the SPLM secretary for finance and economic affairs says they had met with both sides of the referenda and all the political parties, including Bloc Quebecois, the party that advocates for the province’s separation from Canada.

He says they have also met with the leader of the Cree Nation, an aboriginal group, in a journey which had taken them to Quebec,Toronto, and now Calgary, the final leg of their trip.

‘Groundbreaking’ visit

Perhaps Mum Majak Malok, the head of the GoSS Mission to Canada, captures the sheer historical nature of the event in a language his audience understands.  “Tonight, I think we are not lying anymore,” he says, to loud cheers.

Mum’s half-apologetic and half-self-congratulatory tone attributes to the fact that he and his predecessors have in the past repeatedly promised Sudanese Canadians (Sudanadians) about the coming of the SPLM/GoSS to Canada without success.

Much of this failure had been as much symptomatic of the past rocky relations between the SPLM/SPLA and the Canadian government as it had to do with organic factors.

Historically the Canadian government did not approve of the then guerrilla army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and its political wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. The SPLM/SPLA too fell out with Canada over the controversial participation of its Calgary based oil company, Talisman, which they accused of human rights

Mum touts the efforts of the Sudanese in Calgary in pressing Talisman to change course in Sudan. However, he notes the time is now ripe for the oil company to invest in the country after the CPA brought about peace and put an end to the civil war.

He calls the SPLM visit “groundbreaking,” suggesting there has been a near sea change in Canadian policy toward the SPLM led government of southern Sudan.

On its part, Canada appears to be warming toward the semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan, which is five months away from a referendum vote polls, observers and commentators say is almost certain to result in the balkanization of Africa’s biggest country.

In May the Hon. Lawrence Cannon, the Canadian minister of foreign affairs, commended the formation of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, ending what southern Sudanese viewed as Canadian ambivalence vis-à-vis the region.

“This is a critical step in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and paves the way toward a referendum process that will be credible and transparent,” he said in a press statement.

Taking home the ‘harvest’

edward linoottawa

Edward Lino, a senior member of the SPLM, addresses the Sudanese in Ottawa on Saturday, August 7, 2010. Photo by Brian Adeba/NSV

Today, the SPLM delegates speak unequivocally and unapologetically in favour of separation and in contempt of their peace partners, the NCP.

It’s Nyok’s turn and he delivers some of the most scathing attacks against the NCP, which his audience receives with ululations, cheers and applause.

He says there are seven wonders in the world but the NCP is “the eighth wonder.” “Tell the whole world that it’s Khartoum that’s responsible for the separation of southern Sudan,” he says.

He notes Khartoum has been sitting on the heads of the marginalized people of Sudan since 1956 “with the biggest and heaviest butt sitting on the people of southern Sudan.”

In his address, Alaak declares, “Unity has not been made attractive.” He blasts NCP for ‘blackmailing’ SPLM whenever it expresses secessionist sentiment, while it openly campaigns for unity, he observes. “What’s wrong with separation?” he asks rhetorically.

Meanwhile, Edward, who delivers the keynote speech of the night as a sign of his seniority, admonishes NCP to “let the people choose.”

He tells the crowd the NCP’s vision of unity is that of a theocratic state. “They want unity in their image,” he says. “A deformed unity in order to deform you,” he says of the NCP, before declaring a vote of
no confidence in them. “They are very impossible partners.”

It’s about 10:00 pm and the singing and the fanfare of the event have noticeably died down.  The crowd has begun to disperse. It has been a long night, but one that will be remembered as the night when the first SPLM delegation set foot in Alberta.

Edward says he takes home a message of equality. He says Canada has treated the SPLM and the NCP as equals.

Nyok hails the visit as “very fruitful.”  “We have harvested the fruit and we are taking it home,” he says.

The wait might be five months away but by January 9 next year, southern Sudanese might have a taste of the Canadian fruit.

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