“Let it be known that this republic stands for freedom and stands against tyranny, domestic or foreign.” This sounds like a sound bite from a triumphant November 3, 2010 press release. But it is not a reaction to the change in American politics. It is the dream of a young man from South Sudan for the birth of his nation.
They have no Tea Party, but on January 9, 2011 the people of South Sudan will vote to determine their destiny and achieve freedom. The 2010 elections have made some inroads against those who threaten American personal liberty and the Constitution. But South Sudan’s marginalized and oppressed people never had a Constitution to protect their human rights and personal liberty. They have never had free and fair elections. They believe that only secession from the Islamist-ruled nation of Sudan and the establishment of their own secular democracy will bring them freedom.
A new nation, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” is the heart cry of all Sudanese people who have been enslaved and/or persecuted by their own government because of their skin color and their identity as Christians, or Africans, or both. It is not just Darfur that needs “saving” from the regime of indicted war criminal President Omar al Bashir. It is not just the south of Sudan that needs freedom from the National Congress Party (NCP) Sudanese Islamist government. It is most of the country. But it is South Sudan that has been given the legal right to self-determination as the culmination of the 2005 north/south Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Amazingly, 87-90% of Sudan’s people have been marginalized by al Bashir’s Islamist elite in Khartoum. South Sudanese scholar and diplomat Dr. Francis Deng addressed this in War of Visions: Conflicting Identities in the Sudan. Dr. Deng’s euphemistic phraseology aside, the Islamic government of Sudan plans to make Sudan the model Arab Islamic state. And there you have the identity conflict. Sudan is not an Arab Islamic state. It is an African country, with Muslims, Christians, and followers of traditional Nilotic religions. South Sudan in particular, along with Nuba Mountains, Abyei, Blue Nile, Darfur, Nubia in the north, and the indigenous Beja of the east, have resisted Khartoum’s Arabism and Islamism.
For decades, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), comprised of Christian, Muslim, and animist professors, engineers, dairy farmers and peanut farmers, fought for freedom and democracy. To their own government, Southerners and other black African Sudanese are “infidels,” second-class citizens, and abid (the Arabic word for slaves, a racist term for all black Africans). During the resistance, women and children were taken in slave raids. Churches, schools, clinics, and marketplaces were bombed and burned. Over 2.5 million died and over 5 million were displaced in a war in which the Islamists targeted civilians. They wanted South Sudan’s mineral-rich and fertile land, but not its people.
Though most Americans do not realize it, South Sudan’s struggle and ability to resist Islamization has significance for the West, as well. Americans aware of and resisting the encroachment of Shari’a in America should feel kinship to those resisting Islamization in Sudan. Even more critical is that Islamists in Khartoum supported and funded by the Arab world consider South Sudan the “gateway” to the Islamization and Arabization of all of Africa. For the NCP and its partners such as the Muslim Brotherhood this could be the first step in the establishment of a worldwide Caliphate.
The genocidal jihad waged by the NCP against South Sudan and the other areas of non-submission to Shari’a was halted by the CPA. Brokered by the United States in a “troika” that also contained Great Britain and Norway, the CPA provided a six year interim arrangement. Southern leaders were incorporated into the national government and a regional government was established in South Sudan. Dr. John Garang de Mabior, the iconic leader of the SPLM/A, was elected First Vice President of Sudan and President of the Regional Government of South Sudan.
Over 5 million people, largely Northern Arab Sudanese, came out to greet Garang at the Green Square in Khartoum when he arrived for his installation. Northerners and Southerners alike were delirious with hope for peace and freedom, even embracing each other in the streets. This greatly disturbed the Islamists. They had underestimated the attractiveness of freedom and democracy, to even their adherents in Khartoum.
Garang was sworn in on July 9, 2005. Three weeks later he was dead, killed in a helicopter crash returning from Uganda. But even with the devastating loss of the “Moses,” who was to take to take them to the Promised Land, the South Sudanese pressed on. The fledgling South Sudan government has struggled to establish a secular democracy and to begin to build the region under the presidency of the man who had been Garang’s second-in-command, now the “Joshua” who would lead them, Salva Kiir Mayardit.
Since the signing of the peace agreement, the northern regime has put innumerable obstacles in the way of the Government of South Sudan. CPA protocols on power and wealth sharing, demobilization of troops, boundary agreements, elections preparations, completion of a census, and other issues have been flagrantly disregarded and/or violated by the NCP. For the most part, this has been done with impunity, with no accountability demanded by the United States or the international community.
Now, with every bit as much determination as America’s Tea Party, the people of South Sudan prepare to vote and to, assuredly, declare their country’s independence. This vote is a matter of life and death. American voters worried about fraud and intimidation, particularly against Tea Party candidates and voters. But Khartoum is orchestrating the most Machiavellian forms of voter fraud – sabotaging the intricate design and timetable of the Referendum. As for intimidation, government-backed militias and the northern Ugandan butchers known as the Lord’s Resistance Army roam through South Sudan attacking and killing civilians. Reports have surfaced of 70,000 troops on the north/south border, as well as 4,000 Janjaweed, the infamous killers of Darfur, deployed to the disputed border area of Abyei.
The NCP regime had six years to “make unity attractive” to South Sudanese. But they preferred to undermine the South, to try to plant doubts in the minds of the U.S. government and other world leaders that ”allowing” the South to secede is a wise thing to do (never mind that the South has this right accorded to it in the agreement which the NCP endorsed). They infer that South Sudan is a “failed state” before it is even a state. They also openly threaten violence against Southerners who are in the north after the vote.
Young South Sudanese Duke University student Nyuol Lueth Tong, writes of northern Sudanese that wonder why unity is not attractive to Southerners in his poetic “Declaration of Separation”:
The people of the North, who never experienced the earth tremble with bombs, the sky rain with bullets, or the Nile flood with the blood of the dead and with the tears of the orphaned and the abandoned and the widowed and the traumatized, protest the birth of our nation: “Why?” they ask. “Let us reconcile, let us live in peace, let us preserve unity,” they say.
Tong continues bitingly, “wars mandated by heaven leave neither shadows, echoes, nor traces in the memory, nor stains on the consciences of their perpetrators.” Therefore, the northern Sudanese may have forgotten “why unity – once our common national aim – has become neither probable nor focal for the people of the South.” He will remind them “without expecting them to regret, repent, rethink, or even doubt the justness of their jihad against our people.”
“The Southern citizen has already seen and learned that the North and the South were only equal in the valley of death,” he concludes. But Southerners do not seek their own nation “out of retribution and inability to forgive,” he says. Indeed, the people of South Sudan have a remarkable capacity to forgive their enemies, as well as those who ignored their agony. It is ”for the preservation of human life, liberty, and dignity, now and for the posterity,” that the South Sudanese will declare their separation, says Tong. And they will establish a nation “in which these inalienable rights are the foundation and are perpetually protected and promoted.”
The late Dr. Garang stated that the destiny of the people of South Sudan will be determined by the people of South Sudan. When the U.S. Congress passed the Sudan Peace Act, the 2002 pre-cursor to the CPA, and brokered the CPA, it made a commitment to support the right of the people of South Sudan to peace and freedom. Now as South Sudan determines its destiny, the United States government must honor and support this new nation’s right to freedom.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs The Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).