This month marks the 7th anniversary of the successful Referendum on Secession that made South Sudan a nation. That was such an exhilarating and joyful time. All South Sudanese came together as ONE to bring their country into being.
I was there when thousands and thousands poured into northern Virginia to cast their vote. Even though the people waited on that Old Town Alexandria street in lines whose length vied with those found at concerts or the most popular ride at Disney World, they were oblivious to the bitter cold temperatures. Men and women, their smiles were so consistent that they could have looked as if they were frozen on, except that their faces glowed with warm radiance. My friend Angelos, who waited through the night before the referendum center opened, encouraged his fellow Southern Sudanese, “one night in frigid winter weather isn’t comparable to 55 years of colonization.”
The actual anniversary of South Sudan’s independence six months later (yes that would be JULY, like a certain country after which they were trying to model) marked the end of the struggle to be free from the Islamic Republic of Sudan. But it marked the beginning of the struggle to become the nation of which every South Sudanese dreamed. And, to mix metaphors, in spite of the “divorce” from Sudan, that regime continued to undermine the new nation with the virulence and ingenuity of an abusive, sociopathic ex-husband.
Khartoum is like all charming (and wealthy) sociopaths. It has worked behind the scenes to influence the power-hungry and envious, the greedy and gullible, and the fanatical and racist, from right within South Sudan all the way to the United States (you can decide for yourself into which of those categories to put the U.S. government) to bring down the government of this sovereign nation and replace it with. . .what?
Well, that has been my drumbeat. I’ve been writing articles, sending “Open Letters to Ambassador Nikki Haley,” refuting briefing papers by Think Tank fellows who rely on the UN for their information, and otherwise putting myself in the position to be accused of being a South Sudan government agent – since I started to realize – some months after Riek Machar’s attempted coup in December 2013 – that rather than the smoke clearing and the truth being exposed, certain elements had used the initial smokescreen to construct the most fantastical narrative about South Sudan.
Although my reflexes were slow, I don’t blame myself completely for waiting for the truth to the surface. I once had faith in some of the Important Western People who work on South Sudan. I know they were/are aware of the truth. I know that when the first horrific attack took place in Bor they had a moment of déjà vu. But for reasons known to them alone – although I have my ideas – they chose to deny South Sudan the right to defend its hard-won sovereignty. They have magically transformed the legitimate government and the armed rebel combatant terrorists that have attempted to overthrow it into the morally equivalent, nauseating term “the two parties.” And they fed this lie to the media that swallowed it hook, line, and sinker.
For the Important Western People: How did excoriating the South Sudan government to “get rid of” corruption end up with you supporting and enabling the rebellion of the very most corrupt ones? How does forcing the insertion of corrupt and violent rebels back into positions of power bring about justice and peace? And, the big one, how on earth do you reconcile with the idea of normalizing relations with the genocidal Islamic Republic of Sudan while demonizing the struggling democracy of South Sudan?
But enough of that for now! This article is not about them (really!). This article is to plead with my beloved South Sudanese friends to “remember from whence you have come.” What happened? How did people (not everyone, I know!) decide to squander a nation? How did people decide to hold in contempt the blood of brave South Sudanese who died rather than be slaves and second-class citizens to the Arabist Islamist regime in Khartoum? How did people get so impatient that more bloodshed was preferable to waiting for their infant nation to grow up a little more?
Remember what it was like to cast that vote in 2011? It was six years to the day after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the Khartoum regime and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. Here’s what I wrote about that day:
The South Sudanese, lining South Peyton Street, are like a microcosm of the country that is being born. They are young and old, women and men. They represent ethnic groups from Dinka to Shilluk to Nuer to Moru to Madi, and probably many others, as well. They were born in Juba and Abyei, Gogrial and Bor, Aweil and Yei. In times past, their ethnic groups have fought against each other– almost always spurred on by the same northern government that has attempted for over fifty years to eradicate their cultures, to eradicate them, and to impose Islamic law, Shari‘a, as well as Arabization on them. But today, they are one. They will not vote for “unity” with the north, but they are finding unity with each other as they vote for separation.
Can South Sudanese embrace each other once again? Can the people of South Sudan stop allowing the UN to (literally) call the shots? Can people refuse to be refugees, stand their ground, and grow food like my friends in Equatoria that have refused the rumors and threats telling them to flee to Uganda, and who are harvesting abundant crops all the time from the good earth of South Sudan? Can those who betrayed their government and were welcomed back adopt humility and realize that they have gotten something that they don’t deserve – something called grace and mercy? Can those who have been seduced by power and succumbed to greed and corruption realize that they are not only damning their own damned selves but their country, and stop putting themselves and their “stomachs” first?
Can the Important Western People support and encourage the government of South Sudan rather than demonizing it? Can the media stop disseminating the false narrative? And can the UN (brace yourself) stop giving credibility and aid to the rebels? These errors in policy and publicity give the rebels a green light to continue their destruction and slaughter. Remember Khartoum’s offensive policy: “Use a slave to kill a slave.”
I thought about juxtaposing photos of the beautiful faces of South Sudanese at the referendum with horrific photos of slaughters that have taken place in South Sudan since December 2013. I may do that yet. But for now it is those faces – war-worn and scarred, behind which much sorrow lies, yet on that day, hopeful, patient, and joyful. And proud to be part of the creation of a new nation, their nation. South Sudan, one nation, oyee.
Here are the beautiful faces of a new nation:
And here are my stories about South Sudan written in 2011: