Sudan: The pains of saying 'adieu'

South Sudan's independence is a historic and long awaited event for the citizens of this new nation in Africa. But the split from the north is not as joyful for some of those southerners as it might seem to be.

    Daniel Majak is a character to remember.

    When we drove into the Gabarouna slum for displaced southerners outside Khartoum, Majak was the first person to emerge from the ruins of a mudhouse.

    Frail and shabby and dejected … and seemingly out of a chronic famine – and yet Daniel is noble in spirit, hospitable by nature, easy going in character and ready to go out of his way to smile to us and to help us - a foreign crew who suddenly invaded his little world of ruins outside the town.

    We walked around under the scorching July sun as he showed us a mound of mud and the remnants of a bathroom.

    “This was my house” he said, “they destroyed it because it had no legal papers”.

    During the early years of the civil war hundreds of thousands of southerners fled the south and chaotically lived around Khartoum.

    Many like Daniel came here as children and grew up in utter destitution. Most of them did not go to a school.

    They eked out a living working as manual labourers. They lived by the dream that one day Sudan would change and as equal citizens they’d get attention and care from the government.

    When the peace agreement was signed that dream took on the shape of a more inspiring prospect. They could now aspire to have their own independent nation in South Sudan.

    It’s been almost a year since the government of the south began a concerted effort to repatriate the moer than one million southerners who were displaced to the north because of the war.

    And yet more than half of them are still here.

    Many of them have sold their little homes or land plots to make themselves ready for the trip.

    Their luggage of iron beds and wooden furniture and plastic utensils is piled in heaps in the open air, seemingly forever.

    The trips by bus and then by train were all hazardous.

    Incidents of violence against those who made the journey along the roads to the south caused a disruption to the process of repatriation.

    And there are those who are still hesitant to go, for other reasons.

    They saw some of their own neighbours sneak back to Khartoum after having spent an unhappy stay in the south, the land of their ancestors.

    Those who went there complained of a total lack of basic life amenities. They say they were thrown into the jungle mostly.

    And they found it difficult even to return to the north due to restrictions imposed by the government of the south.

    I was touched by Daniel’s leniency towards the north despite the utter misery he lives in.

    “If I continue to live in misery I’ll go. Otherwise I can stay, all Sudan is one nation, north and south” he said. “To be honest with you, if they just let me have a house and I’m not suffering I prefer to stay here.”

    This feeling has, more understandably, been echoed by other southerners who enjoy a much better social and economic status in Khartoum.

    At the Camboni missionary college we meet Peter Kiano, the headmaster. He’s from the south and has been teaching here since 1992.

    He was clearly emotional when I asked him how he feels about the separation and his own status.

    “It’s very difficult indeed” he said. “ And for me, after the independence of the south I’ll have to follow the new system. I’ll have to get a work permit to continue working here in the north. Coz I’m not gonna go very soon. I’ve lived here for a very long time. So to change abruptly is not easy… Yeah of course, somebody who’s lived here for more than 20 years and suddenly you lose your citizenship and your status, it’s not easy.

    And Peter, who’s not just a southerner but also a Christian, went further: “ I still feel this is my country and this is my capital and I am optimistic that one day the two parts can come together in a kind of confederation or something like that”.

    At the farewell ceremony organised by the interior ministry to honor 4,500 southern police men and women from the south whose service is being ended as per the provisions of the peace agreement, the pains of separation were more eloquent and more touching.

    After the military music band salute and the real pomp that went with it, medals were distributed to honour the southern police officers for their long service in and loyalty to Sudan.

    Endless warm hugs and bouts of applause and mutual gestures of brotherly attachment and respect ensued.

    Then the party kicked off. Arab girls sang for the southern policemen and danced with them. An Arab police officer carried his southern colleague around his neck and danced. A group of southern policemen carried a Northern officer in the same manner and danced.

    Southern officers we spoke with were as emotional as Peter in the Camboni school.

    Deng Linguec Ajong is a senior officer who’s been working in the police corps in Khartoum since 1982.

    “I’m extremely touched by this” he said.  “But you know it’s like marrying your daughter to someone. You don’t like her to go but she has to. If I have the choice and had it not been for the peace agreement and the referendum I wouldn’t accept to go. I’ve been here for so many years.

    Back to the Gabarouna slums, I meet Al-Tayyeb Dout Kual. He’s apparently a Muslim southerner who’s been active in trying to help with the repatriation effort.

    So he wanted the southerners to return home, to the south. And yet his words echoed those of Deng Ajong.

    “We’re sons of the south.” He told me. “And Sudan is one nation being divided in two parts. It’s just like the elder son of the family who decides to create his own separate home after marriage. I want, here, to directly address President Bashir: ‘please look at our situation here. Despite everything we’re brothers and we’re in your care.'”

    Al-Tayyeb and Deng and Peter and Majak have all made me reflect more optimistically on what’s happening: the dichotomy between the harsh rhetoric, the anti-north feelings in South Sudan and the friendly, nostalgic emotions of those who lived here in the north for years, those who when they had to flee the war in their own native land, seeking protection, they found protection and refuge only in the north.

    And even deep inside the minds and psyches of those southerners who still feel more rancorous towards the past, there seems to be a streak of hidden attachment to the common history of this land.

    I reflected on the name they chose for the new country: ‘South Sudan’ not Tonj or Fonj or any such extra-terrestrial name.

    Then I felt good.

    Maybe that’s a ray of hope that one day, as Peter said, these two sister nations may fall back into the arms of to one another - this time more genuinely and on better terms.


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