Award-winning filmmaker Jamie Doran produced a special three-part series on Sudan exclusively for Al Jazeera. Here he writes about some of the issues highlighted in the films.
The party is over and now the monumental task of nation-building confronts the people of South Sudan.
On July 9, 2011, as the country celebrated its independence from the north in front of numerous foreign dignitaries, very few of those present in the huge square across from the John Garang Mausoleum in the capital, Juba, or the millions watching on television screens around the world, would have known that thousands of poor people had had their shacks and kiosks bulldozed from that same square to ensure the city looked its best for the visitors.
In many ways that sums up the current reality that is South Sudan – it is a façade. To the unknowing eye, everything in the garden looks rosy; the truth is an entirely different matter. The world’s newest nation is already in turmoil, and while the government’s spin-doctors may attempt to sell an image of unity, this country is far from the dreams of those who fought and died for independence for over half a century.
As the third and final film in the series highlights, corruption is spiralling out of control, press freedom is under intense threat, and all across South Sudan inter-tribal violence is spreading (in nine out of 10 states).
“Innocent people are being killed, being burned, being shot like dogs”. So says teacher Aban Raphael, an extraordinarily brave man of gentle nature whom I met on my first trip to Sudan. While he had great hopes for independence then, those have now virtually disappeared.
“During the war, you know ‘this is my enemy’. But now, you don’t know who your enemy is. Because your own tribesman, or a southerner just like you, considers you more of an enemy than the Arabs,” he says.
Watch Sudan: Fight for the soul of the North
When I began making this series back in October 2010, this was the last thing I expected. “Southern” Sudan was full of hope and expectation. Independence was the only game in town and, what was rather intriguing at the time, from the vice-president right down to the lowliest private in the SPLA (southern army), no-one wanted to talk about future problems; all they cared about was the upcoming referendum in January 2011, which would officially create their new nation.
The real tragedy of South Sudan is that it is, potentially, one of the richest countries in Africa and even beyond, but for a whole myriad of reasons it is unlikely to ever reach that goal. Those in power in Juba would like to blame the north for everything, but that simply doesn’t stand up. Of course the north has attempted to undermine the drive towards independence – that was to be expected – but the truth is that South Sudan’s problems run deep and it would take real unity to solve them; I’m not holding my breath.
As former child soldier John Mac Acek says: “I think some of our brothers forgot the reason why we fought for so many years.”
As to the north itself, the subject of the second film in our series (Sudan: Fight for the soul of the North), what became abundantly clear was that President Omar al-Bashir, like some of his predecessors, is willing to bend to the prevailing wind of ultra-conservatism in order to hang on to power. Here is someone whose note in history may yet be “the man who lost the South,” but who is determined to defend his position by virtually any means, including the adoption of draconian rules to ensure strict adherence to Sharia, should this be deemed politically beneficial.
In this episode we look at the fledgling protest movement that faces constant surveillance from the much feared security apparatus as it dreams of becoming the vanguard of Sudan’s version of the “Arab Spring”.
As one student puts it: “It’s going to turn out to be like Egypt. Most of us, I mean people in the streets, don’t have money, jobs are really bad right now. Doctors don’t have jobs anymore. It’s just going worse and worse and worse, and people are not just going to sit and be happy about that. They’re all going to come out. I’m sure it’s going to happen, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen now.”
Watch Sudan: Fight for the heart of the South
And that is the key point – “not now”. When demonstrations take place, accusations of mass arrests, torture and even punishment-rapes abound, and it is likely that most are true. But the reality is that most Sudanese are currently apathetic to political upheaval and the reasons are perfectly obvious – they have had revolutions before, nothing changed, and yet the old opposition leaders would like a second or, in some cases, even a third chance.
As one of our interviewees, Professor Safwat Fanous of Khartoum University, states: “You ask any Sudanese, ‘are you willing to risk your life in a demonstration so that any of these old leaders come back to power’, and the answer will be ‘what for?’ They have been here for the last 40 years and there was nothing; they didn’t do anything for the country.”
The true fight for souls is taking place in mosques all across north Sudan. A traditionally tolerant people, the Sufi Muslim majority are becoming marginalised by an imported (from Saudi Arabia) ultra-conservative Salafist movement which does not hide its contempt for what it sees as the weakness of Sufism.
But as a leading Sufi Sheikh announces for the first time in our film, the Sufis are preparing to fight back: “Enough is enough. We cannot just fight what is happening in Sudan with bare hands. No. We need to have the facilities we need to have ourselves organised, we need to use the media. We need to have our own media. We need to have Islamic teaching launched in the universities. A hell of a lot to be done: but we will never surrender.”
What is certain in the not-too-distant future is that both north and south will face major internal problems. What is frightening is that both governments are aware that the one unifying factor to bring their people together is … a common enemy.
It may be Darfur; it may be South Kordofan; it may very well be Abyei; both Khartoum and Juba know that there is nothing that can unite their people more than war with each other. It is quite certain that, with politicians on both sides of the border interested more in self-preservation than the common good, over two million deaths in past civil wars will not be the end of it.