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Sudanese Find Hope, Uncertainty after Independence

Kristin Wright

Sudanese Find Hope, Uncertainty after Independence

This weekend provided a moment for hope for Southern Sudanese living all over the world. On July 9, years of conflict and numerous attempts at peace finally culminated in the birth of the new nation of South Sudan. This independence was precipitated by a referendum in January of this year, which allowed Southern Sudanese around the world to vote on whether to secede from the North. Nearly 99 percent of South Sudanese from around the world cast votes in the January referendum, almost all of them casting votes for independence and the creation of South Sudan.

For Faith McDonnell of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, the secession of South Sudan was a long time in coming. McDonnell has advocated for peace in Sudan for years. Now, she says she is “thrilled by the birth of the Republic of South Sudan.” McDonnell is excited about the possibilities that exist for returnees to the new nation.

“After so many years of hoping and praying, and doing advocacy, this seems like a dream come true,” she says. “This new country can become a beacon of freedom and democracy to all of the people in, first of all, the rest of Sudan, and then throughout Africa.” She encourages people to remember Sudan in their prayers as the fledging nation takes flight.  

The birth of the new nation on July 9 signaled the beginning of a return home for millions of displaced Sudanese. And in spite of the fact that their homeland has been wracked with conflict and destroyed by war, for many, there is no place like home.

"Today I am collecting my property to travel to the south,” says Angel Malwal, a Sudanese woman from the south who has lived in a slum in Khartoum since the outbreak of Sudan's violent civil war. “It's better I return,” she says.

The path home will not be an easy one for many Sudanese. Sudan's decades-long conflict between North and South divided the country along ethnic and religious lines, claiming the lives of more than 2 million people. What remains is a nation torn by war and ravaged by poverty. The new nation has a tiny population of just around 8 million, with more than 50 percent of the population living under the poverty line. Clean drinking water is scarce. Infrastructure is far from substantial. Sudan’s decades of conflict left over 5 million people displaced. Now, with the birth of the new nation, a whole new set of challenges face returnees.

Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign USA, says that the new nation needs prayers and global support to rebuild.

“Following decades of civil war and oppression, the south of Sudan is a wrecked countryside,” she says. “With little infrastructure to support its own population, millions of returning refugees and migrants are expected to pour into it looking for work.”

Buwalda encourages Christians to pray for returning Sudanese, and for the hardships they face in building a new nation. “We ask you to join with us in praying for the massive challenges ahead for Sudan,” she states, “Yet, join us in celebrating the completion of this amazing dream. Truly this is a day of Jubilee.”

The road home is a rocky one but it is an exciting journey for many. Victoria Bol made her way from her residence in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Juba, the new capitol of South Sudan, to celebrate the birth of the new nation. For her, it matters little that the new nation is steeped in poverty, that infrastructure is nearly nonexistent, that South Sudan has only somewhere between 30 and 100 miles of actual paved roads. "I cannot believe this day is finally here," Bol says. "It is very emotional. I'm excited, but I'm also thinking of all the people who died for this to happen."

McDonnell has high hopes for the new nation but has reservations about whether peace will hold for very long. “There is always the fear of what Khartoum will do. Only the hand of God can really protect South Sudan, just as only the hand of God helped the people of South Sudan to survive through decades of war, slavery, famine, persecution, and genocide.”

Survival for returning Sudanese may well be the foremost concern. As refugees return to the land that they once fled, they are confronting the basic challenges of day to day living in a nation that has been ravaged by war. Dan Griffin serves as an adviser on Sudan to the U.S. bishops' Catholic Relief Services. Speaking on the courage of South Sudanese returnees, Griffin says that "their potential and hope give them a tremendous advantage." Griffin says that while the people of South Sudan "may not have phones, banks or roads, they do have rights and dignity and a government of their consent."

While McDonnell has concerns about the dangers confronting returnees, she is confident that the new nation can be a success. She believes that prayer for returning Sudanese is essential. “Khartoum is waging war against the people of the Nuba Mountains right now,” she says, “And of course the situation is virtually unchanged in Darfur. Readers can pray that this will only be the beginning of peace and freedom coming to Sudan's marginalized and oppressed people. From north to south, east to west, the marginalized people of Sudan need freedom.”

This article published on July 12, 2011. Photo credit Samaritan's Purse ministries.

Kristin Butler is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, religious freedom, and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email [email protected].