In contrast to the many devastated communities mourning in the aftermath of the tsunami, communities of Sudanese refugees around the world and at home are celebrating wildly. After 22 years of civil war, rival armies in Sudan have agreed to peace terms.
Sunday January 9th 2005 was the historic day on which the Sudanese government president, President Hassan al-Bashir , and Dr John Garang, chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement / Army (SPLM/A), signed the treaty in Nairobi. This may signal the end of the civil war, which has raged since 1983.
The origins of the conflict are essentially differences of religion and culture, and equitable sharing of resources. Sudan is divided between the Arabic Sunni Moslems in the north, making up 70% of the country’s population, and the people of the south, consisting of black Africans. The southerners are animists (25% of the nation’s population) and Christians (5%). Until 1956, the south was a British colony, while the north was governed by Egypt.
The South wants independence and the North has not been willing to allow this up to this point. There has been bitter disagreement over the distribution of wealth which primarily comes from the nation’s oil reserves. The Northern Moslems want the country to be ruled by Islamic Sharia laws while the southerners are strongly opposed to this.
According to the peace treaty terms, the south will be an autonomous region for the next six years, after which there will be a referendum to decide if it should become an independent nation. The wealth from the oil of the country will be shared equally between the north and the south. The north is to follow Islamic law, while the south won’t. The type of law in the capital of Khartoum is yet to be decided by an elected assembly – the population there is a mixture of northerners and southerners. The breakdown of ethnicity in government jobs in the larger cities has also been dictated in the treaty terms.
Australian Margaret Bell is one person who has witnessed first hand the suffering of countless people in Sudan. Margaret has recently returned from her second trip with ‘Medecins Sans Frontiers’, using her midwifery and nursing skills. She tells many stories of starving and traumatized people.
Margaret has been based in the province most impacted by civil war, that of Darfur. She describes the plight of one pregnant lady who came to the hospital with her son having just lost her husband, father and four brothers, as well as their house and land as a result of tribal militia activity. Margaret witnessed the effects of tribal genocide at its worst. It is no wonder that people are frightened to return to their homes.
On Sunday January 9th 2005, around the world, Sudanese communities celebrated wildly as their dearest hopes were realized. Peace in their homeland is a wonderful thing. However, it is early days yet and in some areas, local militia have yet to accept the ceasefire.
As the we rightly remember the approximately 162 000 people who have lost their lives in the recent tsunami disaster, let us not forget the two million people who have lost their lives in the civil war in Sudan over the past 22 years. This equates to approximately one in every five southern Sudanese people.
As we give generously to the countless people trying to rebuild lives following the tsunami, let us not forget the Sudanese people who have also lost homes and loved ones. Let us breathe a sigh of relief with the 4.367 million homeless people living in Sudan (excluding refugees in other countries). At last they have been offered a ray of hope.
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Estimated number dead in tsunami: -http://www.cbc.ca/story/world/national/2005/01/16/tsunami050116.html accessed 17 Jan 05
Historical background of the civil war in Sudan: SPLMToday.com accessed 12 Jan 05
Description of peace treaty: http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/mpapps/pagetools/print/news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4134 accessed 12 Jan 05.
Ongoing fighting in Darfur – http://abcnews.go.com/International/print?id+404534 accessed 12 Jan 05
Statistics concerning ethnic breakdown in Sudan and numbers of displaced people: http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/su.html accessed 14 Jan 2005
Story of the Australian nurse/midwife working in Sudan with Medecins sans Frontiers: http://bluemountains.yourguide.com.au/detail.asp?class+features&subclass=the%20rev… accessed 14 Jan 05
Well written. A big thank you for posting this. Since, it seems that it has left the concious of many Americans. The News hardly covers it at all anymore. Devastation is devastation! No matter how it happens.