Wednesday, November 07, 2007
What grows in this soil?
Almost a month ago, Ben and I were in South Sudan when the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement withdrew from the national coalition government to protest the lack of progress by Khartoum on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. A cabinet re-shuffling and a series of meetings negotiating a way forward have been held since then, but serious questions remain, especially regarding oil resources and the borders in the Abyei region.
I knew, but had not witnessed in such vivid terms the bitter racism between Arab and Black Africans. I must admit it shocked me to be working side by side with colleagues on a curriculum for conflict transformation, while loose conversations in the evenings revealed (among some) profound bigotry. It felt like the peace agreement was eroding before our eyes and it was disturbingly expected. We were unsettled by the seeming readiness to shake off three years of relative quiet and the best hope for peace embodied in the CPA. I wondered: is this attitude a coping mechanism, reflective of a cynicism towards peace that has been strengthened through decades of violence? Or is it a more honest reflection of the shaky ground this peace is built on? The nature of supposed peace activists may be misunderstood. They are activists—but their end goal may not be what we hoped. Is it racially motivated activism? Is the end goal peace or is it political independence? At what cost?
I spoke with one of the “Lost Boys” while we were there. His entire childhood was spent with a gun in his hands. In his mid twenties now, he’s moving on, though once in awhile something triggers the pain of those years and brings back the war in his mind: wearing a jacket reminiscent of army fatigues, an evening guarding an office. I was concerned about how he’d react to the unfolding news. He said, “What pains me most is times like this when I look at the children around. I get so scared. I don’t want them to grow up like I did.”
One of those children is Danduru. He’s the son of one of the men I was working with, (a true peacebuilder). Their family used to live in one of the large Sudanese refugee camps in Uganda. After the CPA was signed in 2005 they moved back to their family’s land in Yei. As the first son born after return, he was named after a persistent weed-like grass that has a habit of taking over African compounds. When he was given the name, they said, “let him grow, occupy, and till the land of his family.”
Some have said that after the CPA was signed the South Sudanese went to sleep instead of ensuring its implementation, and that this recent move is an indication that they have woken up. There is an opportunity for strengthening the peace, (perhaps even encouraging more accountable governance?), but there is also an opportunity for devastation. I asked Sudanese colleagues, “What will happen now?” Looking down and shaking their heads, they replied, “Sister, you pray for us.”
Danduru has never known war. Let’s pray he never does and that he will raise his own family on the soil where he was born.