In the past, I published several stories written by Cyprien, one of my friends and colleagues.
Cyprien is originally from DRC but worked with us, based in Kosovo, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Mozambique, Senegal and Sudan. He is about to be reassigned to the Somalia operation and wrote this story reflecting on his time in Sudan. It is both a tribute and an emotional good-bye to a country he got to love during the past years.
As far back as primary school, I heard about Sudan. I do not remember very well in what context, but I am sure it was during our geography courses. Later I learnt more about Sudan over the news. I remember the days when every evening my father used to call me to sit with him and listen to the radio.
Almost, everyday there was news about Sudan then, just as there is today. I can't remember what it was all about, but I remember that the name John Garang was mentioned often.
As I grew up, my interest to Sudan became even greater as I realized that this country was one of our neighbors.
In 2005, when I got an assignment with the UN in Senegal, I hired a driver. During the interview, I requested his papers to learn more about him. In the paper he gave me I could read : " Ethnie (Ethnic group): Soudanais (Sudanese)".
I asked him how come he was of Sudanese ethnic group. This man did not go to school at all, but he gave me a clear answer: "Sudanese is a nationality, but it is also a race, and a ethnic group that migrated from Sudan to the Senegalese coast. These are often the taller and darker people you see in Senegal."
From then on, when they spoke about Sudan, I kept in my mind the idea of a country, a race and ethnic group.
In 2006, there was extensive media coverage on Sudan (or may be it was my feeling), some people talked about something similar to a genocide happening in Sudan. I heard about the Janjaweed militia, about Darfur, about the "South Sudan" issues. I remembered the pictures showing the UN planes flying in the Sudan skies airlifting food aid assistance. I saw the pictures of people suffering, I saw a picture of a child abandoned by its parents, struggling to walk as a wild bird waited for the child to die so it can eat him.
I felt a call to assist. I decided to search for an opportunity to go to Sudan and bring my small contribution.
By February 2007, I joined the Sudan relief operation. As I landed in Khartoum, I could count the few number of trees per square kilometer on the fingers of my hands. The city was brown. Its layout and geometric design reminded me of Islamabad, in Pakistan, where I had lived before.
As I walked the street of Khartoum, I did not feel like I was in a country at war or where ethnic groups were fighting against each other. Khartoum is rather a city where I found Sudanese of all origins and color all leaving together, even though I noticed some jobs were done only by one "category" of Sudanese.
I proceeded to the South days later. I slept in a tent. The only luxury I had was my ventilator which blew fresh air but also new dust. And dusty it surely was in the months of February and March.
In the South, you could find signs of heavy fighting that took place in the recent years, but all was relatively calm and people felt proud to enjoy peace. I travelled across the country and I could see the sign of hopes everywhere. Roads bridges being built, schools opening, some times even under a tree. The WFP Humanitarian Air Service flights which used to be the only ones in the sky, were joined by the commercial flights.
Slowly tents shelters that were used as accommodation by hotels, UN and NGOs were replaced by prefabs, and later on by durable structures. This, to me, was a signal of the progress, and all of this brought me hope about the Sudan that I got to love.
On a bright Sunday of Easter 2008 I went to pray in a local church. The priest started preaching about how to preserve the peace dearly acquired. He linked the suffering of Christ to the suffering of the people of South Sudan. He went to explain how after the suffering, Jesus rose high and enjoys great times at the Right of the Holy Father and he linked it on how south Sudanese are now enjoy life after the sad days.
One thing is missing, he explained: "I have seen hotels and restaurants opening from Juba Bridge (the south side of Juba town) to Gudele (the north side), but I have not seen one kindergarten being built!". "Can we develop a country with hotels and restaurants only? We need to build educational institutions if we want to establish ourselves as a nation", he continued. "I would like those who are in charge of issuing licenses to stop issuing licenses to open new restaurants, bars, and clubs and promote business related to education", the priest concluded.
The audience stood-up and exploded in a huge applause, but it got me to think about the institutional progress in Sudan.
UN agencies, INGO and donors have done a great job in South Sudan, where I have witnessed changes happening at a very high speed. One should be proud and happy for having contributed in a way or another to this, but how much of this progress was durable, and not superficial?
My worries grew bigger over the past months, as I am about to leave Sudan for Somalia. The ICC decided to issue an arrest warrant for the President of Sudan. I will not get involved in mitigating the collateral damage this is likely to have on the peace and development in the South. Specialists have already commented on that.
I will not talk about what will happen to millions of people who were surviving on aid, including food and medical supplies, distributed by the expelled NGOs.
I also do not want to think how much the Sudanese work force will survive with their families in the new global economic recession. A Sudanese friend who runs a car workshop, told me yesterday, both hands in his pocket: "Juba fell into a recession. I need to lay off some of my technicians. There are no more customers coming in anymore since few weeks now." Anybody in South Sudan is feeling business slowed down.
Economic recession, the repercussions of the ICC indictment, the superficiality of the economic development... These are the thoughts I have when I leave Sudan after two years.
Picture courtesy Ulrik Pedersen