My Sudan involvement in the ’90s led me to think I’d never see South independence, but here it is!
In the mid-1990s I worked for the UK churches, lobbying on three key issues:
- Israel/Palestine (for example, remember Baruch Goldstein’s multiple murders in Hebron? I was involved in lobbying the UK government on that, and trying to generate action against the illegal settlers in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories)
- Iraq under Saddam Hussein (especially on the Marsh Arabs – Saddam Hussein was draining the marshes and depriving an ancient culture of their natural environment)
I have never been to Sudan, but various Scottish and other UK churches have long-standing connections to both North and South, and my boss at the time, a visionary individual called Robin Ross, asked that I help some of these disparate connections to come together. I helped to call some initial meetings of what became the Scottish Churches Sudan Group, and a newsletter was started which the very gifted Edward Thomas edited and I published (Edward went on to write a PhD on a prominent Sudanese thinker). Bearing in mind the internet was not really available to many people, a newsletter involved real printing, real envelopes and real posting, as well as faxing copies all over the world. I eventually organised an email account (through Edinburgh University’s Centre for African Studies) and we also began to send the newsletter by email to a select few. The focus was on news, and comment/opinion that might help to encourage peace: at the time, a terrible civil war raged between North and South – and there were no signs of it ending. Through meeting countless Sudanese in the course of my involvement with the SCSG, I learnt a great deal about Sudan and its people, and my wife and I were privileged to be lavishly welcomed on more than one occasion by Sudanese families far from home, longing for the opportunity to go back should peace return to their land. These encounters, more than anything, made me realise how much more there was to Sudan than the war that was being reported on in the mainstream media (albeit infrequently, hence our newsletter). Sadly, I have mostly lost touch with these people over the years of moving around and doing different things; my work has led me to focus much more on Israel/Palestine.
Nonetheless, I have, over the years, followed events in Sudan, and it is fantastic that independence for the South is now becoming a reality – at midnight tonight local time (that’s about an hour from now!). I find it tremendously emotional, and although I’m sure it will be a long hard road ahead for the South (and the North, in fact), it is nonetheless a wonderful next step that is worth celebrating now. I hope South Sudan will develop and grow and that the wonderful people I encountered all those years ago are celebrating appropriately and looking forward to a new future.
I will certainly be raising a glass tonight and wishing the new South Sudan and its people well! And one day, I hope to visit…