Post-conflict development in southern Sudan: my first assignment

[MONTRÉAL]  As you may have noticed by reading the About page that my first international assignement is in South Sudan where I will initiate my new direction in video reporting and documentary film.

I’ve been asked over and over again, “Why Sudan?!” My immediate response — and the one which flows generously from my lips is, “Why not!” But I actually have dozens of reasons for chosing Sudan: First off, It’s the country with the largest geographic area in Africa and it’s in crisis! A 21-year civil war ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on January 9, 2005 between the government of The Sudan, based in country’s capital Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) from the south of the country. The relative peace has persisted in the south of the country but another civil war in the western Sudananese region of Darfur rages on. The murderous attacks in Darfur started in 2003 between the Sudanese Army with its Janjaweed allies, and rebel forces: the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

Since most attention is given to the war in Darfur (which it deserves), I though it would be interesting to learn about a part of Sudan that is in a post-conflict transition toward peace and democracy. Besides, I have a friend who is contracted by UNOPS and is based in South Sudan’s capital, Juba. And he said I can stay with him if I come. Although he may not be there when I go, he said he will help with contacts. How could I refuse an offer like that? Sudan is one of the least developed regions of the world, ranked 147th out of 177 countries in a 2007 UNDP Human Development Report. South Sudan (and the western region of Darfur) are the neglected areas of Sudan and may actually rank lower than the whole of Sudan.

Another reason to go to South Sudan, is to dive into my new identity without hesitation. Tear myself away from the complacency of North American comfort and go somewhere I know little about because mainstream media offers me little about this part of Sudan. Most of the killing is taking place elsewhere in the country, in Darfur. The same massacres that tormented the South are being repeated in Darfur. One civil war ends and another begins but the patterns remain the same. Foreign media follow the killings, express their outrage while forgetting Sudan’s past, its previous war. They ignore the future of the places they have left behind in search of front page stories, dreadful images and a higher circulation rates. Kaching.

I am interested in South Sudan’s future and I want to understand how its present will lead it there. I want to see for myself what the end of Africa’s longest civil war looks like. How quickly does the scent of peace waft across 589,745 km² to reach the 8.5 million people? What is the stench of peace to the millions of refugees now returning to the South, to villages whose ashes have long since melted into the desert? What does democracy taste like to the southerners who have an opportunity to vote for the first time in elections in 2009; and again in 2011 in a referendum for independence?

In Québec, we’ve had two referendums to decide whether or not to seperate from the rest of Canada. Both times (in 1980 and 1995) the electorate decided (in 1995 with a slight margin: 50.58% “No” to 49.42% “Yes”) that seperation was for another time. What will Sudan’s southerners decide? How will they be informed about the options and what are the logistic challenges for preparing for a referendum? Will the North government allow the South to take its land and resources behind international lines? These are questions I want to understand and questions I will investigate while on the ground in South Sudan. I arrive in Juba mid-January 2009.

For now, I have more reading to do. More contacts to make. An itinerary to determine. Interviews to set up and visas to obtain.

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