JUBA, SUDAN — “If someone from southern Sudan trusts you, they will tell you enough to write a book.” So says Sr. Cecilia Sierra Salcido, a Mexican nun and media entrepreneur who runs Radio Bakhita in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, set to be the world’s newest independent state after a January 9 referendum. Preliminary results suggest the vote will be overwhelmingly in favor of independence, a vote that came after two million people died and over 4 million fled their homes during a long 1983-2005 war. For the most part the conflict entailed the Sudanese Army fighting southern resistance groups, before a U.S.-backed peace deal that included a secession vote provision.
Sudan’s Blue Nile State did not take part in the just completed independence referendum in Southern Sudan. Technically part of the north, its sympathies often sided with the south during the long civil war. Now, its residents are wondering what their relationship with the Khartoum government will be if the south breaks away. “Blue Nile State is sort of a border land on the north-south border. It’s actually further south geographically than Upper Nile (State), which is nearby…. During the war it was one of the most heavily contested areas. The people are mainly Muslim like the rest of the north of Sudan, which Blue Nile State is politically a part of and going to be part of even if the south does secede, which seems almost certain.”
KYELI, Blue Nile State, Sudan – “Soon after we married, my husband was killed during the war, ” says Hawa Abdul-Gadr. Hawa’s eyes are repositories of a grief suppressed, part-masked by a poised resolve that surely comes from getting on with things, in what is a tough place to live. Still, hers is a perceptible sadness – long-kept under wraps but maybe closer to the surface than she would care to admit. Chopping her left hand down from her right cheek, as if swatting away an invisible spectre, Hawa declares “I am happy now here, we have peace and I hope it stays.” She spent eleven years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The border is just fifty miles away from this village in southern Blue Nile state, but for those long years, home here in Kyeli seemed like a distant dream. “I came back in 2006, after the word spread about peace in the camps.
JUBA — Five and six hundred yards long queues formed either side of the entrance to polling stations – men on one side, women on the the other. They wait in excitement and euphoria on the first day of polling — here — in what would be the new capital of an independent southern Sudan. The scenes have been repeated all across the region in voting this week to decide whether the region should remain part of Sudan or form the world’s newest country. Among a group at the end of the line of the polling queue at Saint Bakhita Primary School is 28 year old Joel, who works as a security guard. “We are going to be free” he said. ” I have no doubt about it.” His friend, 22 year old Marcus, said that he hopes a new southern Sudan will provide jobs and development for one of the poorest regions in the world. “It is better to be on our own. We can support our own people better that way.”
JUBA — Apologising for delaying the liturgy, U.S. Senator John Kerry paid tribute to the people of southern Sudan while addressing a congregation at St.Teresa’s Cathedral in Juba, the region’s capital. Sen. Kerry is Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and has visited Sudan three times times in recent years on behalf of the Obama Administration. He sat next to Salva Kiir, President of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) – as the regional authorities here are known. A U.S-backed 2005 peace deal, which ranked as President George W. Bush’s main foreign policy successes, gave the mainly Christian south a degree of self-Government after 22 years of war, causing 2 million deaths, with the Islamist-leaning Government in Khartoum. Kiir attends Mass here any Sunday he is in town – so his presence is no big deal to locals. However Sunday January 9 saw the start of a decisive and historic week-long referendum, with southern Sudanese voting whether to remain part of Sudan, or secede and form their own country
JUBA — The dateline here and now says ‘Sudan’, but later this year it will likely read ‘South Sudan’ or ‘Nile Republic’. Biblical references such as ‘Cushitia’ or ‘Azania’ are also being touted as names for the what will be world’s newest country. Four million voters in southern Sudan are likely to vote to leave Africa’s largest state in a referendum that started early on Sunday. Just before 8am, Charles Juma-Seyis was at the end of a 500 yard long queue at Konyo-Konyo polling station in central Juba, the usually low-key and ramshackle would-be capital. “I don’t mind waiting to vote, we have been waiting more than fifty years for this day,” he said. Since independence from Great Britain in 1956 Sudan has seen only 11 years of peace. A landmark 2005 peace deal brokered by the United States saw southern Sudan gain autonomy within Sudan, with the option to vote on independence after a six-year interim period.
FREETOWN – “The police stop us all the time. Sometimes they try to take money from us, sometimes they threaten to arrest us. But the usual trick is to check our handbags. They plant some drugs, then tell us to come with them to the station. The only way to get out is have sex with the policeman, otherwise we go to jail.” Just 20 years old, Maryama* has lived on the ramshackle streets of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, for eight years. Her father died when she was 10 – possibly from HIV-AIDS, although nobody knows for sure – leaving her mother unable to bring up their three children. This was at the height of Sierra Leone’s civil war, infamous for anti-government rebels who hacked off arms and hands to deter civilians from voting in elections.
FREETOWN — The civil war in Sierra Leone was one of the most violent anywhere in the late 20th century. A death toll of around 50,000 did not tell the full story of a conflict where much of the fighting was carried out at close quarters. Machetes were used to lop off hands and arms as a deterrent against voting; child soldiers were forced to kill family members; women were abducted and raped; cannibalism was a war ritual among some combatants; and foreign mercenaries roamed the land. Rebels were funded by diamond exports and supported by Liberian warlord-later-president Charles Taylor – who is now standing trial in The Hague at the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
DIRE DAWA, Ethiopia — When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 10 pounds, Ayaan is among nearly 100,000 Ethiopian children whose lives are at risk. Just four days before her first birthday, she is lighter than an average 3-month-old baby. A clinic at Kersi, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, has seen an increasing number of such cases in recent weeks, as have locations across the south and west of the country. Much of the land is used to grow the cash-crop narcotic known as khat. In more than a dozen villages outside the city, this reporter witnessed groups of mainly young men, but also some women, getting high in the shade on the chewed leaves. Khat is an appetite suppressant, and local culture means that children often eat only after adults. As the doctor at the Kersi clinic told The Washington Times, “if parents are on khat, the whole family goes hungry.”
DIRE DAWA, EASTERN ETHIOPIA — When drought and food shortages hit, it is the very young who suffer first, and most. Weighing only 4.5 kg, Ayaan is among the almost 100,000 children whose lives are at risk across Ethiopia. Just four days before her first birthday, she weighs no more than an average 3 month old baby. This clinic, about 15 miles outside Ethiopia’s second city Dire Dawa, is seeing an increasing amount of such cases over recent weeks. Here land is used to grow the cash-crop narcotic known as khat. In over a dozen villages on the northbound road out of the city, this reporter witnessed groups of mainly young men, but also some women, getting high in the shade on the chewed leaves. Khat is an appetite-suppressant, and local culture means that children often only eat after adults. And that means “if parents are on khat, the whole family goes hungry,” according to a doctor at the clinic.