Countdown to Jubilation in Juba


As the January 9 referendum approaches in Sudan, granting that country’s Southerners the chance to vote for independence and to become the world’s newest nation, signs are mixed. On the one hand, indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir, leader of the Khartoum government, has warned he will possibly obstruct secession. On the other hand, world leaders including President Obama and even, surprisingly, Chinese leaders, have in recent days indicated they will work with an independent South, should it emerge.

My main direct sources of information about Southern Sudanese people, culture, and quest for independence are Southerners themselves, including escaped slave and human rights activist Simon Deng and Majier Pap, a South Sudanese activist living in Israel, as well as other Southern Sudanese who escaped the Khartoum government’s persecution by fleeing across the Sinai desert into Israel. They have shared with me many interesting facts and stories about their lives, and imparted to me their deep and abiding wish for peace – but not at any price. They want peace with dignity and freedom.

One interesting fact about Southern Sudanese culture they have imparted to me is that the Southern Sudanese, most of whom are either Christians or animists (practitioners of native religions) have been systematically denied education by the Northern government. As a result, most people in Southern Sudan are illiterate. Yet, education is an abiding value among these people, who hunger for it and believe it is their best path to independence and prosperity. They tell me their communities have a strong oral tradition of storytelling and that they often tell Biblical stories. That is how many of them know about Israel. Pap and Deng emphasized to me their people are Christian Zionists.

PBS assembled a beautiful collage of photos taken this week in Juba, the capital of Semi-autonomous southern Sudan, in advance of the vote. Especially poignant is the image on the ballot representing secession: a hand waving “bye bye.”

It is a cliche to say that children are the future, or that a people’s most important resource is its values. But both of these sentiments illustrate what I believe, having met and spent time with a few of the wonderful people of South Sudan. Their courage, their faith, their gentleness have impressed me deeply.  Godspeed to them in their will to be free.

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