11/1/11 Peter Clifford – http://www.petercliffordonline.com : SOUTH SUDAN Part 1: Hopefully the Birth of a Nation? l Juba Prison
South Sudan Referendum:
Last weekend the people of South Sudan went to the polls in a referendum to decide whether South Sudan should be come an independent nation or remain part of greater Sudan. Is this the final end of the long running Sudan civil war?
In theory the decision should be a massive forgone conclusion. Sudan, both geographically and culturally is split down the middle – a controlling Arab government and Moslem population mainly in the North and a Black African mainly Christian population in the South.
Physically the north is largely steppe and desert and to the South it is largely rain forest, grassland and savanna – as can be clearly seen from the BBC map.
For 21 years, and intermittently far longer than that, there has been civil war in Sudan between the two sides, costing more than 2 million lives in the last 15 years alone. However, in a 2005 peace agreement, part of the deal was that southern Sudan would be allowed a referendum to decide its future.
Why am I writing about this? Because more than 30 years ago I crossed this vast country ( more than a million square miles and the largest in Africa) overland from the northern border with Egypt at Wadi Halfa almost to the southern border with Uganda.
I say almost, because my journey came to an abrupt halt in Juba, soon to be the new capital of South Sudan (or whatever name they decide). I don’t know much about Juba as I did not see a lot of it, but I do know something about the inside of Juba prison….
Travelling Across Sudan:
Travelling across Sudan, even today, is not easy. From north to south by road it is over 1500 miles and I expect the roads now, as they did then, still wash out in the rainy season.
Part of my journey was by rail (old British steam trains and diesels) and part was intended to be by relatively “comfortable” riverboat on the White Nile but it was out of service. In the event there was no choice but to take the train to the end of the narrow gauge line in Wau and hitchhike on a lorry from there.
Hitchhiking on lorries was, and probably still is, a popular form of transport, providing extra income for the drivers. The top of the lorry was packed with people, but sitting all day on rock hard sacks of sugar, especially for my lean frame, is not my idea of a “good time”!
Things got worse as we skidded around on muddy tracks and passed at least one lorry which had completely turned over throwing its unbelted hitchhiking passengers all over the roadside with serious consequences.
Finally rounding one bend our own lorry went out of control and reared up to the side on only one set of wheels ready to somersault. At this point, in total terror, I managed to tear the lining of my abdomen and got myself a hernia before the lorry righted itself and continued its journey into Juba city.
Arrival in Juba:
By the time we arrived in Juba, I was not feeling too great and was only too pleased to find a small hotel run by third generation Greeks (where did they come from?). Who cares that the sanitation seemed to be run by a vast population of maggots that lived in the toilet bowl – all I wanted to do was sleep!
But sleep and rest was clearly not meant to had. Within a short time a member of the then Secret Police arrived, did not like the look of my passport or that of my girlfriend and carted us off to prison…
……..But before this blog turns into a book, I will pause there and post Part 2 in a day or two!!
In the meantime, I wish the people of South Sudan a good result in their referendum and every success in their right to self determination and a peaceful future.
Until the next time,
Peter Clifford: www.petercliffordonline.com
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