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South Sudan: Render unto southern Sudanese that which is theirs


South Sudan has gained its independence from Sudan. Eventually. I just got off the phone with a (now officially) southern Sudanese friend who fled his country twenty years ago. For him, the independence is something he is proud of, it is some sort of freedom and for the first time in years, he will go visit his family who stayed near Juba, the capital of the new Republic of South Sudan.

Of course this is a great news and it deserves to be celebrated. Unfortunately, with the recent events in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, there is, more than ever, a real weariness with war. Not to mention that South Sudan will have to face many challenges: the country is oil-rich but it is also one of the poorest country in the world with nearly 40 percent of the population needing food aid to survive.

But I know people of South Sudan are resourceful and they are ready to work hard to build a peaceful, stable and prosperous country. Even if I have heard some sharp tongues (and often not the most savvy ones) say ‘Split Sudan in two – Double the trouble‘, I think great achievements can be made by southern Sudanese, if they are strong enough to stay truly independent, and not only from the North. But this is another topic.

Talking about (North) #Sudan, Mo Elzubeir (‘Secular humanist, dad, loving husband, computer geek, casual blogger‘) spontaneously launched #LoveFromSudan. You can read on his website: ‘It is with a heavy heart that we send our warm wishes to the people of South Sudan. This video is a message from the people of Sudan to the people of South Sudan. No politics, no games. A heart to heart message to a new beginning […] So here, to a new beginning. May you learn from our mistakes and may we learn from ours.’ A great project and very touching video messages you can watch here.

As of today, everybody I guess heard the news of the birth of this new country (you can visit Wikipedia – South Sudan for more information). Although some people may have heard one half of the news only. I received an email this morning from an acquaintance: ‘Amazing! With this independence comes peace and prosperity for South Sudan!‘. Well, I’m afraid it is not as simple as that like I mentioned before and also a bit premature. But I also read some comments, here and there: ‘Clooney did a lot for South Sudan, Southern Sudanese should be thankful!‘. South Sudan is a new country and the first thing they do is mentioning the American actor… But why shouldn’t they, after all?

In this post published almost 4 years ago, I said: ‘Most of the people I know only discovered the crisis in Darfur in late 2006 early 2007 when George Clooney came back from Sudan‘. A year later I pointed out ‘the gap between the glamour of the style (I was referring to the involvement of George Clooney and Al Gore) and the hardness of the substance in the field can be baffling for some volunteers‘. In 2009, I mentioned the fact that ‘when George Clooney came back from Sudan, Darfur finally came under the spotlight, everybody heard about the atrocities soon to be qualified as genocide‘.

The actor brought worldwide attention to #Darfur and more widely to Sudan, this is a fact. So should we blame some people for mentioning him on this special day? Maybe not, but if it comes from journalists, surely. I use to say oversimplification helps to quickly spread a message among the masses and to bring a short-term awareness, but avoiding all the parameters, dismissing what might be the core of the problem could doom any effort of grasping to failure. Here is an example illustrating my point.

In an article published on the New York Times: Sudan Movement’s Mission Is Secured: Statehood, Jeffrey Gettleman, currently based in Juba, writes: ‘American celebrities and religious groups teamed up with policy makers and helped a forlorn underdog region finally achieve what very few separatist movements achieve: independence…’. I was very surprised to read such a statement on the NYT and I wasn’t the only one. Rebecca Hamilton, a special correspondent on Sudan for The Washington Post and the author of Fighting for Darfur, posted a blog as a response to this story: Clooneyization of the South Sudan story.

Hamilton writes: ‘To begin with, in a report out of Juba, they start and end with George Clooney. And George Clooney is not even there today! My general position, and hear me clearly so this is not misunderstood as a rant against celebrity activism, is that celebrity engagement can be extremely helpful […] I tried reporting from Abyei before anyone mainstream was doing it and my pitches kept being rejected by editors who thought, of everything going on in Sudan, Abyei was not “newsworthy” enough (At the time it was a prevention story – no one had died yet). Then George Clooney turned up late last year. And suddenly, Abyei was on the mainstream map. Now you can bitch all you like about the state of American culture that we need a movie star to direct our attention to worthwhile issues all you like, but that’s the reality we are living in…’

Her post is not only about the American actor, in fact what she says goes along with what I was saying about ‘oversimplification’. She adds: ‘Sudanese, first and foremost, in addition to a core group of Americans, and many others globally, worked on this for two decades and got right to the point where Sudan agreed to let southern Sudanese have a self-determination referendum before any American celebrity took up their cause.’

I think it was worth to be said even if, once again, bringing awareness and spreading the word on what was is happening in Sudan is amazing (I had the opportunity to mention several times the work done by NGOs and even some advocacy groups) but I think on this celebration day, it is important to render unto southern Sudanese that which is theirs.






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