Sunday, August 24, 2014
Journal Entry for trip south & meeting John Garang
October 6: Went deep into southern Sudan over the weekend. Flew to Rumbek, the capital of "New Sudan" ruled by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). For hundreds of years, people have been moving down the Nile Valley through and to Sudan. (Spoke to a Dutch archeologist last week who runs a dig at one of the oldest known sites with signs of modern men – 200,000 years old.) Over the last few thousand years, people moving north have met other people whose ancestors had moved north and beyond even longer ago. So long ago, they forgot where they came from, as we all do. The more recent movements north have been by "Africans" and they have met "Arabs." The people have mixed, fought and lived among each other. The Arabs preyed on the black Africans, taking them as slaves, treating them as animals. The Africans – found mostly but not all in the south – themselves are split into hundreds of tribes, big and small. Some farm, some raise cattle. They too have fought with each other. The largest African tribe is the Dinka, the Nuer next. They are split into further groups that have also fought with each other.
When the British left Sudan in 1956, they left behind an old boundary separating north and south Sudan. The south has been fighting the north ever since. This became a war for the independence of the south and the SPLM became the prime liberation movement in 1983. The SPLM represents the Africans. John Garang has headed it for most of its existence. Garang lived for nine years in the US and received a PhD in agricultural science from the University of Iowa. I went to Rumbek to meet Garang and to greet a retired US four-star general who also was arriving in Sudan to meet with him and the government.
Rumbek is around 500 miles south of Khartoum. It is deeper in the rain belt and it rained right after we arrived on Friday afternoon. Bringing rain in Africa is considered good luck. It had not rained for 12 days and the sorghum needed water to finish growing by harvest time at the end of October. It also cooled things off a good bit.
The British had kept the Arabs out of southern Sudan during the colonial period to protect the people there. But that is all they did. No development or investment of any kind took place. Southern Sudan today is almost totally primitive. No paved roads, no electricity, no plumbing, no modern medicine, no telephones, no TV, no AC. Simple mud huts, water from rivers and wells, brutally hot days, nothing but hard work, survival, family and friends. When we attended a large SPLM ceremony on Saturday, Garang told us they had nothing to offer the guests but the good free air but we could have all of that we wanted. (Nevertheless, our visiting ex-general was given the usual village greeting for an important person: he jumped over a big cow held on the ground and with its neck freshly cut. The village then celebrates with a feast.)
Garang is very impressive: thoughtful, quick, subtle and farsighted. Not bombastic and clearly able to tolerate a bunch of rowdy “sons,” the younger leaders pursuing their own ambitions and who have at times been with him, then with the government and then back again. We met twice.
I stayed in a safari-type camp run by a South African company but with an American manager. They served bacon at breakfast and beer at the bar (under a tree). No sharia here. The Civilian Protection Monitoring Team uses most of the tent city to house the Rumbek team. Their job is to investigate possible abuses of civilians by the two opposing armies. The USG funds the CPMT and they flew me to Rumbek. I was apparently lucky the two nights I was there. With a fan blowing – the tents had electric power – I used a sheet at night and slept well. The days were hot. The CPMT also took me on a four-hour plane tour of the south. Took some good shots, including of a typical little village.
Note: The death of John Garang in July 2005 was a tremendous loss for Sudan and South Sudan. He had achieved a peace agreement and became 1st Vice President of Sudan before he died in a helicopter crash. The SPLM leadership he left behind has proved unable to work together and the country has descended into civil war.