Salva Kiir calls for forgiveness as South gains Independence
– headline in Daily Monitor (Kampala, Uganda)
A new nation, South Sudan, has just been born amidst great celebration and, sadly in some quarters, predictions of failure.
The world's 193rd state and Africa's 55th, one of the world's poorest, faces enormous challenges following civil wars and neglect, with nearly 40% of its population on food aid. The land-locked country is rich in oil and minerals but dependent on agriculture and desperately in need of development. As Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal African Society, wrote last week, 'If South Sudan becomes a peaceful successful state, it will be a miracle.'
South Sudan is made up of some hundred ethnic groups of diverse languages and cultures, united only by the desire to be free of the North. In January a referendum of its largely Christian people produced a 98.3% vote for independence from the largely Muslim north. The poll was agreed as part of a 2005 peace agreement that followed fifty years of fighting with two civil wars in which an estimated two million people died.
Tens of thousands watched as the flag of the new nation was raised in Juba, the capital, before dignitaries from around Africa and the world. In his first address as the new President, Salva Kirr, asked his people to forgive but not forget those who committed atrocities against them during a conflict in which 1.5 million people died. Standing beside him was the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir who said earlier that he wanted the country to be 'secure and stable'. 'We will bless our brothers in the south and we wish them success,' he said.
One of the biggest challenges to the new country is healing the hatreds of the past.
I think at this time of the example set by an old friend, General Joseph Lagu, special adviser to the new president, whose spirit and approach give hope. Last week he said that it was an important moment for all Sudanese to be in genuine unity, and show North Sudan and the whole world 'that we did it and we can be united'. And at an event in Juba recognizing his role in the development of the new country, he said, 'We hold no bitterness towards the Northern Sudanese. North and South Sudan can co-exist as sisterly countries and exchange ambassadors.' He appealed to the president 'to pardon all those who rebelled against the Government of Southern Sudan, so that we start afresh as a united people of the new nation, South Sudan'.
In 1971 Lagu had made a decision that has become, as Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft affirms, 'a poignant example of how a personal spiritual commitment at the principal-actor level can influence the outcome of a conflict.' At the time he was the military and political leader of the guerrilla movement in the south in the first civil war. He had been fighting for eight years.
On 6 December that year a Sudan Airways plane had crash landed in an area controlled by his guerrillas. There were 29 survivors, mostly Muslims from the north. Only two weeks earlier Sudanese soldiers had killed a number of Christian worshippers in a church. There was considerable pressure on him to take revenge. 'Let us sleep over it,' he told his officers. He describes what followed: 'I had a sleepless night on a stretcher. “Christ, if you were here what would you tell me?” I asked myself. The story of his having compassion on the hungry multitudes came to mind. He didn't want to send them away hungry. He would want me to have compassion. “But these are enemies, I thought. Then another conversation came to mind. How many times were we to forgive our brother? “Seventy times seven.”
The next morning the general called his staff together, most of whom shared the conviction that all the prisoners should be killed or held for ransom. “I have already made a decision which some of you will not like. But you'll appreciate it is me not you who will stand before God to answer for a bad decision. I have decided to let them go unconditionally.”
After the first settlement Joseph was appointed inspector general of the Sudanese army and later became the country's vice president. But for refusing to be a 'yes man' he fell out of favour with the president, General Nimeiri, who was himself overthrown in a coup in 1985. He later served as a roving ambassador for his country.
One other image comes to mind. I was present in 1994 when he stood on the platform at the centre of reconciliation in Caux, Switzerland with another Sudanese general and ambassador, General Mohamed ein elAbdeen, a Muslim and a northerner. They were both committed to working together for peace. Lagu was ready to overcome his hatred, and elAbdeen was ready to acknowledge mistakes made by Northerners. elAbdeen said, 'We generals are living in one room, very friendly. He starts in the morning reading his Bible, I read the Qur'an. I have got something which we can share together because we believe in the same God. A just and lasting peace can only be achieved through a process of reconciliation, compromise and confidence-building.'
It is such qualities in these and other men I have known from North and South which will be tested in the next months and years. It is at that same Swiss centre, at the Caux Forum for Human Security that the independence of South Sudan was marked yesterday by a ceremony that included the raising of the nation's flag. A Forum session in 2009 had been attended by a delegation lead by Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny .
South Sudan is accompanied on its journey by the hopes of many. President Obama, in a message to the inauguration, said that the day was a reminder that 'after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible. A proud flag flies over Juba and the map of the world has been redrawn. The symbols speak to the blood that has been spilled, the tears that have been shed, the ballots that have been cast and the hopes that have been realized by so many millions of people.'