After a journey that lasted too long (sailing up the Nile would have been quicker) I am in Juba, Southern Sudan.
What is immediately apparent is that, if this town is going to become a new national capital (and it looks increasingly like it will), the people here are going to need support for a long, long time. Southern Sudan is already an under-developed part of an under-developed country. With independence, things will remain difficult. The UN, for example, has by far the largest presence in town. But an economy propped up by the UN is not sustainable for the long term, especially for local people who will never be able to afford UN-style prices. The local population and their organizations need support, too.
A quick scan of press and the news is already not good. A recent Globe and Mail article
quotes one of Canada’s top bureaucrats saying, “We think that in future Southern Sudan is going to need an international peacekeeping force”. Surely Canada’s focus is broader than a military one. I hope so. Although, I listened in disbelief at a recent conference as one analyst pointed out how the Canadian government views Sudan as they view Afghanistan, ie., through the lens of security.
Put “Sudan” in Google News and you turn up all kinds of articles on the worsening humanitarian crisis in Southern Sudan ahead of the referendum. Returnees and communities will need support that doesn’t include more weapons and soldiers. Sure, there is a need for security, but Southern Sudan is already awash with guns and international forces. Southern Sudanese communities and civil society organizations need all the help they can get. Just and sustainable development demands our attention, as well.
John Lewis, KAIROS International Human Rights Coordinator, accredited by the South Sudan Referendum Commission, is currently in South Sudan on behalf of the Canadian churches monitoring the self-determination referendum called for in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ending 20 years of North-South civil war.