Dan Griffin, CRS senior adviser for Sudan is in Juba, the capital city of southern Sudan, during the referendum process. He filed this report the day before the beginning of the historic vote.
I arrived in Juba for the fifth time in a year’s time, Saturday morning at 10:30am. From the very beginning, I knew this trip would be different. I first came to Africa twenty years ago this month. I started working on Sudan issues more than ten years ago, working for the Catholic Diocese of Torit as a Justice and Peace Coordinator for at a time Sudan was famous for having neither.
Flying back this time, reading reports of the preparations for the referendum starting the following day, I was struck how my own sense of the geography of Sudan has been shaped by its suffering. I first learned place names from reports on where atrocities occurred. I learned the locations of towns and villages largely from the people who fled them. My introduction to Sudan was through its famines and its wars, and that history makes this trip, this front row seat to this historical moment, a unique and joyful one.
Juba feels like a home on the eve of big family wedding. It bustles with activity – confirming arrangements, accommodating the guests, scrambling to make last minute changes to long awaited celebrations. There is an inescapable sense of delighted anticipation, a tangible excitement, and a sense of relief and triumph in even getting to this date peacefully.
The visitors have arrived and the world is watching Sudan. The morning papers in Nairobi headlined the referendum, and on screens around the airport I watched televised reports from Juba on CNN, BBC, and Al Jaazera. I shared the flight in with a German television crew and the Norwegian ambassador to Sudan who helped negotiate the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Sitting behind me was Roger Winter, the man who wrote the Abyei Protocol in the CPA and was recently profiled in National Geographic.
The Juba airport was even more packed and frenzied than it usually is, and the streets of Juba are decked out in banners, signs, and flags promoting “the symbol of freedom”, “First Class citizenship”, and “the end of slavery” through tomorrow’s vote.
In the afternoon I went to hear Cardinal Napier from Durban, South Africa and a delegation from the Dennis Hurley Peace Institute explain that this Sudanese vote is a triumph for the entire African continent, the global Church, and people of peace around the world. It was moving to hear them describe how similar it was to their own experience when they went to the polls, stood in line for hours and miles, and changed the world. They advised the Sudanese that the long walk to freedom is more than political, and more than one vote.
By the evening I had spoken with several CRS staff, partners, and colleague agencies. I learned the materials and monitors requested had been provided, and the confusion and violence predicted had been prevented. In a remarkable turn-around, southern Sudan seems ready, finally ready, to determine themselves the fate of their nation.
I walked around Juba in surprise and gratitude. It didn’t seem possible that an agreement written after decades of conflict, reluctantly signed and never fully implemented could hold up this long. After endless complications, myriad variables, and countless setbacks, it didn’t seem real the Comprehensive Peace Agreement would end largely as it was written six years ago.
It was a wonderful day.