It’s a time of joyous celebration for Southern Sudanese this week. They’ve waited for this moment at least since Omar el-Bashir seized power in 1989. Later this year, they will become the world’s newest nation, a democracy committed to many of the freedoms and rights that we enjoy here in the United States.
View this video of the people celebrating:
I’ve traveled to South Sudan many times during the past 17 years. On one of those visits, I spent an afternoon with rebel leader John Garang. The charismatic general sacrificed his life for a new, free Sudan (many believe his helicopter was intentionally sabotaged before it crashed on July 30, 2005).
Garang spent much of our meeting detailing his comprehensive peace plan. Many of his proposals were actually negotiated and accepted by the government; his vision and tenacity helped create this moment in Sudanese history. I was impressed that he could recall every point of the plan—all of the specifics without referring to notes.
Most of the people in the South are Christian, but many of those who took up arms to resist the forced Islamization efforts of the northern government were animists.
So, I asked Garang, a Christian, if the independent country that his people fought and died for (2 million lives were lost during 22 years of fighting) would be a Christian nation.
“No,” Garang told me. “It will be a secular nation that respects all religions. It must, if it is to be a true democracy.”
If the next five months proceed as promised and planned, South Sudan will officially become an independent state on July 9, 2011. Much has yet to be negotiated with the Sudanese government—like the future of Abyei, the line of demarcation, citizenship, oil rights and profits.
Most of Sudan’s oil is in the South. The pipeline to get the oil to the Port of Sudan and to market traverses the North. North and South Sudan need each other—oil profits will be crucial for the South if it is to build the infrastructure and economy demanded by the people of the new nation.
Let’s pray for a peaceful transition to the New Sudan that John Garang envisioned.
Click on this video to hear comments from South Sudan Minister Gabriel Changson Chang about the South’s transition to independent statehood: