As South Sudan prepares for independence, old hurts linger
Many South Sudanese are still skeptical of the chances of real peace, although South Sudan's leader has urged forgiveness for the north for its actions during Sudan's civil war.
Juba, South Sudan
They call him “Commander Dan." He arrived 24 years ago, and they say here now that he knows South Sudan better than any other “Kawaja” – white man – around.Skip to next paragraph
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And yet even he got it wrong.
“I’m supposed to be a Sudan expert!” says Dan Eiffe in an Irish lilt, sitting along the banks of the Nile. “And yet I didn't believe this day would come. I really was sure there would be another war before they let us free.”
After 22 years of civil war – Africa’s longest conflict – in which 2 million people were killed and a further 4 million were displaced, South Sudan is now on the brink of independence.
The South Sudan Referendum Commission's preliminary results show that the predominantly Christian and African south has chosen, overwhelmingly, to split away from the mainly Arab and Muslim north.
In several southern counties, a full 99.9 percent of voters cast their ballots for independence, according to Timon Wani, a commission official. “Stay calm,” he told the crowds gathered under the afternoon sun in Juba, the town poised to become the South Sudan capital.
“Don’t celebrate yet… do not beat the drums,” he continued, his eye on a group of herders who were so busy waving arms in the air to signal victory that they were losing control of their goats. “Our divorce must be as smooth as the voting process itself... We must be restrained a little longer.”
'It's hard to stop being suspicious'
Eiffe, who was born on a farm in Ireland, came to Juba as a Catholic priest. He preached the gospels and gave communion to the Dinka and Nuer tribes, just as the peace brokered after the first civil war, which ended in 1972, was falling apart and a bitter second war, which started in 1983 and lasted until 2005, was starting.
It was here that he fell in love with Nouna, a young Sudanese woman who, he boasts, was so beautiful she stopped traffic – or would have, had there been any cars or, for that matter, any real roads in the dusty garrison town.
Leaving the priesthood to marry, Eiffe turned to work with Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), one of the largest NGOs in Sudan and the first such organization to take a political stance and support John Garang and his Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
Eiffe soon sent Nouna and their twin boys to Kenya while he joined the rebel fighters in the bush. He played an increasingly important role in the war – procuring weapons from Uganda, lobbying for money in Washington, organizing food airlifts, and building camps.