Cover Story

Home is where the start is

"Home is where the start is" Continued...

Issue: "Home again," July 12, 2008

Refugee camps became breeding grounds for adultery and alcohol abuse, and depression is common among returnees. Levi emphasizes the importance of "raising up godly men to establish godly homes," and reaching out to widows and orphans. The ministry's focus, he says, is "one family at a time, one village at a time, impacting the community for Christ."

A vibrant Sunday worship service-and a brush with danger-revealed the community's determination to stay in the region. When news surfaced after church that a band of men, possibly from Uganda's notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), had ambushed a village three miles away, a local pastor suggested villagers return home before dark. Instead, the villagers sang, prayed, and danced late into the night. Many slept outside on bamboo mats, while SPLA soldiers with red berets and long rifles patrolled the surrounding streets.

Security remains a concern in the South, though the most volatile area is about 200 miles north in the oil-rich region of Abyei. Clashes between northern and southern troops in May forced as many as 100,000 civilians from their homes. The region lying on the North-South border is still disputed, with both sides laying claim to the land and the lucrative oilfields that produce nearly half of Sudan's 500,000 barrels of oil a day.

Some worry the dispute could spark another civil war between the North and South and warn that continuing instability here will doom prospects for peace in Sudan's other region of conflict, Darfur. But no one here wants a return to war, according to Tiberius Hakim, a member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the predominant party in the government of South Sudan: "Neither side would benefit."

From an office in Juba, Hakim advises the government on development and runs a private construction company. Officials are eager to develop the capital city, and Juba looks like a gold-rush town: People from all over the region have poured into the city seeking higher wages and economic opportunity.

Higher wages are a must: Sparse hotels charge as much as $200 a night for foreigners and aid workers willing to pay, and rents remain extraordinarily high for homes situated on the edge of slums. But Juba lacks the infrastructure to support rapid economic development, and the boom could turn into a bust. The city lacks running water, electricity, and sewage systems. Phone lines are unreliable. Customers on competing cell phone networks can't call each other. At the city's airport, workers keep paper records of flights and passengers.

"Today in Juba nothing happens because there is no power," said Hakim. He means electrical power, and he is trying to convince the government to tap into the vast resources of the Nile to develop hydropower. But he could also mean political and financial power. While Arab money flows into Khartoum and other cities in the North, the government provides little support to southern cities and has not made conditions favorable for free markets. Foreign companies won't invest in development, even though most U.S. sanctions against Sudan don't apply in the South. When Hakim recently conducted business with a U.S. company, the transfer of U.S. dollars to a Sudanese bank took months because of local regulations.

He says the government must make conditions favorable for free markets to operate and must resist the urge to retain too much control: "We are trying to overcome the attitude that the government should just provide services rather than helping competitive companies that can develop resources."

While the government focuses on cities, Sudanese exiles returning to rural villages will continue to rely on nonprofit groups and their own hands to produce what they need to survive. Even under difficult conditions and an uncertain future, the Christians in Borongole seem glad to be home. As the sun rose over the tents and huts one morning last month, they finished morning worship singing, "This is the place that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it."

(Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Operation Nehemiah began work in 1993.)

War without end

Three decades of conflict and hardship in Sudan-and counting

1983: Arab-dominated government in the North adopts Islamic law. The predominantly Christian South resists.

1983-1984: Southern rebels form the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and a political organization, Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), to bolster resistance.

1989: Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir takes power in a coup-and remains in power today.

1990: Northern forces begin a bloody campaign that kills 2 million and drives 4 million from their homes.

1997: Peace talks begin in Nairobi but soon collapse.

2002-2004: SPLA chief John Garang and international community push peace talks to a final deal.

January 2005: North and South sign Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to end civil war.

July 2005: Garang sworn in as Sudan's first vice president. Twenty-one days later, Garang dies in a helicopter crash.

August 2005: Salva Kiir, a remaining founding member of the SPLM, sworn in as vice president.

December 2005: UN begins repatriation program to return southern refugees home.

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the political beat and other topics as national editor for WORLD Magazine. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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