Features

Separation anxieties

"Separation anxieties" Continued...

Issue: "Realities: 2011-2020," Jan. 15, 2011

Roger Winter, a former director for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and an unpaid adviser to the government of South Sudan, agrees. Winter says the United States has catered to Khartoum, despite an abysmal track record that includes International Criminal Court indictments of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur.

Indeed, during U.S. special envoy Scott Gration's first visit to Sudan last year, the retired Air Force officer told Khartoum officials, "I come here with my hands open," saying he hoped Khartoum would respond "with a hand of friendship." Gration didn't publicly mention war crimes or genocide.

Winter believes that Gration may have "an over-sized commitment to [Obama's] view about reaching out to the Arabic and Islamic world." And he says that unsuccessful diplomacy in Sudan could be disastrous: "The Obama administration could very possibly go down as having some key responsibility in losing the peace in Sudan."

For now, Reeves says it's impossible to know what Khartoum will do in response to the referendum, since war would be costly for a regime already suffering from deep economic problems. And he says uncertainty is a central part of the regime's plan: "There's a strategic value to keeping the world guessing."

In the meantime, southerners are preparing for the Jan. 9 vote and contemplating post-referendum life in South Sudan. Nearly 3 million southerners registered to vote in the referendum during a three-week period in November. In the streets of the South Sudanese capital of Juba, Henry Lemor joined thousands of other citizens rallying for independence, waving a single open hand to show the decision he's already made: "We say, bye-bye to Khartoum."

William Levi-founder of the Massachusetts-based Operation Nehemiah-fled South Sudan after enduring torture for his Christian faith at the hands of Islamic captors during the civil war. After coming to the United States, he founded Operation Nehemiah to help displaced southern Sudanese living in refugee camps. Now the ministry helps citizens returning to South Sudan, with work including a church, agricultural projects, a healthcare clinic, and a radio ministry.

Levi says the implications of independence from the Islamic north are enormous for the largely Christian region: "By halting the advance of jihadism, South Sudan not only remains free to pursue Christ but keeps the heart of sub-Sahara Africa open for the gospel."

He says the ministry hopes to expand its humanitarian projects to meet more material needs, but adds that the deepest needs remain spiritual. "Certainly, freedom from Islamic tyranny will remove significant challenges to the preaching of the gospel, but we understand that true oppression is in the heart of man and cannot be alleviated by political change," he says. "Only Jesus Christ has the power to set men free."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

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

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