Former Education Coordinator Sabina Carlson, interning in South Sudan, sent me some thoughts and observations a week after the ICC released the arrest warrant for al-Bashir. Living in the midst of Sudan, Sabina is able to offer us a unique view of the situation that we don’t normally have as student activists.
It was the afternoon of March 4, at 4:00 PM local time in Sudan, and Juba fell quiet.
All the discussions, debates, speculations, jokes, and war stories that had built up as thick as the Juba traffic reached their crescendo in the hot afternoon hours, until 4:00 hit.
I was in a car with several friends, driving through the city. I faintly heard a woman’s voice, swiftly overdubbed into the colloquial Arabic before I had time to make out the message. I didn’t even need a translation, however: the almost childlike glee on the faces of my friends in the car broadcast the message loud and clear:
“The indictment is out”.
And as we drove through the streets, perhaps the most overwhelming observation I had was how quiet the city was. Hushed, calm, and quiet. And it seemed as if the entire population of Juba was out on the street, a radio in hand, listening to the BBC, or Meriya FM. You didn’t even need a radio today – you could walk through the streets and catch an uninterrupted broadcast.
And the quiet didn’t come from the fact that the UN sent its personnel home early in anticipation of a backlash – it was not a nervous quiet. I didn’t see a hint of worry from any Sudanese in Juba. The quiet was almost that of quiet victory, a calm confidence that comes when the world seems to finally be on your side. It was an inspiring experience to watch the satisfaction on the faces of those who had fought the northern army during the war, that their struggle had at long last been validated by the international community
However, there was a caution in the quiet as well: a former soldier told me, “it is like you are dealing with a cobra: You can quietly chase a thousand cobras from your doorstep, but if you jump out and kill one, the thousand cobras will come back and attack you. In the South it is like this: we chased Bashir’s army away for decades, but if we jump out and attack Bashir now, he will commit a thousand genocides in our homes.”
He followed that this is why it was good that Obama, America, and the international community should be raising their voices as loudly and clearly as possible: the Sudanese know all too well that anyone who speaks out against Bashir will find a militia at their doorstep in the morning.
The greatest concern of the people of the South is of course what effect the indictment might have on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement . However, everyone said with confidence that if the CPA could survive the death of John Garang, it would survive the indictment of Omar al-Bashir.
Although I almost expected to find some bitterness that the international community had brought Bashir to justice over crimes committed in Darfur and not over crimes committed in the South, almost everyone I spoke to just smiled and said, “Bashir’s time is up.”
And in the week since the attacks, there has been an outpouring of sympathy for the Darfuris cut off from international aid. Almost everyone I know here at one point was displaced and most depended on international aid – and they could not imagine displacement without the critical assistance provided by the INGOs.
Even former soldiers who had fought against Darfuris during the Civil War just shook their heads, sighed with sadness, and told me, “Bashir is bringing a second genocide to Darfur.
”I think in all, the quiet I felt in Juba that day was the quiet of a people tired of war, whether on their own doorsteps or in Darfur, and the quiet that comes with knowing that however painful the present may be, history is on your side.