Civil war ravaged Southern Sudan for over twenty years, leaving devastation, death and destruction in its wake. Along with this damage, however, the war has left great hope among those who survived and who look forward to a bright future for their emerging nation. Hearing the stories of what the Sudanese experienced during the war, was one of the most remarkable parts of our visit.
Sudan’s political upheaval is largely a result of a nation that is supposed to be shared by two distinct people groups that could not be more different from each other. The Arab muslims have occupied Northern Sudan since the Mohammedan invasions of the 8th century. Southern Sudan has always remained the territory of black Africans. When the colonial powers of Western Europe mapped and divided the lands of Africa into colonies, they paid little attention to the potential problems that their artificial boundaries could create.
In his acclaimed work The State of Africa, Martin Meredith pointed out that “When marking out the boundaries of their new territories, European negotiators frequently resorted to drawing straight lines on the map, taking little or no account of the myriad of traditional monarchies, chiefdoms and other African societies that existed on the ground… In some case, African societies were rent apart… In other cases, Europe’s new colonial territories enclosed hundreds of diverse and independent groups, with no common history, culture, language or religion.” (pp. 1-2) Meredith quotes Lord Salisbury of telling an audience in London, “We have been giving away mountains and rivers and lakes to each other, only hindered by the small impediment that we never knew exactly where they were.” (p. 2) This is evident in Britain’s decision to unite two polar opposite people groups into the single nation of Sudan.
Since Sudan gained its independence in 1956, the government has operated from its predominately Arab-run capital in the North, Khartoum. The trouble is that almost all of Sudan’s vast natural resources reside in the South. The Southern Sudanese have long complained that the North has exploited their resources and used the resulting wealth only to develop the North. When the Sudanese government declared Islamic Jihad against the South, it began an aggressive and violent campaign to forcefully Islamicize the people of of Southern Sudan. This decision precipitated Sudan’s long and bloody civil war. Eventually the South rose up to defend themselves against government forces. Led by John Garang, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) eventually rose up to defend the people of Southern Sudan against the government forces of the North.
In 1990, the government sent a large army into the South in an effort to invade Northern Uganda and use it a base for further military campaigns in the region. When the people of Luwolo learned of the approach of the governmental force, the elder of the village walked down to a nearby stream and prayed. When he finished his prayer, he predicted, “If this land belongs to us, the government’s army will not cross this stream. If they do cross this stream, the land is not our possession.”
While the people of the community fled to the surrounding hills, the SPLA army emerged and managed to surround the enemy. As the North’s commander approached the stream, his vehicle was struck by enemy fire and he fled on foot. The SPLA gained a critical victory that day and the North’s army never did cross that stream.
Thirteen years later, in 2003, the war persisted in Sudan. In the area of Luwolo, there was a tree that had long ago fallen. The children used to sit on its fallen log. One day several children discovered this same tree standing upright. It was a frightening site to many people, because everyone knew that the only the day before it was fallen. When they called the same elder to come and see, he predicted that as that tree had fallen and stood again, the district of Luwolo and Kajo Keji, although marginalized and ravaged by war, would rise again. He predicted that in the time of peace a town would spring up in that area and that people would gather to be part of its development.
This phenomenon, confirmed by international journalists, is coming to pass. Peace has come to Southern Sudan, Luwolo is developing and the beginnings of a town are developing there. This tree, known as the “Peace Tree” has since fallen again, due to Termites. What remains of the Peace Tree serves as a reminder to the local inhabitants of how far they have come in such a short time.