“I lost family members, including a younger sister … murdered in cold blood and my aunt [was] raped and murdered in cold blood … and three uncles … all murdered in cold blood.”
A stunned silence fell upon the mere nine audience members in Rockefeller Hall as Silvestro Akara Bakhiet, a Southern Sudanese refugee, recounted how he had witnessed the horrors surrounding the second Sudanese civil war in efforts to raise awareness and garner support to help rebuild the devastated Sudanese regions.
“It’s the most pressing humanitarian issue in the world right now,” said Jacob Arem ’11, president of the Jewish social justice group Tzedek that sponsored the lecture. “We wanted to raise awareness on the situation in Sudan … Tzedek holds a bake sale every Friday in Ho Plaza in order to raise money to help Sudan.”
Political uprisings and wars have ripped through Sudan since 1956, when the British colonies left power to the Arabs of the northern region, known as the Khartoum government. [img_assist|nid=36503|title=Plight for peace|desc=Silvestro Akara Bakhiet discusses causes and recent resolution of the war in Southern Sudan in Rockefeller Hall yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
According to Bakhiet, “[Northern Sudan] never used this opportunity [of power] to govern properly, which [resulted] in political war between [the] north and south.”
Bakhiet described the first Sudanese civil war, which lasted from 1956 to 1972, as a political and economical war. As the Khartoum government came to power, it wanted to further assert its power as the centralized government so that it could control the resources of the country, such as oil, agricultural, minerals and ultimately, the economy.
After a period of calm, a second civil war erupted and lasted from 1983 to 2005. Bakhiet labeled these tumultuous and chaotic years as not only an economical and political war but a religious war against the new Islamic control as well.
As east and west Sudan including Darfur suffered through droughts, famine as well as genocide, the people in Southern Sudan rose against the unjust Khartoum government.
“[The] lack of schools, lack of roads, lack of food, lack of water, lack of everything is happening [under the Khartoum government’s] watch,” Bakhiet said.
A student at the time, Bakhiet fought against the Islamic education system imposed on the southern region by northern Sudan which had adapted to the education system brought by English missionaries in the 1960s. In the midst of the second civil war, Bakhiet took refuge in Cairo where he united with other like-minded refugees to support the student opposition against the north.
However, the lack of unity in the south caused more discontent. During foreign colonization, the Dinka were more accommodating of the foreigners than the Nuer, which resulted in antagonism between the two main ethnic groups of the south. As a result, there was more bloodshed, massacres and crime against humanity from 1991 to 1992.
“[Their] movement was not properly laid down,” Bahkiet explained. “There were no resources to manage the movement, so [they] went to [the] Khartoum government. This weakened [the] movement [and the southern Sudanese movement against the north] continued for almost 10 years without meaningful progress.”
In 1997, Bakhiet came to the United States where he began advocating human rights for southern Sudan through congressional efforts. Since then, he has traveled across the nation to raise awareness about the situation in Sudan. Finally, in 2000, Bakhiet founded New Sudan Generation (NSG), an organization dedicated to supporting and providing relief to the war-torn regions of Sudan.
The second civil war ended after the Southern Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) engaged in peace talks and with the manifestation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The CPA gives southern Sudan autonomy as well as the opportunity to vote for independence from the Khartoum government in 2011. Furthermore, the southern government would have the full right to govern, have a standing army, conduct an accurate census and receive their rightful oil revenue without Khartoum interference.
“In my life, I never had peace … due to this government,” Bahkiet said. “People are fed up. It’s better to suffer with your own people than to suffer with [the] Khartoum government. The corruption in this government is too much. I cannot deny that. No one can deny that.”
The vote for independence threatens to initiate a third civil war between the antagonistic north and south. As tensions brew, millions have been displaced from their homes, millions have lost their lives and millions more continue to suffer in Sudan.
Bahkiet noted that nations have not yet offered a strong supporting hand.
“The problem is the nations’ interest,” Bakhiet said. “[Nations] cannot come up with a strong statement [as to] how we as an individual, as a community, as a family can help. Like China who is [reliant] on Sudanese oil, [they are] waiting to see who is going to win or lose, and [they] do business with whoever wins.”
However, China is not the only nation that considered its own interest when deciding which side to support. According to Bakhiet, France gave the north satellite information to track SSLA locations, while the north gave up Illich Ramirez Sanchez, also known as “Carlos the Jackal,” a terrorist responsible for the 1982 Paris bombings and had been hiding in northern Sudan.
Furthermore, Bakhiet explained that the reason the United States had been lenient on northern Sudan was because the Bush administration needed information on Osama Bin Laden who had supported the Khartoum government.
“Not a single [nation] has taken a risk to stop genocide, again,” said Prof. John Weiss, history. Weiss refers to the mass bloodshed that has leaked throughout history from Darfur to the Holocaust, during which nations around the world took no action to prevent the deaths of millions of people.
Whether through humanitarian efforts, funding or petitions, Bahkiet urged audience members to act to stop history from repeating itself.
Xander Snyder ’09 looked around the almost-empty room and asked “Given the economic situation, how can we, as a country, even as a students in this room, help?”
“We have to work together…” Bahkiet said. “If we don’t work together, we only see our differences.”
Bahkiet encouraged students to work together to overcome the challenges.
“Sudan can do a lot with very little,” Bahkiet continued. “We need to think collectively and see what we can do on a small scale, then on a larger scale.”
Snyder, who is also the president of the musical group Contrapunt, took Bahkiet’s word to heart as he later approached Arem to collaborate in humanitarian funding efforts by offering to have Tzedek hold a bake sale at Contrapunt’s next concert.
“It’s pathetic,” Snyder said, commenting that only nine people attended the lecture. “These sorts of events [on raising awareness] should be better publicized with a better venue. I wish people would take more action … I wish the U.S. would take more action.”
Weiss agreed with Snyder but added, “Like what Mr. Bahkiet said, a little can do a lot. We just need leverage.”