Tuany and the current executive director of the community center, Chuol Tut, organized a carpool of several personal and church vehicles for the January 9 referendum vote. The closest polling center was in Phoenix, Arizona, and saw 149 San Diegan southern Sudanese refugees choosing between symbols of two clasped hands for unity and one raised hand for secession. As only 15 percent of southern Sudan’s 8.7 million people can read, the icons were used in place of words at both U.S. and Sudanese polling centers.
On February 7, it was announced that southern Sudan would become an independent nation on July 9. The referendum passed with a 98.83 percent in-favor vote after a six-year cease-fire (the Comprehensive Peace Agreement), following over two decades of civil war that devolved into all-out genocide against the south. Sudan’s second civil war officially began in 1983 with the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a rebel group that fought for a secular, democratic Sudan against the Arab Muslim capital of Khartoum. The conflict has left an estimated 4 million displaced, an estimated 200,000 in slavery, and 2 million dead — one of the highest civilian death tolls since World War II.
The first civil war began in 1955 after British colonists left Africa and, at the urging of northern Sudan, lumped two inherently incompatible cultures into one nation. The war lasted for 17 years and claimed the lives of half a million people, including Tuany’s father. Only one in five were armed combatants. Hundreds of thousands were displaced. The conflict ended with the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, but the underlying religious and racial tensions were never addressed, much less resolved. The second civil war is seen largely as a continuation of the first, aggravated by disputes over the nation’s rich oil resources, which now account for about 70 percent of Sudan’s export profits.
George Bush Senior initiated a hunt for Sudanese oil in 1974, just two years after the Addis Ababa Agreement had decreed that the north and south would share the nation’s resources equally. Then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bush, after analyzing satellite maps, suspected that deposits sat beneath Sudanese soil. In 1978, Chevron found large oil fields in the south. By 1980, Khartoum was attempting to redraw its borders in order to annex oil-rich areas to the north. By 1982, Sudanese army soldiers and the government endorsed murahaleen, nomadic Arab horsemen, were massacring southern villages with machine guns and burning them to the ground.
“The legacy of war will still stay with us for some time to come,” said Salva Kiir Mayadrit, the president of southern Sudan and the current Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement leader, at a press conference in the southern capital of Juba in February; he was wearing his trademark black cowboy hat. “But let us not forget to build our own country after all these long years of war and instability. We must protect the new nation and never, at all cost, take it back to war.”
A decree read by the minister of presidency affairs, Bakri Hassan Salih, on behalf of northern Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup and institutionalized Sharia law on a national level, reads: “We declare our acceptance of the southern Sudan people’s choice, and we pledge to work for resolving the outstanding issues and build constructive relations between north and south Sudan.” The International Criminal Court announced ten criminal charges against al-Bashir and issued a warrant for his arrest in 2008. A second arrest warrant in 2010 bears the added charge of genocide. Regardless, al-Bashir remains the president and leader of the National Congress Party in Khartoum.
Sudan is home to about 42 million people, including 597 tribes speaking over 400 dialects and split into two major ethnic groups — the primarily Muslim/Arabic north, and the African animist and Christian south. Roughly the size of France, southern Sudan is among the poorest regions in the world, with only 30 miles of paved road. Around 17 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. Although 85 percent of Sudanese oil (about 500,000 barrels a day) comes from southern Sudan, the oil and revenue have historically been piped to the north via more than 1350 miles of Chinese-built pipeline, leaving the south in squalor. China has provided arms to the north to protect their investment, fueling the bloody conflict. The 2005 Comprehensive People Agreement decreed a 50/50 split in southern oil profits, a figure that is liable to change pending negotiations after the referendum, which will focus largely on the oil-rich region of Abyei.
Tuany’s words are deliberate and his accent distinct as he talks about the problems facing the recently liberated people of southern Sudan. The horizontal creases across his forehead, which at first appear to be enduring furrows of concern, are actually traditional scars from the Nuer tribal coming-of-age ceremony. They were cut into his forehead with a knife at the age of 13.
“It is a beautiful, vast land with natural resources,” says Tuany, who lives in Spring Valley with his wife and seven children, “but it’s missing the best thing in the world, which is drinking water.”
Tuany, a mental-health aid at a hospital in Point Loma, has made two return trips to Sudan to drill wells for war-torn villages in the south. He plans to return in 2012 to drill several more. Like many in San Diego’s southern Sudanese community, his story is one of courage, perseverance, and obstacles overcome.
At 16 years of age, Tuany had been working as the assistant manager of an oil-production center in Khartoum for about a year when the violence preceding Sudan’s second civil war broke out. Much of Sudan’s Muslim community, which accounts for about 70 percent of the population, felt a renewed hostility against southern Sudanese African Christians and traditional animists after a series of raids conducted by the rebels, who would later be known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Tuany and his family fled for refuge in Ethiopia with a group of about 20 others in 1981. The two-month walk southeast to Ethiopia was ridden with hardships. The threat of lions and adversaries meant much of the travel was spent running and hiding in the brush.