Infisal! Infisal! Infisal!
(A journey in South Sudan)
They’ll never pull it off, people said. Too little time, too little money, obstruction from the North … The April 2010 elections – both presidential and local – had gone poorly, ‘highly chaotic, non-transparent, and vulnerable to electoral manipulation’, as the international observers from the Carter Center declared. And a failed referendum would be even worse than no referendum at all: it would open the door to all of Khartoum’s objections, and lead straight to another civil war. But the autonomous government of South Sudan refused to make any concessions: ‘The date [of the referendum] is sacrosanct,’ thundered the president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, a tall, stocky, bearded man almost never photographed without his cowboy hat. Yet to everyone’s great surprise, not only did they pull it off, but it actually went well. Really well.
[*] A map of Sudan can be seen here.
Vol. 33 No. 14 · 14 July 2011
From Edward Fullbrook
In 1963 I backpacked through Southern Sudan. So, naturally, reading Jonathan Littell’s ‘A Journey in South Sudan’, I tried to make connections between there then and there now (LRB, 30 June). I wasn’t very successful. Place and tribe names remain the same, but today’s referents seem to belong to a different anthropological period from the ones I knew. Littell writes:
The streets of Juba … were metalled not long ago and the traffic never lets up: there are 4x4s with radios and humanitarian logos, more luxurious SUVs … vans, pickup trucks, motorcycles, endless streams of public minibuses, the occasional Hummer, bright yellow or orange. There are many substantial-looking buildings, bars, restaurants, businesses, cellphone and computer shops, beauty salons, clothing stores.
In 1963 the only buildings in Juba were a Barclays Bank and a government guest house that was far beyond my means. Twice a day you might see a battered Land Rover or a small lorry, but no bikes, motor or otherwise, that I remember.
One day on Juba’s main street a car appeared, an old blue banger. What a sight! I hadn’t seen a car since leaving Khartoum four weeks earlier. It pulled up beside me and a white man’s bald head came out from a rear window. He introduced himself as the American ambassador. ‘I flew down in a Piper Cub from Khartoum just for the day.’
Even then Juba was half an anthropological period removed from the rest of Southern Sudan. Beyond the city limits, loin cloths were virtually the only apparel, and for men they were optional. Utilitarian spears were an everyday sight. Between Wau and Juba, a distance of 350 miles, I saw only one structure that was not made entirely from un-machined materials. It was a gazebo with metal insect screening tacked onto a light frame of milled timbers. Inside, its African owner, also in his early twenties, served me tea and told me his life story in perfect Home Counties English. His mother had died in an epidemic and his father in the claws and jaws of a lion. Missionaries passing through took him into their care and eventually back to England. Recently he had graduated from a British university and had returned to help his people – although of course he didn’t express it this way – into a different anthropological period. Obviously he and others succeeded; Littell otherwise would not have gone to South Sudan to write his article. I don’t mean to be nostalgic or sentimental, but it was with some sadness that I read it.