North Park Hosts Forum for Sudan Referendum

Forum for South Sudan

CHICAGO, IL (December 12, 2010) – In what was part educational forum, part election rally, government officials of South Sudan and other local Sudanese leaders spoke at North Park University in advance of a historic referendum in January.

The referendum would pave the way for South Sudan’s independence from the northern part of the African nation. South Sudan is a semi-autonomous government of Sudan.

Voters can express their desire for South Sudan to unite with Northern Sudan or become independent. The referendum represents the final implementation of a peace accord signed in 2005 that ended decades of civil war in which millions died and more millions made refugees.

Many people ask us, ‘Why do you want to separate?’” said Nyajuok (Sunday) Chuol, a sophomore and president of the African Student Club, which organized the event. “The reason is one word – freedom.”

Ezekiel Gatkuoth, the South Sudan ambassador to the United States, told the gathering that freedom means something different for the people in his country. While we talk of an extensive body of civil rights, “Their freedom is just to be safe, to live in a home, and to wake up not afraid.”

That would represent a dramatic change for the people of the region, who have been oppressed by the north, the speakers said.

Despite the peace accord, violence has continued. Speakers noted recent attacks by the north, for which the south has not retaliated because they fear a military response would provide an excuse for delaying the election.

Recently, 80 people in one district died as the direct result of violence, says James Tang, an Evangelical Covenant Church missionary serving in Sudan and the father of Chuol. Among the people in the district was a family of three who were killed when they went looking for food. Two of the family members were children.

The north also has sought to kill the livestock of people in the south because that is their only means of supporting themselves, Tang said.

The violence is fueled by conflict between peoples of differing culture, language, and religion. The north is predominantly Arabic and Islamic in its faith tradition, whereas the south includes Sudanese from a variety of backgrounds and is primarily Christian in its faith tradition.

Economics also have played a significant role in fueling the conflict. Most of Sudan’s rich oil reserves are located in the south and is the primary source of income for the nation.

For that reason, the referendum may not be the last word. “The north is not going to be happy about seeing us go,” Gatkuoth said. He encouraged attendees to Saturday’s gathering to encourage their representatives to push for continued pressure by the United States government to force the north to abide by the vote.

He said both sides will have to work together for everyone’s benefit. He noted that the oil pipelines must flow through the north so the oil can be exported. The north also has the funds to develop the fields.

The agreement calls for oil revenue to be shared more equally between the north and south. Currently, the north takes nearly all of the revenue.

Chicago Bulls player Luol Deng, whose family are Sudanese refugees, was scheduled to speak but was unable to attend. His sister, Arek, spoke instead. She heads the Luol Deng Foundation. The foundation’s main mission is to help Africans gain access to the most basic human needs from shelter to water, and health to education.

Attendees included roughly two dozen South Sudanese who have found refuge in the United States. The speakers repeatedly encouraged them to vote.

An offering was taken to help fund the transportation of Sudanese to the voting centers for the election that have been set up in several cities across the United States.