The Sudanese of Iowa City ask for help

BY GUEST COLUMN | APRIL 25, 2012 6:30 AM

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Why can't my country be like any other country? As I am talking to you, I don't know what is happening there right now or what will be happening tomorrow or in a week's time. Poor people are being killed and forced to flee their homes. Why does the United States or NATO help one country and not others? No one seems to really care.

These are the words of a young North Sudanese student living in our community.

As many other cities around the country, Iowa City is home to many North and South Sudanese. They live in harmony and generally identify themselves as Sudanese despite the separation.

Indeed, in July 2011, South Sudan became a new country, and many people from the South thought that it was the end of conflicts and the beginning of reconstruction.

Grace Nyoma, a UI student of clinical laboratory science from the South, hoping that the secession would help eradicate the conflict, told The Daily Iowan in January 2011: "Let's try to be on our own and try to build ourselves and see how we are going to make it." This was and remains a hope. A number of issues remain unsettled, and the peace agreement of 2005 had always been fragile.

Late last year, just months after the declaration of South Sudan's independence, the Sudanese Armed Forces clashed with rebels from the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement North. While Khartoum (North) accused Juba (South) of supporting the rebels, Juba accused Khartoum of backing armed militias to destabilize its country.

After numerous negotiations, both governments failed to reach an agreement. Early this month, the conflict exploded after South Sudan's army occupied the oil-rich region of Heglig, which is claimed by both sides but has supplied Sudan with half of the country's oil production since South Sudan's independence.

Although the Sudanese Armed Forces recaptured Heglig, the situation on the ground is chaotic, and each government is doing whatever it can to gain more territory. Four peacekeepers, who are part of the joint African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur, were injured in an attack April 20 by unidentified gunmen in West Darfur. 

The attack is just another illustration of the level of human-rights violations in the region, and it shows how the protection of civilians and the facilitation of humanitarian aid are quasi-impossible.

Also, young people are being encouraged to join the army in both sides. Early last week, more than 300 Southern Sudanese youths joined and embarked on training as part of the public campaign to mobilize support for South Sudan's national army.

Based on these recent developments, the Southern Sudanese government is no longer a victim as it was the case before 2011. Now, it has an army and a government, and its army has been very active at the border with North Sudan: the occupation of Heglig, the killing of civilians and the recruitment of children. The question now is why is the Sudan's conflict not taken seriously by the United States?

Henri Joel Nkuepo
UI law research scholar

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