Andrew S. Natsios, President's Special Envoy for Sudan, writes about a meeting between some of the world’s most prominent and respected elder statesmen in Juba, Sudan.
Juba, Sudan – I’ve been working on Sudan issues for decades: first the North-South war that the United States helped end two years ago with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and now, as Special Envoy, the Darfur conflict. But I never imagined one day I’d be sitting in the U.S. Consulate General in Juba – the booming capital of Southern Sudan -- talking with some of the world’s most prominent and respected elder statesmen. That happened last Tuesday (Oct. 2) when former President Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, former UN negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi and Graca Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, among others, all members of The Elders group, crossed paths with our delegation during my 10-day trip to Sudan.
The Elders’ mission is solely humanitarian. The American Consulate is [its a series of small "houses" -- not a building"] where Foreign Service officers both live and work. We gathered in the living room, getting respite from the hot, steamy weather. It was an animated, low-key discussion, and Carter, who looks younger than his years, did most of the talking. At one point, Graca Machel laughed when someone said a Sudanese rebel leader compared himself to her husband, Mandela. We talked about a lot of things, including the CPA. One of the reasons I went to Sudan this time was to assess how the CPA is being implemented. The CPA calls for national elections in 2009, and Carter volunteered that his center in Atlanta would like to be involved in the monitoring the elections.
The Elders’ meeting came midway through my trip: I spent a weekend in Darfur, but much of my time I was in the South which had been devastated by a 21-year war before it ended with the Naivasha accords in January 2005. More than 2 million people died in the North-South conflict, and 4 million were displaced. Since the war ended, more than 1.2 million internally displaced people have returned to their homes. The enthusiasm that greeted our group in the South was heart-warming. In the Eastern Equatoria state of Torit, more than 400 people lined the airstrip where we landed. There were dancers and singers and tribal elders with lavish headdresses made of ostrich feathers. The people carried a large banner thanking the United States for the Naivasha accords that ended the war. After we landed the townspeople slaughtered a white bull – and I jumped over it, as Sudanese tradition demands. It is said that the spirit of the bull blesses the one who jumps. I also visited the oil fields in the South – 73,000 barrels of oil a day are exported – and talked about wealth-sharing. In Rumbek, we went to the Southern Sudan Center for the Census and Statistical Evaluation to see how the pre-election census is coming along.
There’s still a lot of work to be done in Southern Sudan. After all, the country was devastated by the war. But the progress I saw gave me hope that our work is not in vain -- that if we can achieve peace in Southern Sudan, we can do it in Darfur.