Posts Tagged ‘southern sudanese’

After years in exile during the war, the son of an independence fighter returns to Juba, capital of South Sudan. It isn’t always comfortable, but it is his home.

Young South Sudanese return to homelandNuer Maker Benjamin gave up a comfortable life in London to return to his homeland, newly independent South Sudan, one of the least developed countries. (Robyn Dixon / Los Angeles Times)
Reporting from Juba, South Sudan— 
Just as war chewed up his country, it gnawed away at Nuer Maker Benjamin’s relationship with his father.From half a world away, the young man knew his father only by reputation: a heroic figure and southern Sudanese independence fighter. As he grew older, relatives urged him to make an effort to get to know the man.But his father, like his country, had grown a little forbidding and wary.Benjamin, 29, had left what is now South Sudan as a child, brought up by various relatives in different countries, cut off from his parents by the long, destructive independence war. Coming home, Benjamin did not expect things to be easy. He was leaving London for a dusty, traumatized African city.”I knew there’d be a culture shock,” he said of his return to Juba, the new country’s capital. “I was open to a lot of things. I always knew I was going to come to South Sudan.”He arrived two years ago, anticipating the country’s independence (which happened to tumultuous celebration in July). He had to learn to speak and behave differently. Shaking hands was in, swearing was out.

“Things that are not offensive in London are highly offensive here. People are very proud, so anything can be insulting to them, and you can misunderstand each other most of the time.”

For young South Sudanese such as Benjamin who returned from the diaspora in America, Australia, Europe or other parts of Africa, Juba isn’t always what they hoped. Many of those who remained here during the 22-year independence war resent those who left and have come back with their degrees and worldly experience. Government jobs go to those who did their bit for the war, and their proteges.

But for all its deprivations and anxieties, Juba is the only place that is, finally, home.

As one returnee, Winnie Lado, put it, “I’ve never felt the kind of belonging that I have felt here.”

Beneath, there is unease, for some. South Sudan is one of the least developed countries in the world, and returnees with children know they could give them a better life in another country.

The traumas of war echo in niggling daily tension, brittle relationships or sudden explosions of violence.

“People seemed very rude, the way they related,” Lado said. “The reason is these people are traumatized. All they’ve seen is war, conflict and running around. They don’t know anything else.”

Benjamin had the uncertain, confusing childhood of a refugee. He saw his mother only a few times before her death in 2009 and didn’t meet his father until he was in his early 20s.

From age 9 to 15, he lived with relatives in Cairo, where boys taunted him with names like Chocolada and Konga Bonga. In London, where he studied film, the racism was more subtle, but the frequent police harassment was equally disturbing.

Coming home, Benjamin knew there was some risk that South Sudan could collapse into a failed state or go back to war. He came anyway.

Benjamin is the son of a senior government official and former rebel fighter, George Maker Benjamin, who fought in the war against Sudan. He grew up hearing of his father’s distant deeds.

“He had a good reputation,” he said. “He was a hard-core politician and he had a habit of not combing his hair.”

Benjamin didn’t meet his father until a 2004 visit to Dallas, where his father was working on the resettlement of a group of Sudanese child soldiers called the Lost Boys of Sudan.

He’d been waiting years to meet his father, but when the moment came, he felt strangely vacant and cold.

“We shook hands, as if it was just another man,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything.”

The childhood distance between him and his father chilled Benjamin’s emotions.

“He has sacrificed a lot of his life and time to the movement, based on what he saw. It turned him cold and emotionless. It’s difficult to drop what you saw and felt, and suddenly be a father. He has his own burdens and issues to deal with.”

In Juba, the scars of the 22-year war play out in small daily encounters.

“I’ve seen people being beaten up. I didn’t know what to think. It was outside of what I knew,” Benjamin said. “Then I began to understand, it’s actually normal for such things to happen. If there’s a car accident, people see mob violence as a way to punish the guy who caused the accident. Violence has become part of the culture.”

It took some adjustment, especially his encounters with police and security officials, who can be aggressive or corrupt. But as the country recovers from its bitter past, he is full of plans.

There’s the film festival he’s organizing through his Benjamin Bil Sound Mind Foundation (named after his grandfather).

On the happier side, there’s the wedding he has arranged for his sister, involving many negotiations and formalities in settling the bride price (nominally in cattle), organizing documents and other details.

It’s an important responsibility. Planning the wedding and consulting with his father have anchored him to Juba, and to his father.

“I always understood where my father was coming from. I understood his mind-set and that it would not be easy for him to open up to me. Some of it would be regret that he wasn’t there.

“It’s only now we’re getting closer. He’s opening up to me and telling me more about himself.”

In the jostling streets of Juba, where the prices are high and electricity and water are unreliable, there’s plenty he could be disappointed with. But the down-at-heel city has welded itself to Benjamin’s heart.

“I feel it’s part of my destiny,” he said. “I feel a lot of joy.”

Analysis: Sudan, South Sudan back from brink of war
KHARTOUM (Xinhua) — Sudan and South Sudan have achieved a breakthrough in recent negotiations with the drafting of the framework agreements on national status and boundary demarcation. Analysts believed that the progress pulled back the two nations 
A homecoming in South Sudan
Bellingham Herald
By ROBYN DIXON – Los Angeles Times JUBA, South Sudan – Just as war chewed up his country, it gnawed away at Nuer Maker Benjamin’s relationship with his father. From half a world away, the young man knew his father only by reputation: a heroic figure 
Tel Aviv demonstration decries South Sudanese deportation
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
JERUSALEM (JTA)– Hundreds of South Sudanese migrants and their Israeli supporters protested against the migrant’s imminent deportation to their fledgling new country. The protest Saturday night in Tel Aviv was met with a counter protest by city 
South Sudanese man gets to know his father, his country
Chicago Tribune
Reporting from Juba, South Sudan— Just as war chewed up his country, it gnawed away at Nuer Maker Benjamin’s relationship with his father. From half a world away, the young man knew his father only by reputation: a heroic figure and southern Sudanese 
South Sudan’s Chief negotiator in post-secession talks holds dialogue with 
New Sudan Vision
Pagan Amum, Chief Negotiator for South Sudan answers listenerns questions on Friday March 16, 2012. New Sudan Vision photo. (Juba, South Sudan NSV) – Mr. Pagan Amum Okech, who is South Sudan’s chief negotiator in the post-secession talks in Addis Ababa 

George Clooney advocates for Sudanese people against government forces
Reality TV World
Clooney appeared on Fox News Sunday after testifying last week before a Senate hearing about his recent trip to the dangerous border area between Sudan and South Sudan. Violent civil war has plagued the Sudan since South Sudan became an independent 

Juba officials scramble for luxuries as nation wallows in poverty


FEB. 16/2012, SSN; Are Southern Sudanese Government officials trying to make up for lost time? Top of the range four-wheel drive vehicles, including the fuel-guzzler Hummer, are the only cars they are driven in.

Their offices are air-conditioned and flashy, with wall-to-wall carpets. The men prefer neatly cut and well-pressed suits of the designer type, with shoes to match.

I’ve little doubt that like their counterparts elsewhere in Africa, they live in huge houses on big compounds, fly outside their country a lot and eat choice food unavailable to rest of the Southern Sudanese.

Who could be footing the bill for this opulence while ignoring the squalor, all too visible in the general neighborhood?

Could it be the African malaise of the elites, their relatives and cronies misallocating resources to finance the luxuries of a select few at the expense of the suffering majority?

I have no qualms about Cabinet ministers, their assistants, permanent secretaries, department directors and other top government officials being accorded the perks befitting their status, but for heaven’s sake, can this be done in relation to the size of the wealth generated? Isn’t that the only way these privileged lot can ensure their lifestyles are sustainable?

Liberation fruits
A popular theory has it that the big vehicles are the only ones that can tackle the rough terrain beyond the regional capital Juba. And, as you know, leaders need to keep in touch with the people and inspect development projects in far flung corners of the country from time to time.
If that were the case, wouldn’t it make more sense investing in the roads to be used by all over a long time, rather than focus on the comfort of a handful?

How about the expansive and posh offices, with wall-to-wall carpeting, imported (from outside Africa) leather seats, and of course other fine imported office equipment?

Wouldn’t some semblance of modesty do while ensuring efficiency in service delivery?

And the well cut and pressed designer suits and imported shoes, in an environment where diurnal temperatures can hit 40 degrees Celsius?

Could it be that these government bureaucrats are so well remunerated? If so, where is the money coming from when so much poverty is apparent?

Huge parts of Juba, for instance, look no better than a temporary settlement for nomads in pursuit of pastures for their livestock. Thousands of Southern Sudanese are homeless, having only returned to the war-ravaged region from exile or from Khartoum where they did no more than struggle to keep body and soul together.

Can’t they be given a share of the liberation fruits they and their kith and kin have sacrificed so much for?

There can be no justification for the top leadership trying to make up for the lost time. Like was the case with liberation struggles in other parts of Africa, most of those in top leadership never bore the brunt of the war.

They either lived in luxury in other capitals during the war period or were the beneficiaries of lucrative scholarships that equipped them with various skills in preparation for the takeover from the oppressors.

Their children, by extension, benefitted immensely as others either paid with their lives or were perpetually marginalized.

The inequality gap is certainly taking root in Southern Sudan even as the masses celebrate the prospects of an independent state from the North.

This must be arrested for the sake of social harmony and sustainable development.

Posted Tuesday, January 11 2011, Africa Review, Nairobi, Kenya

Sven Torfinn for The New York Times

Mary Nyekueh Ley, who lost a husband to war and two children to disease, at her hut in Omdurman, on the north side of the border that divides the two Sudans.


Published: February 19, 2012

The New York Times

Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese straddle two worlds.

“My life’s a curse,” she said

Her first husband was wounded in battle and died in her arms. Her second husband beat her.

Two of her children perished from one of the most curable diseases — diarrhea.

And now she is a southerner in a northern land, a conspicuous dark-skinned outsider, with traditional swirling scars all over her face, trying to raise two sons and two daughters. Worse still, the only marketable skill she has is cooking up homebrewed alcohol, a serious crime in Islamist Sudan that has landed her in jail more than 10 times and earned her dozens of lashes.

“See,” she said, pointing to the ribbons of shiny white scars up and down her shins. “The police.”

Mrs. Ley’s situation is extreme, no doubt. But it is not unique. Hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese who have spent most of their lives in the north now find themselves straddling two worlds, their lives upended by a tumultuous border that recently split the country in half.

In July, after decades of an underdog guerrilla struggle, South Sudan broke off from Sudan and formed its own nation. Most Southern Sudanese were ecstatic. The partying in Juba, South Sudan’s capital, did not stop for days.

But for southerners living north of the border, like Mrs. Ley, whose stooped back and cracked, calloused hands tell their own story of suffering and toil, the south’s joyous independence compounded their misery.

Because of the enmity between Sudan and South Sudan — the two have been massing troops on the border, bracing for another major conflict that could ripple across this entire region — there will not be any dual citizenship for southerners living in the north, and it is not clear what the status will be for northerners living in the south.

The Sudanese government says it is going to strip all southerners of their citizenship starting in April. If they want to remain in Sudan, they must apply for a visa, work permit, residency papers and the like, all of which will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get for impoverished, illiterate people like Mrs. Ley who often have no documents showing when or where they were born. She thinks she is around 45 years old.

Even if someone was born in the north, like Mrs. Ley’s 9-year-old son, Georgie, the restrictions are the same. If the person belongs to an ethnic group that is from the south — including Mrs. Ley’s, the Nuer — then that person is considered a southerner.

Facing all this, more than 350,000 southerners have recently relocated, by bus and by barge, from the north to the south, part of a huge migration facilitated by the United Nations and the South Sudanese government. Many others are in line to go.

“I’m just waiting for my pension papers,” said Palegido Malong, an elderly southern man who worked as a guard at a government hospital in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. “I’ll die where I’m supposed to die.”

And as Mrs. Ley soon discovered, a lot of people are dying in the south right now.

It was around December 2010 — Mrs. Ley says with a laugh that she is not strong on dates — that she and her children boarded a bus back to her ancestral home, a place called Mankien, just south of the north-south border. She said she was excited to participate in the south’s referendum for independence, held in January 2011, and was all set to move back with her people.

But one morning, a rogue militia stormed into Mankien, part of a wave of communal violence and insurrections that recently have been sweeping the south. Southern Sudanese soldiers rushed to confront them. The fighting raged for two days, and when Mrs. Ley emerged from her hut, she said, she had to step over dozens of bodies in the grass — men, boys, girls.

“We were all about to be killed,” she said.

She was also disturbed by the lack of development in the south — and it is not as if she were ensconced in modernity here in Omdurman, which is just across the Nile from Khartoum. She lives in a mud-walled house with paper pictures of Jesus taped above the bed. But in Mankien, there are no paved roads or electricity, few wells and few schools. South Sudan is one of the poorest countries on earth, where 83 percent of the population lives in thatched-roofed huts and a 15-year-old girl has a better chance of dying in childbirth than of finishing school.

A few months after arriving in Mankien, Mrs. Ley and her children decided to take a bus back to Omdurman, choosing the lesser of two evils.

They did not receive a warm welcome. Her 14-year-old daughter, Nyapay, said her toes were crunched in the market one day by an Arab man who intentionally stepped on them. Mrs. Ley said people kept giving her nasty looks and saying things like, “Why are you still here if you have separated?” She had always felt like a second-class citizen in the north. Now, it was official.

Mrs. Ley struggles to feed her children anything beyond wal wal, a tasteless dish of sorghum and water. She does not have any relatives nearby who can help. Her first husband, a tall, skinny man named Walkat, was a guerrilla fighter, and when he was killed, she was handed over to Walkat’s brother, who regularly beat her children and punched her in the face.

She fled to Khartoum about 20 years ago and has been brewing and selling illegal alcohol ever since.

“It’s all I know how to do,” Mrs. Ley said, as she stared listlessly at the tools of her trade — a big blue plastic jug and a set of dented plastic soda bottles.

She once spent six months in prison and cannot count all the times the police have whipped her with leather straps, as dictated by Sudanese Islamic law.

Mrs. Ley adores her children, and on a recent afternoon, she poured Georgie a cool glass of water and beamed at him as he tipped it back. But her eyes dropped straight to the dirt floor when the subject of school fees came up.

“I’m out,” she said.



Across South Sudan demonstrations have been held in support of President Salva Kiir’s decision to shutdown its 350,000-barrel daily oil production.

This came after Sudan’s confiscation of several shipments through the only existing pipeline out of the landlocked country, and as ongoing negotiations on a possible transit fee for South Sudan’s oil have failed.

In Bor, the state capital of South Sudan’s largest state Jonglei, hundreds protested the oil ‘looting’. Primary and secondary school students were among the thousands that took to the streets of Rumbek in Lakes state, calling Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir a ‘great thief’. Peaceful demonstrations outside the National Assembly in the capital Juba urged South Sudan to ‘turn on’ its agricultural potential as the oil taps were turned off.

Together, it was a remarkable show of support for Kiir’s bold move to suspend the country’s largest revenue earner in defiance of its former foes in Khartoum. This is however not the first time southern Sudanese have protested over an oil pipeline.

In the spring of 1978 the then President, Jaafar Nimeiri, announced the decision to build a pipeline from freshly discovered oil fields in the south, to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Nimeiri and his oil minister made the plans while visiting the San Francisco headquarters of Chevron, the American oil company which made the first discoveries of Sudanese oil.

The decision infuriated southern Sudanese, who wanted to see the oil head southeast to Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. While it would take another 20 years to build, ultimately by Chinese not American oil companies, and South Sudan has since won its political independence from Khartoum, the oil pipeline still stands in the way of full economic independence. A revival of this 30 year-old dream represents the final step in gaining economic independence for many of South Sudan’s political leaders, but building a southern pipeline through Kenya is fraught with challenges.

To understand some of the main technical and security challenges facing the construction of a southern pipeline, it is useful to compare the possible route with the existing pipeline through Sudan. South Sudan’s main oil production is connected to Sudan by a 1,360 km pipeline from the Melut basin of Upper Nile state.

The proposed alternative, ending at an expanded port of Lamu, would be around 1,800 kilometers (depending on the exact route through Kenya) and the topography of the routes differ vastly. The existing pipeline runs across quite a flat landscape, requiring only six pumping and heating stations to keep the highly-acidic crude flowing, the new pipeline would cover diverse terrain, possibly including the highlands of northern Kenya. This will require significantly more investment in pumping stations to speed crude up the inclines and slow it down on the declines.

Additionally, there are also significant security concerns for the new pipeline. The existing route is mostly though northern Sudan, where the heavy hand of the Sudanese military and pro-government militias has laid waste to communities in and around oil areas. The new route may cross the impoverished, and bandit-riven territories of northern Kenya, where Nigerian-style oil theft and pipeline sabotage could potentially be a problem, requiring considerable time for due diligence in pipeline construction and routing. In fact, the proposed pipeline has already been threatened by rebel groups in South Sudan. The technical and security challenges for the new pipeline amount to a year or two of construction time at best and a potentially insecure construction, and later possible security threats once the pipeline is operational. Last but not least, an estimated price tag of anywhere from $1.5 to $3 billion, which is a tidy sum to wager for even the most audacious investors, but not an impossibility.

Late last month, South Sudan signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya to build the long-discussed oil pipeline. Such broad agreements are often not worth the paper they are written on, but nonetheless represent an important initial step. Japan’s Toyota as well as Chinese companies and investors have shown some willingness to support the venture. The French oil major Total, which has rights over the largest oil block in South Sudan, has said it is interested in linking possible new discoveries in Sudan to its growing interests in Uganda. But production from existing oil fields in South Sudan has peaked, and barring new discoveries and significant investment in secondary recovery, will sharply decline from current levels over the next five years. A new pipeline would only make economic sense if Total or others operating in South Sudan were to make impressive new discoveries in the coming years.

Regional developments are however working in favour of the new pipeline. Kenya is serious about making Lamu a major international port and, more importantly, the discovery of 3 billion barrels in oil reserves along Lake Albert in Uganda opens new possibilities for South Sudan’s oil in a regional network of pipelines. Current disputes between oil companies and the Ugandan government will need to be smoothed out first, but the face of East African oil will change in the years to come, making it possible to imagine an environment in which such a pipeline could be constructed.

Economically, the best scenario for South Sudan’s oil is undoubtedly to stop pipe-dreaming, work out an agreement with Sudan, and continue to send its oil north. Investing in a new multi-billion dollar southern pipeline is, in the current climate, financial insanity. But South Sudan feels that it has been backed into a political corner in negotiations with its Northern neighbour on pipeline transit fees. Sudan’s oil sector has always been more about politics than productivity. Even with an agreement, the history of consistent political bickering and brinksmanship between the two sides over oil will most likely continue. But the longer it takes to foster stable relations over oil, the more likely the people of South Sudan will one day hit the streets in celebration of a new pipeline.

Luke Patey is a Research Fellow at the Danish Institute for International Studies and co-editor of Sudan Looks East: China, India and the Politics of Asian Alternatives (James Currey, 2011)

South Sudan: Pipe-Dreaming Over Oil in South Sudan
By Luke Patey, 6 February 2012 Across South Sudan demonstrations have been held in support of President Salva Kiir’s decision to shutdown its 350000-barrel daily oil production. This came after Sudan’s confiscation of several shipments through the only 

A jazz singer’s gift of music to South Sudan’s children
Globe and Mail
Ms. Pelley, a jazz singer, is a stalwart volunteer for Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan. After decades of internal conflict and war, and independence from North Sudan just last year, the Republic of South Sudan is in rebuild mode.

Drilling tubing is piled next to the drilling site number 102 in the Unity oil field, South Sudan (2010 file photo).

Photo: AFP
Drilling tubing is piled next to the drilling site number 102 in the Unity oil field, South Sudan (2010 file photo).

African Union mediation to end an oil standoff between Sudan and South Sudan is expected to resume this week. Analysts say the stakes are high for the governments in Khartoum and Juba, both of which rely heavily on oil revenue to maintain themselves.

Jimmy Mulla, from the Washington-based Voices for Sudan advocacy group, is one of many analysts pessimistic about the current oil impasse. “I think as of now it is nearly impossible because the two parties are completely on different platforms,” he said.

Disagreements on oil transfer fees and accusations by South Sudan that Sudan was stealing southern oil coming through its pipeline led to Juba’s recent decision to shut down oil production.

Mulla puts most of the blame on Sudan. “For the most part, I would still go back and say the government in Khartoum has not been forthcoming in terms of making sure this agreement goes forward. There are international standards, there are international agreements on oil revenues, whether it is a transit fee, all these things are in place, and these are references that have been tabled both by the government of South Sudan and also by the African Union mediating body, so it should have been easier to resolve but the lack of political will to address this issue has been a major problem,” he said.

The exact terms of oil revenue sharing were not agreed to before South Sudan became independent last year, following decades of civil war.

A Washington-based international relations expert Walid Phares accuses Sudan of doing whatever it can to muddle the post-breakup phase. “Keep in mind that the northern regime did not really let go of South Sudan.  They want to try to control it.  They want to try to instigate trouble within the Southern Sudanese regions,” he said.

Both countries accuse each other of backing cross-border rebellions, as the exact border and some regions remain in dispute. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir recently said his country was closer to war with South Sudan than peace.

After the breakup, Sudan started by asking $32 in transit fees for each barrel of South Sudanese oil shipped through its pipeline and then upped the request to $36. Those two figures are more than ten times standard rates.

Analysts say the government in Khartoum has been very nervous with the loss of oil revenue as it has also been struggling with a lack of foreign currency, high inflation, civil society discontent and $38 billion in external debt.

Eric Reeves, a Sudan researcher at Smith College, believes Sudan’s government also wants to use the oil impasse as leverage to ease its debt. “Now, there have been discussions in the UK, in Germany and France that suggests it might be the case that these countries anyway are contemplating debt relief. I think that is a terrible signal to be sending Khartoum.  It only encourages them to be more intransigent, more ruthless in expropriating revenues from southern oil,” he said.

Other analysts interviewed for this report said Asian countries which have been the main consumers of South Sudanese oil, especially the biggest buyer China, should try harder to help find a solution.

They warn South Sudan, which depends nearly entirely on oil revenues for state income, could easily become a failed state with escalating sectarian violence and angry unpaid soldiers if the oil shutdown persists.

South Sudanese officials have talked about building an alternative pipeline to the Kenyan port of Lamu, but most analysts say this seems unrealistic at this point, because of cost and security issues.

The only hope they say would be for a major deal which addresses other current concerns such as ending the cross-border violence and finding long-term solutions for the remaining regions in dispute.

Growing Sudan, South Sudan Oil Impasse Has High Stakes
Voice of America
February 04, 2012 Growing Sudan, South Sudan Oil Impasse Has High Stakes Nico Colombant | Washington African Union mediation to end an oil standoff between Sudan and South Sudan is expected to resume this week. Analysts say the stakes are high for the 


Sudan, South Sudan Chambers of Commerce Discuss Reactivation of Bilateral 
Sudan Vision
Khartoum – The Sudanese Businessmen Union and the South Sudan State’s Chamber of Commerce, and Industry and Agriculture discussed the mechanisms to reactivate the economic cooperation and trade between the two countries and to enhance the border trade 

By Rebecca Hamilton

Jul 9 2011, 7:00 AM ET 4

Twenty years of U.S. involvement contributed to today’s secession of Southern Sudan – but peace is yet to come


George W. Bush meets with First Vice President of Sudan and President of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir, January 5, 2009 / Reuters

Today marks the birth of the world’s newest nation. The Republic of South Sudan has gained its independence from Sudan after decades of bloody civil war, and southern Sudanese around the world are celebrating. So too are their allies. And there are few outside Sudan who are likely to be more pleased than a tight group of U.S. Congressional representatives who have sustained their efforts on Sudan for over two decades.

This bipartisan coalition, known in recent years as the Sudan Caucus, has pushed three successive U.S. presidents to make Sudan a foreign policy priority. “It’s a great day,” co-founder of the Sudan Caucus, Democratic Congressman Donald Payne, told me. “A victory for the oppressed.”

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, who is heading the U.S. delegation to the independence celebrations, called the historic occasion “first and foremost a testament to the Southern Sudanese people” as well as to leaders in both Sudan and South Sudan. She added that, in terms of the international community, “the U.S. has been as active as anyone.”

According to a U.S. official who is not authorized to speak to the media but has worked on these issues for decades, U.S. attention on Sudan has not been by chance. “Behind all this was [and] still is, a small group of people who have been working behind the scenes for almost 20 years” said the official.

South Sudan’s independence follows a January referendum in which 98.8 percent of voters chose to secede from Sudan. The referendum had been promised in a peace agreement that ended the war between the Sudanese government based in the largely Arab and Muslim north and rebels in the mainly Christian and animist south of Sudan. The longest-running conflict in Africa, an estimated two million southern Sudanese lives were lost by the time the war ended in 2005.

Today, while southern Sudanese rejoice, the celebrations are marred by increasingly horrific reports of violence and civilian causalities in Southern Kordofan, on the northern side of the border between the soon-to-be nations of Sudan and South Sudan.

The Sudan Caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Payne, along with Republican Congressman Frank Wolf and Democratic Congressman Michael Capuano, was inaugurated in 2005. But its roots stretch back much further.

In 1989, Rep. Wolf traveled into the war-ravaged terrain of southern Sudan to become the first U.S. representative to meet with the head of the southern Sudanese rebels, John Garang. Payne followed a few years later, and on his return to Washington pushed for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a resolution endorsing the right of southern Sudanese to exercise self-determination. Congress subsequently condemned the Sudanese government “for its genocidal war in southern Sudan.”

Backing up these congressional efforts was an unlikely activist coalition, formed years before the more high-profile Save Darfur movement. The southern Sudan cause brought evangelicals into alliance with African American, Jewish, and secular activist groups.

U.S. attempts to support the southern Sudanese struggle have been wide-ranging. A report released by the Congressional Research Service last week lists actions going back to the Clinton era, including the provision of more than $20 million surplus U.S. military equipment to frontline states of Uganda, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, which the report says “helped reverse military gains made by the [Sudanese] government” against the southern rebels. Further pressure on the Sudanese government came with the 1993 designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terror, and the 1997 imposition of comprehensive economic sanctions, which prevented U.S. companies from operating in Sudan.

On the eve of South Sudan independence, former National Security Council Africa Director John Prendergast, who today leads much of the U.S. activism on Sudan, told me he felt “major regret that we couldn’t help get this done in the mid to late 1990s when I worked for the Clinton administration.”

Instead, U.S. support for southern Sudanese self-determination gained momentum under the presidency of George W. Bush. His aides said the former president, pressed by evangelical activists, viewed ending the civil war in Sudan as a “legacy item” for his foreign policy. Bush appointed a special envoy to focus on peace negotiations, which finally bore fruit in 2005.

Celebrations of the 2005 peace agreement were dampened, however, by ongoing conflict in Sudan’s western region of Darfur. In 2003, the Sudanese government launched a brutal military campaign to crush an insurgency by Darfuri rebels, mostly non-Arab and Muslim. In the summer of 2004, the same group of Congressional representatives who had long supported southern Sudan passed a resolution condemning the Darfur violence as genocide.

Supported once again by an improbable coalition of religious and secular activists, this time under the banner of the Save Darfur movement, these same members of Congress eventually passed the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act. The legislation prevented the White House from rewarding the Sudanese government for signing the agreement with the southern rebels until the situation in Darfur was resolved.

The Sudan Caucus, in partnership with their new Save Darfur allies, also secured over $6 billion in humanitarian aid, between 2005 and 2010, to the war-affected areas in Sudan. According to statistics from the U.S. Official Development Assistance database, Sudan has been the third largest recipient of U.S. aid since 2005, trailing only Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet peace in Darfur, which will remain in Sudan when the country splits, has proven elusive. According to the report Beyond the Pledge, issued by a coalition of non-governmental organizations last week, the government launched at least 80 airstrikes against civilian populations in Darfur between January and April this year. Visiting the region last month, the UN human rights expert for Sudan, Justice Mohamed Chande Othman, complained about limited humanitarian access, noting that some of those displaced by violence had not received food or medical care since January.

The unresolved crisis in Darfur is not the only concern as Sudan partitions. In May, the Sudanese government seized a contested and fertile border area called Abyei. The UN says that over 100,000 people were displaced by the violence. A peace agreement has since been signed, providing for 4,200 Ethiopian peacekeepers to be deployed to Abyei under the UN banner. But the agreement has not yet been implemented, and Abyei’s future remains unclear.

Then on June 5, the Sudanese government began bombing Southern Kordofan, an oil-producing state that will remain part of Sudan when South Sudan secedes. Anti-government fighters in the area largely belong to the Nuba, a non-Arab and religiously diverse group who identity as northerners but sided with the southern rebels during the war. President al-Bashir has instructed the Sudanese army to “continue their operations in South Kordofan until they clean the state of rebels.” But according to the UN, civilians appear to be bearing the brunt of the operation.

Jehanne Henry, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the situation in Southern Kordofan is severe. “Tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes, many have been killed or maimed, and houses and property have been destroyed.” The few remaining aid workers in the area, interviewed by phone, say the ordeal brings back memories of the Sudanese government’s campaign against the Nuba in the nineties, which led to ten of thousands of deaths.

The violence in Darfur, Abyei, and now Southern Kordofan complicates the Obama administration’s strategy of offering to lift Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terror and normalize diplomatic relations in return for completing the north-south peace agreement and accepting the secession of South Sudan.

U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, said that failure to resolve the situation in Southern Kordofan will make it “impossible” for the U.S. to normalize relations. But Sudan Caucus member Rep. Wolf remains unsatisfied with the administration’s response. “All the things that are going on in the Nuba Mountains are the things the White House said they wanted to stop in Libya,” said Wolf.

Whatever it would take to resolve Sudan’s violence, the U.S. will likely not be able to do it on its own, especially as Khartoum deepens its economic and diplomatic relationship with Beijing. “One country alone does not have enough leverage” says Jehanne Henry, who wants to see a coordinated multilateral approach.”[The international community] need a united front to press Sudan to end the killing, destruction, arrests, and other violations — not just in Southern Kordofan, but also in Darfur.”

Experts worry that the violence is a harbinger of instability that could undermine the viability of both nations, leading some to question the legacy of U.S. efforts. But, for today at least, the focus will be on welcoming South Sudan as the world’s newest nation.

This story was reported with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Follow @PulitzerCenter on Twitter