South Sudan looks to us

Canadians, especially Londoners, have a role to play in the new nation’s future

(London Free Press — February 12, 2011)

GLEN PEARSON

From every region and village they emerged from the woods and grasslands, determined to leave their personal fingerprint, not only for their generation, but also for those to come.

These are the southern Sudanese of the new order and they present a clear challenge to an observing world. They waited decades for this moment and now patiently wait to see how the rest of the world will deal with clear victory in a referendum that permits them to establish the world’s newest country.

This will change everything: their liberation, their identity and the opportunity to press their fate with their own hands.

Yet it also changes little.

With a government all their own, they still must discover ways to lift millions out of poverty, to educate a population that still sees countless children taught under trees, and to establish international credibility, as a government and as citizens.

This last point is crucial for how Canadians must respond to south Sudan’s future challenges.

The Canadian government should move firmly but prudently toward recognition. To do so immediately following the vote, before the southern leadership has displayed its ability to effectively govern, could risk legitimizing an administration that might not yet be ready to deal effectively in the region or with the rest of the world.

Southern leaders have consistently maintained that, of all the countries in the world, it is to Canada that they look for guidance in the intricate workings of federalism. That assistance should be offered immediately and fully; recognition can surely follow later.

It is difficult to overestimate the energies that Canadian citizens – religious institutions, schools, service clubs, student groups, individuals, etc. – have deployed in this troubled nation. Canadians, especially Londoners, have maintained impressive interest in Sudanese peace and development for two decades. That commitment, that belief in humanitarian intervention effecting progressive change, has assisted in bringing Sudan to this critical moment in its journey.

Owing to our successful model of federalism, coupled with a compassionate citizenry, Canada’s potential for nurturing south Sudan through its youthful nationhood is truly unique. Canada’s own fingerprint in that troubled region of Africa has been dedicated though distant.

It is time for the Canadian government to engage south Sudan’s political leaders up close and personal, to model for them just how to bring together diverse regions and peoples under a central government, and to begin to catch up with the intimate relationships between committed Canadian citizens and the people of Sudan themselves, both in the north and the south.

The Chretien, Martin and Harper governments invested heavily in Sudan’s development and, along with donors, are now enjoying the fruit of their labours.

But now one of the greatest challenges is about to occur, as the United Nations and other groups have warned of an impending humanitarian crisis in the border regions between the north and south. The reason? The referendum proved so successful that up to two million exiles might be in the process of returning to the south, now that freedom is apparent.

To respond effectively to the humanitarian challenge, Canada will have to break out of a recent pattern of concentrating solely on the region around the capital of Juba in south Sudan. Other countries are acknowledging their own similar tendencies; they have concentrated far too many resources in that one area in the south, to the neglect of those more rural areas where south Sudan’s greatest challenges will occur, especially with returnees.

For Londoners, Canadians and the federal government, past efforts have brought them to the point where southern Sudanese leaders are readily willing to receive our ongoing influence. It remains to be seen if Ottawa will engage in demonstrating the key component of a successful federalism with the new government about to emerge.

And for generous Canadians in general, the success of the referendum might well provide a glimpse into the new Africa – ready for economic growth and social progress.

Glen Pearson is the member of Parliament for London North Centre and a founder of Canadian Aid for South Sudan.