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January 8, 2011

War in the Sudan

For 10 years this space has been devoted to discussing politics in BC. I take a small digression to international affairs because of an old college buddy.

In the fall of 1965 I enrolled in Grinnell College, a small school in the middle of Iowa, and found myself in Rawson Hall in a room immediately next to John Garang de Mabior. Most of the kids my age were worried about being drafted for the Vietnam War, but John had stories to tell about the Sudan.

John had escaped from the Sudan and through a sponsor ended up a world away. He said he wanted to return to farm but if his people were still being oppressed, he said he would return to fight. A few years later I learned he was doing his Ph.D. at Berkley while I was at UBC. Twenty years later I learned he was back in the Sudan leading a revolutionary force. Whenever I think about hardships in politics, I think of how little I endure compared to my friend.

Back at Grinnell, John showed me pictures of grass huts in his village. He also told me about the slave trade that continued to be practiced between the north and the south, Arabs in the north, blacks in the south. Media reports in 2010 talk about religious differences between the north and the south, but the differences are far greater; differences also exist on a tribal basis within Southern Sudan. Whichever side wins the vote on independence of the south, there will be war in the Sudan, either war between north and south or civil war in the south.

My friend died in a plane crash in the Sudan shortly after becoming Vice-President of the Sudan. I had lost track of him long before that happened, but his memory continues to make me think about how spoiled we are to complain about so little.