Massachusetts senator John Kerry (who you may remember from his windsurfing skills) was in Khartoum, Sudan yesterday, praising recent statements made by president Omar al-Bashir. Last week, ahead of next week’s referendum that will determine whether or not the southern half of his country will secede, Bashir promised to celebrate the outcome whatever it is, and to foster a “brotherly” relationship with the south if it does choose to become independent (which seems likely). “The speech by President Bashir here, as well as his comments in Juba yesterday are extremely encouraging,” said Kerry to reporters. “They're very positive, very constructive, and I think it sets a good stage for the events that begin in the next days.”
Man, it feels good to be able to start off an article about international news with a joke. It’s often so grim out there. Of course, there is still an ugly shadow (in the form of charges of war crimes) hanging over Bashir and Khartoum in regards to the ethnic-cleansing slaughters around the northern city of Darfur. And the birth of a new country will no doubt be an extremely challenging endeavor—there is the tricky matter of shared oil profits to work out, for example. But it seems that separating the southern, predominantly Christian part of Sudan from the northern, predominantly Muslim side would be a positive step forward. The referendum, which will begin on Sunday and run through Friday, fulfills a condition of a 2005 treaty that ended the most recent bout of civil warfare that has plagued the country for much of its 50-year existence.
Hopes are high. As the Sudan Tribune reported yesterday, the governor of the southern Lakes State, Chol Tong Mayay, gave a New Year’s address yesterday predicting that:
“It will be a year of ‘fundamental change’ for Sudan and for the entire African continent, envisioning ‘the end of a long history of domination, discrimination, humiliation and marginalization,’ to be replaced by ‘a new era of freedom, peace, and prosperity’ for the people of Southern Sudan.”