By Tim Shenk
AKRON, Pa. — While a devastating armed conflict continues in western Sudan’s Darfur region, the people of southern Sudan are beginning to recover from a 21-year civil war, according to Rob Haarsager, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) country representative.
In southern Sudan, a grueling conflict between rebels and government forces claimed an estimated 2 million lives and displaced about 4 million people by the time a peace agreement was signed in January of 2005.
Today, however, the southern Sudanese city of Juba has become a boomtown as the seat of southern Sudan’s new parliament and the base for aid organizations working in the region. In January, Rob and Mary Haarsager, MCC’s Sudan country representatives, will move to Juba after living since 2004 in Nairobi, Kenya.
Rob Haarsager says the changes in Juba are striking when compared to his memories of the city. The Haarsagers lived in Juba as MCC workers from 1985 to ’87 in the early years of the civil war.
During the war, Haarsager says that Juba was a garrison town in a war zone. Government forces controlled Juba while rebels controlled the countryside. The city was rife with wartime fears, suspicions and human rights abuses.
Now, however, people can come and go freely and the local economy is growing rapidly, Haarsager says.
“It’s an exciting time for the local person and other people like us who are moving in and living there,” he says.
From Juba, the Haarsagers will continue to manage MCC’s work with Sudanese organizations to help communities recover from the trauma of displacement and war, such as by providing seeds and tools to displaced farmers who are returning.
In Darfur, news reports suggest that the four-year-old conflict is widening into areas of neighboring Chad and Central African Republic. The U.S. Congress has declared the conflict to be a genocide of Darfur’s population, and the United Nations reports that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million have been displaced.
MCC is currently supporting a peacemaking project in southern Darfur through a Sudanese partner organization, Darfur Emergency Response Organization. The goal is to support dialogue between ethnic groups that have been divided by the Darfur conflict and address local conflicts over land and water rights, Haarsager says.
“We’re hoping that even those kinds of efforts will help bring security to certain specific areas and allow people to return to their homes,” he says.
MCC is also providing food to war-affected communities throughout Sudan in partnership with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. Currently, a shipment of 4,000 metric tons of wheat is being distributed to Sudanese schoolchildren, mostly in camps for displaced people in Darfur.
Tim Shenk is a writer for Mennonite Central Committee.