Americans were introduced to Sudan and what is now South Sudan by immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees like the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, who sought protection from a brutal dictatorship in Khartoum. Sudanese turned to the U.S. for a better life not only for themselves but in order to support their family and friends back home, and to advocate for help in stopping genocide, mass atrocities, and human rights abuses committed by an oppressive regime. Many Sudanese captured our hearts not only because of their fight for freedom and their bravery in enduring terrible suffering, but because of their resolve to access the educational and employment opportunities available in the U.S. to prepare themselves to return and help rebuild a country destroyed by decades of state-sponsored violence.
Our Sudanese friends introduced us both to the Sudan regime headed by President Omar al-Bashir, an International Criminal Court indictee, and the National Congress Party, an Islamist party associated with rogue states and extremist groups. We first learned about the regime’s goal of turning Sudan into an Arab Islamic state through the enslavement and elimination of Africans who practiced Christianity and traditional religions from Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains. Later, when the regime unleashed violent campaigns against African Muslims in Darfur, the western region of the North, it became clear that racism also played a role in the regime’s justification of genocide, mass atrocities, and war crimes against the people of Sudan. We became aware of the rich resources of the country and we watched the regime move its allies into regions formally owned by Sudanese who were violently displaced by the government. We observed government officials grow extremely wealthy at the expense of even Sudanese in the center, who previously seemed exempt from the regime’s crimes until their protests were met with arrests, torture, and sometimes death. We realized that, like most corrupt institutions, groups, and individuals, the regime’s motivations for conquering Sudan included greed and the desire for unchecked power.
In addition to introducing us to their difficult reality, our Sudanese friends introduced us to their struggle for a new Sudan. They envision a country of equality where all races and ethnicities are treated as first-class citizens and where everyone can freely practice the religion of their choice. This Sudan (and now Sudans) would be governed by the people for the people; basic rights would be protected and promoted; and the resources of the countries would be used to provide basic services like education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation and to establish the necessary infrastructure in order to grow the economy and build prosperity. The citizens of both countries would no longer fear their governments but would be served and protected by the rule of law, an impartial judicial system, and honorable security institutions. Our friends’ vision inspired us and their struggle became our struggle.
Together with Sudanese, we advocated for an end to slavery in Sudan and intervention to stop the civil war between the government and rebels in the South. In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed that ended the war and provided the opportunity for democratic transformation of Sudan’s government and/or secession of the South if unity was not made attractive. While the opportunity to change how Sudan was governed was allowed to slip away and the CPA’s six-year timeline marched towards the South’s independence, Khartoum launched ferocious attacks on Darfur and once again, we rallied with our Sudanese friends to stop what the U.S. labeled genocide.
A decade or more later, the regime remains in power, terrible state-sponsored violence continues in Darfur and has spread throughout Sudan, indigenous communities in Eastern Sudan and elsewhere are intentionally and dangerously neglected, and the promise of good governance in South Sudan has not been fully realized. Despite overwhelming obstacles, the struggle continues and Sudanese and South Sudanese are determined, now more than ever, to create the countries they want to live in with their family and friends. The friendship of Americans with Sudanese and South Sudanese has not ended but has only grown stronger because we share a common vision for each other, our families, our countries and the world. All governments must be held accountable when they fail their people and we must support those who are taking great risks to institute change. It is difficult work to create the world we want, but we have each other and together we can realize our dream of new Sudans and a better world.
Esther Sprague is a Co-Founder of Act for Sudan and the Founder of Sudan Unlimited, an organization that seeks to support all Sudanese and South Sudanese in their efforts to secure and enjoy freedom, justice, equality, democracy, peace, and prosperity.