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Secession will not mean boycott, returning Sudanese southerner says

Going back to her roots, one southern Sudanese is hopeful about the future, though conscious that sacrifices will have to be made

Asmaa El-Husseini and Azab El-Taher in Sudan, Saturday 8 Jan 2011
Sudan returnees
Returnees from north Sudan wait in line for World Food Program (WFP) staff to start distributing food in Wanjak, near Aweil, in the northern Bahr el Ghazal state in south Sudan 30 December 2010.
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Cecilia Joseph, a citizen of South Sudan, was born and bred in Khartoum. She grew up in a united country; her family left the south before the beginning of military confrontations that peaked in the 1990s, settling in the nation’s capital. There she attended school and university, growing up a passionate champion of a united country. She never felt discriminated against in the time she spent in the north before she left for Cairo to marry there and work in a charity combating AIDS.

One year ago, Cecilia decided to return to her roots in the south and set out for Juba, leaving her children and husband in Egypt where she had learnt the Egyptian dialect and made many friends. Upon her return to Sudan, and since she had much needed skills, she was bombarded with job offers in the government and non-government sectors. She decided to accept an offer in the press office of the Peace Ministry, as well as anchoring a number of popular television and radio programmes.

Although she was a strong believer in unity, her stay in Juba changed her mind and she started leaning towards partition, which for her and the majority of the residents of the south signifies salvation from what they view as a painful reality, Cecilia told Ahram Online. She came to realise that the problems of the people have been neglected by the central government, and that the south lacked development.

Cecilia asserts, however, that secession would not mean a boycott of the north, or those whom she loved and shared her life with as a child and young adult. She stays in touch with them on Facebook and other social networking websites, but she is despondent about the failure to make unity an attractive option during the interim period, since the Naivasha Agreement was assigned in 2005.

“Human and social bonds go beyond partition. In the end it’s about creating a new state, not severing ties with its roots,” asserted Cecilia, whose mother has chosen to remain in Khartoum regardless of independence or secession. Her own parents were both killed during the first wave of clashes between southern rebels and central government forces in the 1960s.

Since her arrival in Juba, Cecilia has noticed that she is viewed differently from other southerners who are returning from other regions, especially because her dress code and style are similar to the manner of the north. This has made people cool towards her, but she is working to change this image by promoting her southern identity — an endeavour she has succeeded in to some degree.

Another notable issue for her is the shocking spike in prices in the south. The income of civil servants barely covers basic costs of living in a society that is far removed from the luxuries of the modern age. But Cecilia takes it in her stride because she knows that staying in her homeland requires sacrificing things she is became accustomed to during her life in Khartoum and Cairo. 

Cecilia misses Cairo very much, especially her family. Whether they join her will be decided after the results of the referendum. “They are anxious to come here,” she said, “especially because they have never set foot in their homeland.”

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