what shouldnt have been

The White Nile and the Blue Nile join at Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum. The conjoined Nile then flows northward bisecting the country’s…

The White Nile and the Blue Nile join at Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum.

The conjoined Nile then flows northward bisecting the country’s desert north.

The Nubian Desert lays to the east of the great river and the Libyan Desert to the west straddling its northern border with Egypt.

Like most borders it is just a political line drawn in the sand.

Sudan’s boundaries came into existence as a result of the great imperial race by European powers to divide up Africa during the late 1800s.

England ambitiously set out to control the Nile, contain French expansion to the west and link the Sudan with its East African territories of Uganda and Kenya.

At the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 Europeans finally set down the national dividing lines to satisfy their goals and avoid conflict amongst themselves.

Needless to say, no African voices were heard or aspirations met.

The artificially cobbled together countries had many other dividing lines.

In the Sudan the main ones weren’t riverine or political.

Religion, language, ethnic identity and history are among the factors that really separate this imperially fabricated country.

The results of sandwiching together disparate peoples have not been pleasant.

The Arab and Islamic north has attempted to maintain control over the Black, Christian and animist south since achieving independence from the British in 1956.

Years of civil war resulted.

Bloodshed tore at the basic fabric of nationhood for years before the current crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan.

My one and only very brief stop in the Sudan occurred during a lull in the strife under the military dictatorship of Colonel Nimeri in the late 1970s.

He had brokered a ceasefire with secessionist leaders in the south by offering them a measure of autonomy.

I had hoped to visit a friend working with CUSO in Juba down near the Ugandan border.

My friend had instructed me on the intricacies of Sudanese travel.

She told me that the most reliable way to Juba was to take the steamer down the White Nile. But she reminded me to take all the food I needed for the week-long journey, a good water filtre and, of course, to ensure I had my malaria pills and yellow fever shots.

When I got to Juba, I might not be able to travel further south when I wanted.

The rare, scheduled planes often over flew Juba leaving would-be passengers stranded.

And, by the way, she noted as an afterthought, a cholera epidemic had just broken out. Regrettably I decided not visit her.

This coming week we will get a recent, first-hand report on the region from Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

Neve will give the annual Maddison Chair in Northern Justice lecture on Thursday, January 25th at 7:30 p.m. in the lecture hall of Yukon College.

His lecture, Darfur: the continuing tragedy, will draw on his late November and early December fact-finding visit the Darfur area for Amnesty International.

On his return, he lobbied United Nations officials in New York on the need for an international presence in eastern Chad, into which the Darfur conflict has expanded.

What if political leaders had drawn borders that respected traditional divides between peoples?

What if we had placed more of a priority on ending the bloodshed than on securing Sudanese oil or its El-Gezira cotton?

What ifs’ aren’t the issue, it’s the ‘what nows.

Maybe Neve will help us see what has to happen and what we can do.

If you would like to hear him come early — seating is limited.

The social justice film series continues upstairs at the Alpine Bakery tonight at 8 p.m. with the showing of The Future of Food and on Sunday, January 19th a community potluck at 3 p.m. will be followed by the showing of the Slow Food Revolution and a short presentation by Yukon participants at the Terra Madre conference in Italy last fall.

Also an ecumenical worship service prepared by the local churches of Umlazi, South Africa, will mark the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The service will be held at Sacred Heart Cathedral at 4 p.m. Sunday, January 14th.