The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: international development

Enduring in Epic Times

It was the first bold political development of the new millennium, full of cautious hope and promise, and it’s now flirting with disaster.

We were in South Sudan as international observers in 2011, as people voted by a huge margin for the right to establish their own independent state. Subsequently, the Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest nation. The mood within the country was euphoric, but the caution felt by the international community was well placed. It was one thing to form a united southern front against the northern government of Sudan in the decades-long great war, but would the southern tribes, many historically at odds with one another, be able to hold it together to enable the successful birth of the new nation?

We now know that the answer to that question is no – at least for now. Soon after independence, the two main tribes fell out with one another and a new southern civil war has ravaged the country for almost three years. Attempts at peace have failed and the cost to the average people of the south now borders on the epic.

The numbers are staggering. Nearly 7.5 million people are now living in desperation. According to the United Nations, some three million have fled their homes due to conflict and starvation and are now living in other parts of the country. Slightly more than 4,000 have been forced to leave for neighbouring countries every day. And 6 out of 10 South Sudanese refugees are children. Recently we learned from the UN that half of the entire population will face extreme hunger by this coming July.

These are the events we hear of everyday through news reports. Yet we rarely come across the remarkable stories of endurance, dedication, and even survival that occur on an ongoing basis in South Sudan. They are worth remembering.

Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan (CASS), for which I’m volunteer executive director, has been in the Aweil region of South Sudan for the past 18 years. It has never been easy, but amply uplifting to the human spirit. In all that time, Londoners have been in the area helping to rehabilitate former slaves, building public schools, developing women’s programs, clean water initiatives, supplying medicines to rural clinics, and training women leaders.

The organization has been there in times of war and peace, but nothing quite prepared CASS representatives Carol Campbell and Denise Pelley for what they encountered two months ago. Veterans of numerous support trips to the region, they reported back that, despite accounts of bloody conflict in other parts of the country, the Aweil region has remained peaceful, permitting the organization’s programs to remain active and effective.

Such encouraging news was accompanied by some troubling realities, however. The very Southern Sudanese champions of these CASS initiatives were on the cusp of starvation – both for themselves and their families.

“This journey was more difficult than my first visit during the war with the north,” Carol Campbell observed with emotion. “Those were terrible times, but what made this visit so difficult was to see how the lack of food and medical care has devastated the women leaders we have known from the beginning. It was heartbreaking.” Denise Pelley concurred.

During that first trip to South Sudan that Campbell was referring to during the war (1999), rebel commander Salva Kiir was assigned to protect us, his image captured fittingly by London Free Press photographer Derek Ruttan, who accompanied us. Now he is the President of the country and his failure to protect his eleven million people from the ravages of war has led to a troubled age.

Yet his intransigence doesn’t typify the actions of the average Southern Sudanese, who simply want to get on with building new lives and opportunities. The chief pursuit for men and women, boys and girls, is education, and even during these troubling days the desire for knowledge hasn’t abated. The high school completed by CASS last year is now full of curious boys and girls despite the chaos in the rest of the country.

With 800% inflation in the area, many can’t afford the price of food.  Mary Adeng Akot, walked with her grandson Garang, for two days to ask CASS for help.  “I am old.  I have nothing.  I ask for my family.  During the earlier war we ate leaves to live.  Now we are eating them again.”

How can all these remarkable programs go on in the midst of terrible, seemingly senseless conflict? The answer is that the Southern Sudanese accomplished all those things for half-a-century previously during the broader conflict with the north. They not only survived but prevailed. And they can again.

But can success be achieved when you and your family are on the doorstep of starvation? Recently my wife Jane Roy and I were asked to present to the Human Rights Committee in Parliament regarding the stakes in South Sudan. We reminded them that Canadians have been there for years and that millions of dollars of investment from this country have empowered the people of the south, women especially. Should we stop now, all that investment will be lost.

Admittedly these are difficult times for donors, too, including Western governments. And when all the news is negative and overlooks the Mary Akots, it remains an easy thing to lose hope. But faith in the people of South Sudan, struggling against the failure of their own political leaders, is now more important than ever. We must champion the champions, invest in their survival, and equip them to lead the women’s development programs.

“You must continue to come to us,” said Deng Deng Akuei, the governor of the region who had been schooled in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with a certain urgency. “Your presence reminds us that the world still cares for us. We still have high hopes that our country will succeed. Your being with us helps us endure.” And so the call to “be there” continues.

Promise Fulfilled

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THE WORK OF FOUR REMARKABLE Canadian women in South Sudan has been so inspiring that I am including my new London Free Press article here on their efforts.  Just link to http://www.lfpress.com/2015/02/26/pearson-a-london-groups-promise-14-years-ago-to-build-a-high-school-in-the-south-sudan-region-of-aweil-was-fulfilled-this-year-the-school-will-open-in-apriland see some great pictures, along with a description of their efforts.  This is inspiring stuff in a new nation struggling to find its feet.  Proud to know these four great champions.

Canada Abandons a Former Partner

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Jane with an observer from the European Union during the South Sudan referendum

The following in my Huffington Post piece regarding the news that the Government of Canada has opted to significantly remove its presence in south Sudan during one of that country’s worst crises.  You can view the original article here.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

In two week’s time, my wife heads to South Sudan to assist in overseeing projects Canadians have been investing in for years — water salvage, education, women’s micro-enterprise initiatives, scholarship programs, and the final phase of construction for a secondary school.

It won’t be easy. It’s never been simple. But for over 15 years a large number of Canadians have been investing in such initiatives, even during some of the worst years of the now-concluded civil war. During those early occasions, Canada’s reputation had been sullied by the presence of a Canadian oil firm that, in Southern Sudanese eyes, was making a fortune out of their misery. Eventually the firm pulled out and we sensed a warming to Canada as our government invested more deeply in peace initiatives and relief efforts, and as it became clear that we weren’t just interested in financial gain.

Some very capable Canadian diplomats were of key assistance in constructing and funding some of the key efforts required to end the war between north and south Sudan following so many decades. And Canadian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which had provided such stellar service during the war years, assisted in helping the Southern Sudanese move forward as they peacefully achieved independence and became the world’s newest nation. For years, the Sudanese conflict had remained high on the radar for successive Canadian governments, who worked in conjunction with many of their international partners in that deeply troubled part of the world.

But being a new nation with limited resources doesn’t make for an easy transition into good governance. Tribes that had held together to fend off the incursions of north Sudan during the lengthy war have started to come apart over the problems of administering the peace. The recent troubles in the south that sprung up only a month ago, and the instability that has resulted, has pressed that African region to the precipice. Western nations that had so greatly assisted in early years but who had moved on to other regions are quickly returning with new initiatives to assist the south in holding itself together as it journeys towards adulthood as a nation.

Sadly, one of those countries will not be Canada. For well over a decade, Sudan had been a Canadian priority. But just this week, the Harper government, through its Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), has recommended, “that Canada consider downgrading its development program (in Sudan), or exiting entirely.”

CIDA correctly figured that it was going to prove difficult to administer aid in the south. But that’s the way it has been for decades. Some of Canada’s most effective investments occurred during the civil war’s costliest years. This country, along with the U.S., Britain, the European Union, and others, kept their eye on the ball, slowly but progressively nursing that troubled country into an era where peace became a possibility.

What’s the reason for Canada’s change of heart and focus? According to an internal reportacquired by the Globe and Mail, Sudan is no longer an area of “strategic importance” to this government. Both Foreign Affairs and CIDA have been instructed to implement a new era in international intervention, primarily focused on what’s best for Canadian business. At the moment, little such opportunity seems apparent in Sudan and downgrading this country’s historic investment has been recommended.

All this is transpiring just as Sudan requires not only Canada’s ongoing partnership, but its influential diplomatic expertise. The Globe and Mail’s release of the internal report reveals that all this couldn’t have come at a worse time. In preparation for our trip to South Sudan in a few days, we learned that numerous contacts at various levels have been taken aback by what for them is even more fulsome evidence that Canada has lost its way in recent years.

While the United Nations has put out an emergency appeal for one billion dollars from donor countries to assist the Sudanese effort, tongues have already begun to wag in capitals throughout the West about how Canada appears to have gone AWOL. As one American government official told me today, “It’s now difficult to know how to involve your country in these important security and development issues anymore.”

All this will be embarrassing and not a tad sad to speak about with the Southern Sudanese. But, as with those earlier times, we will remind them that the people of Canada will continue in their interest and investment in a troubled country even as our own government loses interest. But hanging over all of us will be the understanding that Canada is leaving the southern Sudanese to their own fate, in this, their adolescent years as a new nation. Some investment will continue, but our government’s imagination is gone. This is not our finest hour.

Books

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Sometimes falling ill has its own rewards.  My medical complications a year ago meant that I mostly missed out on a relaxing summer and I was determined to make up for it this year.  I have been working hard to finish off a number of books I’ve been writing over the course of the last couple of years and I’m glad to say that they are all completed.  You’ll find a list of them below.  I’m occasionally asked where people can get copies of the books and the links below will help point in the right direction.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.23.21 PMFrom Canada to Brazil, California to China, Catherine O’Hara takes on an odyssey that will change how she views the world of politics. As Minister for the Environment for the Canadian government she has to learn to balance the responsibilities of power with the reality of sustainability and human rights. Essential to it all is David Kronberg – a mystical champion of the natural order who inevitably draws Catherine into a deeper world that will change her position at the centre of power.  You can get the hardback version here and the paperback version here.

 

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 6.45.34 PMCitizens might well accept reform of government if they actually had a say in the process, or even some kind of direct access to politicians themselves. It’s not to be, sadly, and instead we have information without humanity, communication without meaning, and disenchantment without end. In such days where the customer is always right, this is hardly going to end well. Community engagement is on the only hope for the recovery of democracy.  You can get the paperback version here or download the iTunes podcasts here.

 

LULU cover_smallerTwo great continents intertwined on the world’s stage. And two larger than life characters determined in their separate ways to tell their stories. Chen Chang-Jin – the wildly successful Chinese billionaire working to utilize Africa’s vast natural resources in ways that would be benefit his homeland and raise his profile in the process. Achol Madut Yek – one of the poorest of the poor, trekking from south Sudan, through Darfur, and into Chad, in a journey that will captivate the eyes of the world and cause it to see the strength and potential of Africa and its people in a new light. Dualities is ultimately a story about humanity – its scope, its inequities, its potential – and how the welfare of its most vulnerable members is often more vital than commonly acknowledged.  You can order the hardback version here, the paperback here, or the ebook here.

Coming up – Just finished a new book titled Fired Into Life – thoughts on Jesus and the human personality.  I’m also enjoying being in the middle of some new writing on The Seven Deadly Sins – Gandhi’s list of special challenges facing citizens in our modern life:

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principles

 

Reunions

1297377376575_ORIGINALHere is the link to my latest London Free Press article on our recent team trip to South Sudan – My new London Free Press piece on how a team of Canadians brought renewed hope to  remote region of South Sudan. – http://bit.ly/Zhwt7a.  It’s a key annual event for us, becoming ever more important as the world’s newest country seeks to get up off the mat after decades of civil war and enter an era of peace and prosperity. It was our largest team ever and they made key contributions.

Ultimately it’s about two reunions.  The first is the team being welcomed back into the remote region and second is about our 15-year old son Ater and his visit back to a region he left seven years ago – a situation that provided some remarkable touching moments.

It’s an example of what average Canadians can do when they set their minds to tremendous tasks.  You can help by visiting www.casscanada.net

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