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Shofar FTP Archive File: places/sudan/slavery/its-up-to-us

Archive/File: places/sudan/slavery/press/its-up-to-us
Last-Modified: 1997/01/29
Source: The Baltimore Sun, June 18, 1996, p.9A

What happens next is up to us
By Gregory Kane

One day my grandson may take a break from trying to drive me to
the nut house and ask me what I learned in Sudan.

Proof of slavery I expected to find, the denials of President
Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, the Sudanese ambassador and Louis
Farrakhan notwithstanding. But there were unexpected surprises,
some pleasant, some not.

Several impressions stand out.

One is that the definition of race and ethnicity depends on
where you are.

In Sudan, all the "Arabs" I saw looked like African-Americans,
ranging in complexion from dark brown to light-skinned. I
discovered I was the same complexion as the people who were making
life a living hell for the southern blacks, who are just that: jet
black. My color inspired much merriment among the Dinkas of the

The morning Gil Lewthwaite and I left for Manyiel to buy the
freedom of two young boys, Aleu Akechak Jok, the commissioner of
Aweil West County, suggested - with a straight face - that I don an
Arab robe known as a djellaba and a turban and pose as an Arab

"You're joking, right?" I asked.

He smiled a little, then responded with what I hoped was a
Dinka wisecrack. "You know, with the beard, they might even think
you're a fundamentalist." Jok and the assembled guards then burst
into raucous laughter.

There it was. My complexion causing mirth. My African brethren
having a chuckle at the expense of their bronze American cousin. Go
ahead, I thought, make fun of the colored kid from West Baltimore.

On the road to Manyiel, my thoughts turned to home. Southern
Sudanese blacks are of a jet-black complexion that some - dare I
say many? - African-Americans would regard with derision. No wonder
when Jesse Jackson handed down an edict that we switch from black
to African-American, most of us gladly did so, virtually overnight.

Was there a race war here in the Sudan? Jok said no. But
Yousef Kuwa Makki, a Nubian commander of the Sudanese People's
Liberation Army, replied with an emphatic, "Sure."

Is the fact that the race war pits browns and yellows against
blacks the reason most African-American leaders have been so
disgustingly silent about slavery in the Sudan?

Louis Farrakhan has clearly sided with the lighter-skinned
"Arabs" of the north, which brings up a question some blacks have
posed for some time now: Is the Nation of Islam essentially a
pro-black organization or an anti-black one?

There is a list of victims of violence by NOI members. All the
victims are black. Black journalists who criticize Louis Farrakhan
are almost guaranteed a call or visit from an NOI vanguard either
making threats or demanding retractions. White journalists and
radio talk show hosts condemn Farrakhan routinely - and much more
vehemently - without so much as a whimper of protest from anyone in
the NOI.

Arabs called Sudan "Bilad al-Sudan," which translates into
"land of the blacks." They didn't mean it as a compliment, some
historians say. One of them, the late Dr. Chancellor Williams, said
Arabs in the region have a color superiority complex and have
historically regarded the southern Sudan as one vast slave

A few days after we returned from the Sudan, Gil and I spoke
with Mahdi Ibrahim Mohamed, the Sudanese ambassador to the United

He was unctuous and disingenuous, claiming that slavery was
anathema in Sudan and contrary to the traditions of Islam. He acted
as though Gil and I knew none of the history of slavery in Africa
or the Sudan. Who, exactly, did he think he was talking to? Beavis
and Butthead?

The views of many southern Sudanese on the history of their
country clash with the ambassador's.

John Mangok, a Sudanese People's Liberation Army fighter, was
our escort. He said he joined the rebel movement because of the
"obvious ... discrimination done by the Arabs to our people."
Mangok claimed that during the years of southern autonomy, blacks
gained educationally.

"Those people who are now fighting are those who were educated
during that period," he said. "We were enlightened to know the aims
of the Arabs for our people."

Incidentally, Mangok's cousin is pro basketball star Manute Bol.

In a mere five days I have learned that the poor, half-naked
blacks of Bahr el Ghazal and the Nuba Mountains - especially the
youth - value education more than all too many of their
African-American brethren.

As I walked back to the campsite one morning, a lanky
16-year-old Dinka boy named Gobir sidled up to me. He said hello,
asked me my name and where I was from.

"America," I told him. "The United States. Where did you learn
to speak English?"

Gobir pointed to a mission school off in the distance. It
wasn't in session, he said, because enemy forces were operating
close to Nyamlell. But school being canceled didn't douse his
desire to learn.

"Please, do you have a pen?" he asked, explaining that even
when school was in session he and other students had no pens or
notebooks. I handed him one of my pens.

"Pilot," he said, reading the brand name.

"Come with me to my camp, Gobir," I urged him. "I think I have
an extra notebook you can write in."

He beamed with delight when I handed over the reporter's
notebook. He thanked me and bade me farewell. But I felt I should
have thanked him. It was refreshing being in a country where black
students don't think learning is a white thing.

I'd like to swap some of these Dinka students with their
knuckleheaded African-American counterparts who are afflicted with
the curious notion that they have a cultural imperative to be

In the Nuba Mountains, a man named Amar Amun made a plea to
Gil just before we boarded the plane. It wasn't for guns, clothes
or food, all of which the people of the Nuba Mountains desperately

"Send us newspapers, magazines, books - as much educational
material as you can," he implored. These Nubians, like the Dinkas,
were eager to read anything they could get their hands on.
Education here, as in Bahr el Ghazal province, was a priority. Also
as in Bahr el Ghazal, the people here begged us to return.

If I did go back, it would be to stay awhile. I'd be armed
with books, pens and papers to teach English and math to these
eager people who know the value of learning. Well, that and to help
them install indoor plumbing. And I would be well-treated in this
impoverished land.

The blacks of Sudan, I was elated to learn, have not let
poverty grind the spirituality out of them. In both Bahr el Ghazal
and the Nuba Mountains, people offered us the best of whatever they
had: a chair, a bench, outhouse facilities, fish and chicken for

They display their faith unashamedly. Some Catholic Dinkas
proudly wear rosaries around their necks. One girl who had a lovely
smile and enchanting eyes proudly told us she was a Christian and
positively glowed when she told us her name: Regina Bol.

I left the Sudan praying that the "Arabs" don't capture this
girl and make her a slave. I also prayed that we here in the West
will do what we can to ensure that doesn't happen.

Aid donors

Agencies supplying humanitarian relief to about 4.25 million
Sudanese include:

The U.N. World Food Program, Rome, Italy. U.S. office: United
Nations, Room DC 2, New York, N.Y. 10017; (212) 963-1234.

U.S. Agency for International Development, 2201 C St. N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20523; (202) 647-4000.

International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva,
Switzerland. U.S. office: 2100 Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 545,
Washington, D.C. 20037; (202) 293-9430.

Christian Solidarity International, Zurich, Switzerland. U.S.
office: 1101 17th St. N.W., Suite 607, Washington, D.C. 20036;
(202) 785-5266.

Catholic Relief Services, 209 W. Fayette St., Baltimore, Md.
21201; telephone (410) 625-2220.

U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 347-3507.

World Vision Relief and Development, 220 I St. N.E., Suite
270, Washington, D.C. 20002; (202) 547-3743.

Reports on slavery

Among the agencies that have condemned slavery in Sudan are:

United Nations. Report by Special Rapporteur for Sudan Gaspar
Biro. Human Rights Office, U.N. Headquarters, New York, N.Y. 10017;
(212) 963-5930.

U.S. State Department. Country Reports on Human Rights
Practices for 1995. Superintendent of Documents, P.O. Box 371-954,
Pittsburgh, Pa. 15250-7954; telephone (202) 512-1800; Internet:

Christian Solidarity International, Zurich, Switzerland.
Report on Visit to Sudan April 22 to May 3, 1996. U.S. Office: 1101
17th St. N.W., Suite 607, Washington, D.C. 20036; telephone (202)

Human Rights Watch/Africa. "Behind the Red Line - Political
Repression in Sudan." 485 Fifth Ave. New York, N.Y. 10012-6104;
telephone: (212) 972-8400.


A reprint of the Sudan series will be available for $6.95. To
order, call SunSource at (410) 332-6800.


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