In its long journey north the Nile passes through the deserts of North Africa to empty its waters into the Mediterranean Sea. The great Egyptian civilization flourished along the banks of the Nile. But before reaching Egypt, the Nile is really two rivers.
The White Nile starts deep in central Africa and flows northwards through Rwanda, Tanzania, Lake Victoria, Uganda and into Sudan. The Blue Nile starts from Lake Tana, 1800 metres above sea level in the mountains of Ethiopia. The two rivers join near Sudan’s capital, Khartoum to form the Nile we all know.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and the most diverse geographically. Mountains divide the deserts of the North with the swamps and rain forests of the Southnand the Nile divides the country from east to west. But that’s not the only way the country is divided. Northern Sudanese are mostly Arabs and Muslim by faith; in the South they are mostly Christians and Animists.
From 1924 it was illegal for people living north of the 10th parallel to go South and for people living in the south of the 8th parallel to go to the North. The British who governed Sudan jointly with Egypt till 1956 felt this was the best way to prevent the spread of malaria and conflict of religion. To complicate matters further, Sudan has reportedly 597 tribes that speak over 400 different languages and dialects.
Sudan has long been a country ravaged by internal conflicts. A series of civil wars between 1955 and 2005, and famine have killed over 2 million people. A year before gaining independence from Britain and Egypt, a civil war broke out because southern Sudanese feared domination by the northerners. After independence, the Muslim northerners imposed Islamic law on the country including the non-Muslim south. This lead to southern forces rebelling against the north.
Then in 2003 the region in the south-west of Sudan, Dafur, rebels took up arms accusing the government of neglecting the region of Africans in favor of Arabs. Darfur suffers from drought and famine, diminishing resources and the scant attention from the government. In addition the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa tribes were targeted to be destroyed because their power seemed to threaten the President’s. Countless lives have been lost in this conflict and scattered millions of refugees to neighbouring countries. This latest conflict has drawn worldwide attention especially after stars such as George Clooney have chosen to highlight it.
But three weeks from now, on January 11, 2011, a referendum will be held in southern Sudan to decide whether to divide Africa’s largest country into two. About 75,000 southerners have already moved to the south in buses, barges and trucks to vote or escape a feared backlash in the Muslim-dominated north to join hundreds of thousands of others who have come back from neighbouring countries. If the vote is overwhelmingly yes, Juba will be the capital for the newest and 196th country in the world.