Sudan correspondent details independence conflicts

Washington Post reporter Hamilton spoke on war reporting in Sudan and the possibility for a peaceful division in the country.

By Rebecca Guterman

Washington Post reporter Rebecca Hamilton forecasted the challenges that Sudan faces in the coming months as South Sudan separates from the North at a lecture Wednesday in Ida Noyes.

Hamilton, a special correspondent on Sudan, reflected on her experience reporting in the area, a witness to the poverty, disease, and genocide that plagues the region. “What does it mean that two million people died?” Hamilton asked the more than twenty students in the audience. “I have said that statistic many times and the only way I can get a grip on it is that in every interview I do, everyone has killed by the war.”

The somewhat isolated, mostly Christian Southern region of Sudan voted last month on a referendum in favor of independence from the predominantly Muslim North. With over 98 percent of votes in favor of independence, the referendum set the ground for the creation of an independent Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

The unexpected smoothness of the referendum vote and the enthusiasm of the Sudanese people impressed Hamilton. The image of a sick woman insisting on being taken to the polls in a wheelbarrow, even though her family wanted to take her to a hospital stuck with her. “As I walked closer, the family came towards me and said…she wouldn’t let them do anything until she voted,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton suggested that the divide originated with the historical British control. Britain ran Sudan from the north and outsourced services to missionaries in the south, creating a religious and cultural schism. Throughout the 1900s, civil war and peace agreements alternated, with much violence erupting especially in the south.

Hamilton said some of the biggest internal problems facing the new South Sudan will be overcoming illiteracy, and gender and education issues. However, she saw independence as a gateway to improving conditions.

For the north, Hamilton suggested there might be internal confusion. “It means something if you lose one third of your territory, territory that connects you to the rest of Africa, and one third of your people,” she said.

Oil and debt will be the two main economic issues between the two regions, Hamilton added. There will have to be cooperation since most of the oil reserves are in South Sudan, but pipes lead to the north. “Sharing oil could be a blessing in the short term because both governments have self-interest,” she said.

In terms of debt, Hamilton explained that the North wants both sides to take responsibility. However, the South argues that they’re not obligated to help pay because the Northern government did nothing to help the southern region with the money it spent.

Political science Ph.D. student Amanda Blair attended the event to keep up to date on Africa, and found Hamilton insightful. “The most compelling part was thinking about Sudan in the three contexts she presented—internally in the south, internally in the north, and the interrelation between the two,” she said.

The talk was organized by Chicago Careers in Journalism.