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Politics

Bernard in Benghazi

“Why have they sent him” asked, rhetorically, a French friend of mine in Benghazi. Thousands of Libyans had assembled on the city’s corniche, a sea of red-black-green tricolours of independence waving—dotted with the French tricolore and the occasional Qatari flag—prior to Bernard-Henri Lévy’s appearance on stage.

Earlier in the day in the Ouzu hotel, which has become the media nest in Benghazi, a Libyan was asking me what phrases would be suitable for the French philosopher’s visit, pondering links between the storming of the Bastille and Libya’s own revolution.

Several hours later, amid the banners in flowing Arabic script, there were placards grateful for the foreign intervention (“Merci France / Thank you Cameron / Thank you Obama / Thank you United Nations”), and welcoming the Frenchman to Libya “en cours de libération”. Another reminded the world that “Libya is not [a] kingdom for Gaddafi’s sons [to] inherit”.

Dusk was setting-in as BHL, full of gall, took to the stage. His speech certainly rallied the spirits of the Libyans assembled before him, if not, I found, a little too self-congratulatory. Amid talk of why he would “risk his life” in Ajdabiya, France was the first country to offer their support to the Libyans, and Benghazi was now a global symbol of resistance, he said.

At a moment when people seem to be losing their morale, wondering why it is taking so long to oust Col. Gaddafi, it is this kind of boost that they need, whatever it happens to come wrapped-in.

Calls for Western Intervention

When I first arrived in Libya, the people here were adamant that this was their revolution, and that they didn’t want any Western intervention.

Now, a couple of weeks later and with an increasing toll being inflicted by Qaddafi jets bombing rebel positions, the mood is changing.

In front of Benghazi’s tribunal, the make-shift headquarters of the revolution, large letters painted on the ground spell out “Where are the United Nations?”.

A group of women and children demonstrated today, calling for a UN-imposed No Fly Zone. The fact that many of their banners and placards were in English and in French didn’t go unnoticed - these were calls intended for us, the international media, to broadcast “home”.

As the rebels seem to be losing ground at the front-line as Qaddafi jets bomb their positions, the revolution seems to be faltering.

It's Official

On the ninth of July 2011, six years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, southern Sudan will become South Sudan, the world’s 193rd nation.

In Khartoum’s Friendship Hall, a far-cry from Juba’s John Garang memorial that has been the scene for most referendum-related events, people filled the room as dignitaries and journalists waited for the announcement.

Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, had earlier in the day vowed the north’s acceptance of the result with Salva Kiir, the south’s president-to-be. “We will announce today in front of the world our acceptance and respect for the choice of the people of the south” Bashir said. This evening was just a formality.

But as the screen flashed up the final results — a 98.83% vote for secession — tensions did fill in the hall. One man stood, waving his fist in celebration. Another woman, from the north, started weeping before being escorted from the room by security. “Sudan is one country, not two” she wailed as men whisked her away.

Over a thousand kilometres further south, my friends and colleagues in Juba were watching the results on the television screens, broadcasting live from Khartoum. A text-message told me that a cheer went up as I strayed into the cameras behind the speaker, catching the view from their podium.

Now begins the path to independence, which will not be easy for the South. The entirety of the border that will now separate the two states has yet to be demarcated; the popular consultations in South Kordofan and Blue Nile state have not yet taken place; there are the questions of debt-sharing, and of oil revenues. And then the South has to acquire the means to actually run its own country.

Omar al-Bashir in Juba

Omar al-Bashir in Juba 

 “Bye bye Bashir” people chanted as Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, sped past them in a massive motorcade. Upon the roundabout around which they had congregated, a clock stands, counting-down to the Southern Sudan referendum. Today, it was showing four days. 

 Despite their chant and the flags they waved which ubiquitously called for secession, with the open palm symbol meaning “separation”, the Southern Sudanese citizens claimed no animosity towards al-Bashir. “We are very happy to see the president here. Southerners have no problem with northerners” said Joseph Mairi from Eastern Equatoria. Banners by the side of the road from the airport greeted al-Bashir, but reminded him that his time as president would soon be over. “We welcome you back to celebrate the independence of south Sudan” read one, erected by a non-governmental civil group. 

 His visit was one of conciliation, meeting Southern president Salva Kiir, stating that the North would accept the result of the referendum, whether for unity or secession, and that they would help the South post-referendum. “I am going to celebrate your decision, even if your decision is secession” he said. 

 During recent weeks, the north has made several attempts to convince Southerners to vote for unity, but the feeling here on the street is that it is too little, too late. “What did they offer for the last fifty-five years?” asks Akol Hem Arop, a doctor working in Juba. “We have four days to decide for the future of our people. These four days will not be like the hell of the 50 years of unity. We have to decide at the ballot box. My child will have a better future. He will not be a second class citizen.”

Omar al-Bashir in Juba

“Bye bye Bashir” people chanted as Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, sped past them in a massive motorcade. Upon the roundabout around which they had congregated, a clock stands, counting-down to the Southern Sudan referendum. Today, it was showing four days.

Despite their chant and the flags they waved which ubiquitously called for secession, with the open palm symbol meaning “separation”, the Southern Sudanese citizens claimed no animosity towards al-Bashir. “We are very happy to see the president here. Southerners have no problem with northerners” said Joseph Mairi from Eastern Equatoria. Banners by the side of the road from the airport greeted al-Bashir, but reminded him that his time as president would soon be over. “We welcome you back to celebrate the independence of south Sudan” read one, erected by a non-governmental civil group.

His visit was one of conciliation, meeting Southern president Salva Kiir, stating that the North would accept the result of the referendum, whether for unity or secession, and that they would help the South post-referendum. “I am going to celebrate your decision, even if your decision is secession” he said.

During recent weeks, the north has made several attempts to convince Southerners to vote for unity, but the feeling here on the street is that it is too little, too late. “What did they offer for the last fifty-five years?” asks Akol Hem Arop, a doctor working in Juba. “We have four days to decide for the future of our people. These four days will not be like the hell of the 50 years of unity. We have to decide at the ballot box. My child will have a better future. He will not be a second class citizen.”