- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Sudan on behalf of the International Republican Institute and the U.S. State Department in order to help train leaders of the emerging democracy with their party governance and communications.

The people of Sudan have endured decades of civil war between various regimes in the North and those seeking liberty both in the South and in the western and eastern peripheries. Today, peace between the two main warring factions is closer than ever with a peace deal all but certain.

Signing a peace deal between North and South isn’t the end of the process — it’s merely the beginning. Indeed, this is where the hard work begins — building a democratic state and a functional government.

This means the terms “democratic” and “functional” will not just be for the government that is to emerge from the South, it will cover all of Sudan, as the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) is expected to participate in Sudan’s national government.

Thanks to the foreign policy established by President Bush, America is committed to helping expand democracy in Sudan.

America’s greatest export is democracy. Around the world, people who have lived under repressive regimes are being freed because of the foreign policy of the United States. “Thank you America” was frequently heard in Sudan. In East Africa, U.S. involvement is not only needed — it is wanted and appreciated.

For the Sudanese, the tasks ahead are tremendous and overwhelming. Unlike other areas where the U.S. is involved in democracy building such as former Soviet Republics, Iraq and Afghanistan, southern Sudan has been ravaged by its internal wars for so long it would be an understatement to say they are starting from the ground up.

Simply put, in South Sudan, there is no pre-existing government.

Services are provided by humanitarian aid groups and other nongovernment organizations. Infrastructure is below typical Third World levels. Experience in government is nearly nonexistent.

Educated leaders are few and far between. Disease runs rampant. Tribal differences must be sorted out. The challenges are immense.

It is “New Site,” the temporary capital of South Sudan, from where democracy will emerge. A misnomer, New Site is nothing more than a small village of perhaps three dozen tents, and even fewer permanent structures for housing, a dining hall, and a school. The words “Judicial Administration” printed in black magic marker adorn the side of one tent, and “Agriculture” on another.

The city has running well water and electricity supplied by diesel generators. The city also recently acquired four computers with Internet access and permanent satellite phone access. These few modern conveniences those of us in the West take for granted every day will be the lifeline of the new government.

The tasks facing the new government will not be easy. But the spirit I witnessed in the eyes, heard in the voices, and felt through the shake of the hands of the South Sudanese cannot be faked. They recognized democracy will be the tool they need to overcome their hurdles. They are determined to import democracy, and we must not abandon them.

President Bush has changed a wait-and-see foreign policy on Sudan to aggressive engagement between the South and the North. Only through this policy change do the South Sudanese believe the two sides would have ever come to negotiate a lasting peace. For that, the South Sudanese are grateful.

Having visited New Site and the people who live and work there, in addition to visiting a 10-year-old refugee camp of more than 7,500 displaced Sudanese, I can only shake my head when considering the enormity of the work to be done. But the children are all smiles, and there is hope in the eyes of adults.

Peace is at hand and it appears failure is not in the blood of the South Sudanese. While the challenges are immense, they are achievable.

Today’s young people will carry books, not weapons, and the country will slowly make up for its years lost to war. That is truly something to smile about.

For the West, we must not forget where the Sudanese have come from when considering where they need to go and how long they may need our help.

The South Sudanese know they need our help. They long for it. As the world’s lone super power we have an interest in seeing Sudan succeed. As Americans, it is our duty. Democracy is our greatest export.

Chris Ingram is president of 411 Communications, a corporate and political opinion research and communications firm in Arlington, Va.

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