Referendum affects local SudaneseJan. 9 vote could split Sudan into north and south governments
WORTHINGTON — Yar Kang is on a mission, and she doesn’t plan to stop until she sees it fulfilled. “Southern Sudanese people are made to feel like second-class citizens in their own country, and that’s just not right,” Kang emphasized as she explained the decades-long struggle between the predominantly Muslim-populated north Sudan and the mainly Christian demographic of southern Sudan, of which she is a native.
By: Jane Turpin Moore, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Yar Kang is on a mission, and she doesn’t plan to stop until she sees it fulfilled.
“Southern Sudanese people are made to feel like second-class citizens in their own country, and that’s just not right,” Kang emphasized as she explained the decades-long struggle between the predominantly Muslim-populated north Sudan and the mainly Christian demographic of southern Sudan, of which she is a native.
The resulting civil war has seen over two million people killed and many more fleeing Sudan, with some, like Kang, now granted political asylum in the U.S. or elsewhere while others linger in refugee camps. Still others remain in Sudan, hoping and working for positive change.
“We are calling for all American people to support us,” Kang said in reference to the Southern Sudan Referendum 2011, a long-awaited vote to be taken Jan. 9 that, if approved, would officially separate the governments of north and south Sudan.
With a bright smile and statuesque presence—she’s more than 6 feet tall—Kang radiates energy and earnestness, with underlying notes of steely resolve and sadness nevertheless readily apparent.
“I have lost many family members—more than 40—in the war,” Kang said, lowering her gaze and growing suddenly sober before adding that her brother, Hakim, was a general in the south Sudanese army who was killed in battle. His wife and children came to the U.S. after his death.
Kang, a 35-year-old single mother of two school-age sons, first made her way to the U.S., which she says is a “beautiful country,” when she was 19. Having worked in Egypt as a nanny for an American family whose father was a professor at American University there, she was aided by them in making the transition to the U.S., promising she would some day return to Sudan.
Today she is working as a translator for families new to the U.S. and running an annual “Miss Sudan” pageant both in Sioux Falls, S.D., where she currently lives, and in Kansas City—but her most important task at present is advocating for and assisting other Sudanese immigrants in voting on Jan. 9 in favor of south Sudan’s independence.
Omaha, Neb., is the regional voting site for Sudanese in the upper Midwest, and eligible Sudanese must appear at Omaha in person on Jan. 9. Kang is involved in organizing transportation, praying a blizzard or other bad weather won’t prohibit travel on that date, and working to surmount other obstacles.
For instance, because the southern region of Sudan is oil-rich, the north Sudanese are not keen on losing access to and revenues from those oil fields. Kang reports agents from north Sudan are actively bribing area Sudanese to not vote on Jan. 9, and because 60 percent of eligible voters must turn out in order for a positive referendum vote to be recognized, each vote is critical.
A simple majority vote would result in the south’s independence, and southern Sudanese citizens have waited six years, at the Sudanese government’s insistence, for the all-important referendum.
Mike Potter, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1161, estimates that slightly over 100 Sudanese immigrants currently work at Worthington’s JBS plant. Because JBS has a strong employee recruitment and retention program and does a good job of helping employees of various ethnicities remain connected with their cultures, Potter guesses JBS has been sympathetic to employees’ efforts to make the Jan. 9 trip to Omaha.
A friend of Kang’s, Alfred Wel, is another native of south Sudan who is vigorously working to encourage area Sudanese people to “stand up for separation,” as he puts it.
Though endlessly grateful for the refuge he has found in the U.S.—“I am deeply happy with America; I love America,” he professed—Wel dreams of returning to Sudan, and especially to a self-ruled south Sudan, “where Christians can worship freely and where Islamic culture is not forced upon us.”
“Three thousand, six hundred and sixty-eight days,” Wel answered without a moment’s hesitation when asked how long he has been in the U.S., highlighting his hope that his time here is only temporary.
Wel, 35, recalls that his mother made and sold beer as a means of supporting his family when he was young.
“She wanted to buy me a pen and notebook, a book bag and clothes so I could go to school,” Wel reported.
But when he was in third grade, she was prohibited by Sharia, or Islamic law (which forbids the sale or consumption of alcohol, among other things) from continuing to peddle the beer, and thus the family’s livelihood was wiped out.
“My mom was fighting for me to go forward and make a better life, and she was shut down,” Wel said.
Kang, who once worked at Worthington’s JBS plant and plans to seek employment there again when her efforts on behalf of the Southern Sudan Referendum are completed, holds up Salva Kiir, the current president of Sudan’s southern region, as one of her heroes—along with past U.S. President George W. Bush, who signed a peace accord for south Sudan during his presidential tenure.
She notes that U.S. Senator John F. Kerry and actor George Clooney are among other well-known people who have taken up the cause of south Sudanese independence, but she wishes all U.S. Congressmen would step forward on their behalf.
“We think it’s time,” said Kang.
Meanwhile, Kang is in perpetual motion in her attempts to mobilize eligible Sudanese voters for the Jan. 9 referendum, doing her best to reassure those intimidated by the north Sudanese that their positive vote is worth whatever risk they may be taking.
“I tell them, ‘Think about your brother who was killed, your sisters who were raped, your Bible,’” exhorted Kang. “If you believe in separation and want to be free, you must go to Omaha on Jan. 9 and vote.
“This is my mission.”