I received a phone call a couple of Wednesdays ago to ask whether as Chairman of the Conservative Party’s International Office I would fly to Southern Sudan to witness the closing stages of the Referendum in the South, the outcome of which could result in it breaking away from the North.
Quick decisions had to be made. I was to fly out on the Friday and it would involve a 10-hour flight to Juba with a three-hour wait at Addis Ababa. I would visit Polling Stations, and meet high-level Ministers and officials in the South. The next day would be a flight to Khartoum, capital of the North, to meet the Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, Dr Nafie Ali Nafie, Advisor to the President of Sudan, and other Ministers, then back to Heathrow by Monday midday, including another 3 hour wait at Cairo – so much for MPs' jollies!
The trip was sponsored by the affable Lord Ahmed who speaks some Arabic and appears to know everyone; also in attendance was Liz St. Clair, Executive Director of Women in Public Policy, and Stephen Williams from the Anglo-Sudan Lawyers Association. The expedition was organised by Muslim Hands, a charity who work in 49 countries and last year had a turnover of £11m.
Our flight from Addis was over flat desert, with the scar of a long, straight oil pipeline visible at one point, as well as the mighty Nile. Juba is the capital city of the South which houses about half a million people. It is undeveloped with few buildings of any substance and no proper water supply. Approximately 9 million people live in the South and 34 million live in the North.