They call him “Commander Dan.” He arrived 24 years ago, and they say here now that he knows South Sudan better than any other “Kawaja” – white man – around.
And yet even he got it wrong.
“I’m supposed to be a Sudan expert!” says Dan Eiffe in an Irish lilt, sitting along the banks of the Nile. “And yet I didn’t believe this day would come. I really was sure there would be another war before they let us free.”
After 22 years of civil war – Africa’s longest conflict – in which 2 million people were killed and a further 4 million were displaced, South Sudan is now on the brink of independence.
The South Sudan Referendum Commission’s preliminary results show that the predominantly Christian and African south has chosen, overwhelmingly, to split away from the mainly Arab and Muslim north.
In several southern counties, a full 99.9 percent of voters cast their ballots for independence, according to Timon Wani, a commission official. “Stay calm,” he told the crowds gathered under the afternoon sun in Juba, the town poised to become the South Sudan capital.
“Don’t celebrate yet… do not beat the drums,” he continued, his eye on a group of herders who were so busy waving arms in the air to signal victory that they were losing control of their goats. “Our divorce must be as smooth as the voting process itself… We must be restrained a little longer.”
‘It’s hard to stop being suspicious’