Sudanese brew demonstrates rift between north and south

This post is also on Tate’s blog, Short Sentences.
“We could see the huge potential here, but it still took some fairly large gonads to go for it.”
Says Ian Alsworth-Elvey, head of White Bull operations in Juba, capital of Southern Sudan.  Britain-based brewer giant SABMiller began laying groundwork for the brewery in 2006.  White Bull now sells 2.5 million bottles a month.

As the Guardian explains, its creation was challenging, to say the least.

For the makers of White Bull, the main challenge was logistics. All the materials for the factory had to be transported by road from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, 1,540 miles away.

A power plant needed to be built. The only beer ingredient available locally was water from the Nile. And more than 250 Sudanese workers, many of whom had never had a job before, had to be trained from scratch.

Political, cultural, and religious constraints also complicated the endeavor.  Predominantly Arab/Muslim Northern Sudan and African/Christian/animist Southern Sudan have been fighting off and on since independence in 1956 (and throughout history).  Northern Arabs traditionally raided the south for slaves, also a common practice in other parts of Africa like the Senegal-Mauritania border.

The Sudanese government, led by northerners like current president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has enforced Shari’a law since 1983.  Because the Islamic penal code bans alcohol, even women who, as a long-standing custom, brew spirits in their homes fear fines or beatings if discovered.

The new brewery in Juba highlights these cultural and religious differences as Southern Sudan approaches a secession referendum scheduled for next year.

The planned vote faces many obstacles.  Northern Sudan won’t easily relinquish oil revenues from the south.  The African National Congress doesn’t want the referendum to catalyze a wave of secessions across the continent.  Many predict that a vote for independence would immediately start another civil war.

For the last half-century the international community has favored keeping its hands clean of the country.  It’s proven unwilling to stand up to al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal and perpetuator of the shitstorm that is Darfur.

If the referendum happens next year, its consequences may force international leaders to get their hands dirty.  Until then, the south has its White Bull, the north has its Shari’a.

Photo from Guardian article.
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