News that Sarah Palin, who once was an actual vice presidential candidate in the United States, is traveling to South Sudan felt like a joke to some people when it first trended on Twitter. Especially since Sarah Palin thinks Africa is a country. ABC News’ The Note Blog reports that Palin will visit Juba in South Sudan on July 9, 2011. The blog feels compelled to remind its readers that South Sudan ” is predominantly black and Christian” and is about to become an independent state on July 9, when Palin is scheduled to arrive in Sudan.
Sudan, or the north, is described by ABC as “… predominantly Arab and Muslim.” It is certainly Muslim, but there’s no certainty about the Arabness of northern Sudan.
As Mahmood Mamdani reminded the rest of us in the London Review of Books in 2007, a lot of where Arab and African begins and ends in Sudan, originates with the current attention given to Darfur and is highly politicized. As Mamdani wrote, “… both ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ have several meanings in Sudan.” You could also become Arab or African over time. Not surprisingly, Arabs are the villains in the tale.
ABC News is at least right about this; that “Christian conservatives have latched on to the plight of Sudan’s southerners since former President George W. Bush’s first term.”
But we’re digressing. Somehow Palin got herself an invitation to the independence celebrations. She is tagging along with Franklin Graham, an American TV preacher who believes “the Islamic seed” was passed through Barack Obama by his father, Barack Snr.
First reactions around my house ranged from “Is she going to stay there? That would be a good thing” (I am not sure South Sudanese would take kindly to an unwanted tenant) to “don’t the Sudanese have enough problems already” (on this I concur).
We know Palin’s sense of African politics is quite limited. Apart from not knowing that Africa is a continent, has publicly misrepresented her home state of Alaska’s relations with the northern Sudanese government, or has close links to a Kenyan evangelical preacher, Thomas Muthee, infamous for leading witch hunts. At one point, he blamed all the problems of the city where one of his churches in Kenya was, on one local woman who he called a witch and blamed her for everything from crime to traffic jams. Local people eventually attacked friends and family of the woman, police got involved and she was forced to flee. Muthee’s connection to Palin started when he traveled to Wasila, Alaska, in 2005 and at one of his guest sermons while traveling, “laid hands” on Palin. Watch that here. She later credited his prayers for her election as governor of Alaska in 2005. In 2008, on a visit back to the church, Palin told congregants, according to the Sunday Times UK, “Pastor Muthee was here and he was praying over me, and you know how he speaks and he’s so bold … And he was praying ’Lord make a way, Lord make a way’ … He said, ’Lord make a way and let her do this next step.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
The main reaction to Palin is to mock her, but the problem is someone like her – especially with ties to powerful figures like Franklin Graham or obscure ones like Thomas Muthee, both with ideas that are nutty and dangerous at once and who ingratiated themselves with elected officials and public servants – got this close to the American presidency, which is still the most powerful office globally. That should scare us.