The Common Good
January 2011

What Sudan Needs Now

by Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, Rev. Sam Kobia | January 2011

The world, and the world church, must stand with Sudan at this crucial time.

Rev. Kobia: The international community, including churches, has a very important role to play to make sure that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan -- including the Jan. 9, 2011, Southern independence referendum -- is implemented in full. It is important for international churches to accompany Sudan’s churches to help with civic and voter education, and to help the churches be able to monitor the elections.

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There is no question that the results of the referendum will be disputed: The North will not accept the South as separate, the South will not accept any result that does not give them separation. Currently, there are no clear mechanisms on how to resolve that; we are putting this to international actors.

We also have no less than half a million internally displaced persons, Southerners living near Khartoum. These people could easily be rounded up -- and even massacred. They also are being intimidated; they might not be able to exercise their right to vote.

Finally, we are seeing hot spots: Abyei, Southern Kordofan, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile. Even if the North and the South separate peacefully with the referendum, these hot spots could be the sparks causing violence to start again.

When we contemplate what is likely to happen if the referendum does not take place on Jan. 9, we tremble. Because should there be another war, it will be more bloody and widespread than even the previous two; the Southern Sudan People's Liberation Army is better prepared. We pray this does not happen.

Archbishop Deng: When you are committed to Jesus and you ask with your whole heart and mind, God will make miracles -- we believe that as Christians. Prayer is the first thing we are requesting from all Christians.

Second, action also is important. We need Christians in America, in the U.K., in all parts of the world to stand with us by mobilizing, by lobbying your government on our behalf. The third thing we need is visits: Show your solidarity and also become acquainted with what is happening on the ground.

Many people are internally displaced from South Sudan and living in the North; their position is terrible and not secure. At a peaceful demonstration in October, the police rounded up and beat Southern protesters. Some have been arrested, and we don’t know where they are. Recently we received news of an attempt to kidnap Southern university students in the North. We want to warn the international community not to allow anything to happen like what happened in Rwanda.

During the war, the churches in Southern Sudan were the only platform bringing the communities together, because the political platform was not there; the church was the only civil society institution. After the peace agreement was signed, the church took up the challenge to educate our people about the importance of voting, of being a citizen. Before the national elections in April, people were not expecting the election to take place; people were afraid to register. But the Catholic archbishop, Paulino Lukudu, and I registered; the following Sunday, everybody went for registration.

Many, many churches -- Catholic, the Episcopal church of Sudan, and others -- have been engaged to make the peace of our people the number-one priority. The Northern government wants to make sure Southern Sudan remains fragmented; they give malicious people guns. I travel a lot within the South to bring hope to communities that are fighting each other. They have a proverb in the Arab world: If you want your dog to follow you, keep that dog hungry. The North has tried to make sure that, economically, Southern Sudan has zero. If I don't have water, medicine, school, or work, what do you think I will do? For us as the church, we say such conflict is not about ethnicity: This is an economic problem. Development is part of peace.

As Christians, we have an obligation: Our Lord Jesus Christ said that if one hand is in pain, the whole body is in pain. So if there is pain in the Sudan, everybody -- whether you are in America, the U.K., anywhere in the world -- will not sleep well.

Rev. Sam Kobia is ecumenical special envoy to Sudan from the All Africa Conference of Churches. Rt. Rev. Daniel Deng Bul is archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. This commentary is from an October interview with Elizabeth Palmberg of Sojourners.

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