[Editor's Note: Voter registration has now started for South Sudan's January 9 referendum on independence -- an event whose occurrence is threatened by North Sudan's intransigence and by logistical hurdles, but which is necessary to help prevent a disastrous return to north-south civil war. Below, the Episcopal archbishop of Sudan offers an on-the-ground perspective of why the churches in South Sudan are essential to building a lasting peace.]
During the war, the churches in the Southern Sudan were the only platform bringing the communities together, because the political platform was not there; the church was the only civil society in the country, especially in the South. They were the only hope of the people of the Southern Sudan.
But after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, we did not stop there. We know that our people who are coming home [after having been displaced by war] are traumatized by the war, so we set up a mechanism of bringing the communities together, because the communities were divided for 21 years. Some were in the North Sudan, and some were in East Africa. And those who were within the country, it was very hard for them to understand [each other], because a young generation has grown up in a completely different culture. They may be related, but in culture they have changed. It was the church who managed to bring their differences together and [help] them to begin a new life during the five years of the CPA that we have had. We have held conferences between communities, we have brought consolation between communities, and we are continuing doing that. Even recently, we asked the churches who have managed to sit together with the government of the Southern Sudan to reconcile, because they have been having problems among themselves.
Before the election in April this year, people were not expecting that the election was going to take place; people were afraid. People were going to fight. But the churches took it upon themselves to go to every village to educate people to tell them the importance of the vote, of being a citizen -- it is your right to vote. It is only the first one after 55 years; we never voted before. So we, as the church, took up the challenge to educate our people so that they can experience voting.
At first, they were reluctant to register. People were thinking that it was a waste of time -- and wondering what is going to be done against them later on. But when we went in and explained the differences between the present election and the past one, then they could understand. I and the Catholic archbishop, Paulino Lukudu [Loro], went and registered ourselves; then we invited the media to let the people see what we are doing and have been saying. The following Sunday, everybody went for registration. So we persuaded the people, because they have confidence in the church leadership. We could give you a lot of examples of what we are doing as a church at the moment concerning reconciliation and peacemaking.
The Rt. Rev. Daniel Deng Bul is archbishop of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. This blog is taken from an interview last month with Sojourners associate editor Elizabeth Palmberg.