With less than 100 days to go to the referendum on Southern separation from the Khartoum government, the Bishops of South Sudan are crying out to raise awareness of the situation in the South of Sudan. It seems like the world has forgotten the plight of Southerners in Sudan. But the suffering, humiliation and persecution at the hands of the Khartoum government continues.
Yesterday (Saturday 16 October 2010) I was fortunate to attend a Mass at Westminster Cathedral presided over by Bishop of Tambura-Yambio in Southern Sudan, Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala. The Bishop also gave a talk and answered questions as part of the Aid to the Church in Need’s presentation “Hope without Fear.” This is part of his European tour to raise awareness of the situation in the South of Sudan ahead of the South Sudanese independence referendum to take place in January 2011.
Bishop Eduardo became bishop at the age of 39, after failing to convince the Pope that he was too young to take such a job. The Pope allayed his fears by assuring him that “God will take care.” Bishop Eduardo’s lost his mother when he was only 2 months old. She was killed in a military raid. Bp Eduardo has now made a lifetime commitment to doing his best to make sure that no more babies will be left without their mother’s in this way. He was raised by his catholic grandmother who made him pray often, always saying “Let us pray now, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
Britain left Sudan in 1956, and since then there has not been peace. This is due to the hurried way in which the independence of Sudan was granted, forcing the very different Muslim North into a union with the Christian South. Since that time 3.8 million have died and many more left displaced and lives destroyed.
Finally in 2005 the Comprehensive Peace agreement was signed, giving the South some self-determination, and promising a referendum to decide independence. That promised referendum is due to take place in January 2011. However, the Khartoum government are making public statements that they “will not accept separation” says Bp Eduardo. The southerners are also referred to as cockroaches. This is creating tremendous unease as the same government that killed almost four million are now continuing to treat their Southern brothers and sisters with contempt.
The bishops are calling for international observers for the referendum. But in addition to this, there is also a need for a peace force that would be able to intervene in the case of the (probable) conflict. The Bishop told us of how both sides are already massing armed forces on the border between North and South Sudan.
What is the Church in Sudan suggesting to the people from the pulpit? The good bishop assures us that the Church is calling for the people to “Choose Life- Vote for that option that will give life. Vote for what will end your humiliation and bring equality.”
To put the severity of the situation in perspective we need to remember that Sudan suffered a civil war from the time the British left in 1956 until 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. This new peace is now threatened as the South wish to claim their rights. When I was living in Khartoum with the Salesians in 2008 I was also fortunate enough to travel around South Sudan. In my visits to Tonj, Wau, Juba and their surrounding areas my eyes were opened to the poverty of the people. The lack of infrastructure is astounding. The only tarred road I came across in Southern Sudan was in Juba, and then it was only 80km worth in total! So why is the North hell bent on retaining this area? The simple answer is: Oil. The south is oil rich with the Khartoum government administering the sale of this oil. If the South were to separate then Khartoum would lose much of its wealth. Additionally, allowing autonomy to Southerners means that similar call from Darfur in the West and slowly the domination of the Islamist government of this large country (covering a surface area as vast as the entirety of Western Europe) begins to disintegrate. The likelihood of Khartoum (supported by the Arab League) allowing this to occur is close to zero. Omar-al-Bashir, president of Sudan (president since the military coup of 1989) is already making excuses as to why the government will renege on the agreement under the Comprehensive Peace agreement.
In such a seemingly hopeless situation what can we do? Bishop Eduardo has 3 recommendations:
1) Pray for Sudan and join the 101 Days of Prayer for Peace in Sudan.
2) Do your best to influence your government to get involved now. It will be cheaper for everyone to step in and prevent the impending return of civil war.
3) Support Aid to the Church in Need. “When a country goes to war, the Church is the only one remaining to provide humanitarian services.”
|Children getting water from the "donkey" at Gumbo. There is no running water so people travel either to the River Nile or the scattered hand pumps to obtain water.|
|Many people still live in huts like these. One Sudanese religious once told me that "people are still in the bronze age in Southern Sudan"|
|Despite all the hardships, there is still reason to smile|
|Even in a small village outside of Juba people have Jesus on their minds. Where there is Christ, there is Hope|