Day of Prayer for Sudan


Universe Column

David Alton

June 14th 2009.

Last week I warned that the murderous campaign which, over the past two decades, has claimed more than two million lives in Southern Sudan will be repeated in Nigeria. The redoubtable Baroness (Caroline) Cox, and her charity HART, have campaigned in both countries and are at the forefront in organising next week’s Day of Prayer for Sudan. It will be a timely opportunity to learn more about what Christians in Sudan have experienced and to understand how radicals threaten the stability of many African countries.

At 11.00 am on Thursday June 18th Caroline Cox will lead a march which will begin at the London Eye and this will be followed by a Day of Prayer for Sudan, on Sunday next, June 21st. She is hoping that many will join her on the march and the Day of Prayer .

The urgency and importance of this initiative was underlined by the Catholic Archbishop of Juba, the Metropolitan of Southern Sudan, who said recently in a Pastoral Letter:

“Problems still abound, including corruption. We are a poor people…There are problems with displaced people, food shortages and the Lord’s Resistance Army disrupting food supplies, with lorries travelling from Uganda, knowing the danger of attacks. We need to encourage people to make good use of their land.

In education and so many other areas, we cannot do much, because the support is government to government and we do not see it.”

Commending the work of Baroness Cox he said: “Caroline Cox is part of Sudan’s history. I have followed her closely in the war and I am deeply grateful for her contributions then and now.”

That work has taken her deep into the country on countless occasions. Today she is fearful that the fragile Peace Agreement between Khartoum and Southern Sudan will be broken.

She says that the security situation has deteriorated severely and there is widespread expectation that Khartoum will break the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) sooner or later.

Tension has increased following the brave decision of the International Criminal Court  to indict President El Bashir for crimes against humanity.

On the ground there is general support for the indictment as people believe that justice needs to be done and seen to be done; that he should not be allowed, with impunity, to get away with the atrocities he has perpetrated; that the threat of the cessation of the CPA is a form of blackmail. There is also an acceptance that Bashir will use the indictment as a pretext for breaking the Agreement.

Bashir’s Government falsely tells the world that the South is unable to govern itself and the Southern leadership is corrupt.

The reality is that the structures of government in the south are far more advanced than might be expected for a fragile new nation confronted by so many challenges.

In 2011, under the terms of the CPA there will be a Referendum in the South when the people will be free to decide whether to remain in a united Sudan or to secede.  Huge pressure is already being exerted to try and force the South to remain in a united Sudan.

Caroline Cox says that the South’s leaders want the international community to understand these pressures and to play their part: they told her:  “we cannot achieve peace alone”; that international  involvement is essential to guarantee that fair elections and the Referendum actually do happen, and that the necessary preparations are made.

One of the reasons why secession is the most likely outcome is the history of aggression practiced by Arab, Muslim northerners against the African southerners. The perception that separation may be essential to maintain African identity and culture is frequently cited as a reason for possible secession. Despite the deaths of so many people there is little hatred of Arabs and Muslims but Southerners believe that it is time for African identity and freedom of religion (including freedom from Sharia Law) to be ensured.

I travelled in Southern Sudan during the War and saw for myself the devastation and suffering. The  War, which raged until the signing of the CPA in 2005, left a legacy of massive devastation with acute needs for many essential services – including education, health care and agricultural production. In 2007, only 13% of Southern Sudan had an Immunisation Programme  – increasing to 19% in 2008 – and there were only 20 secondary schools serving this vast region.

The ending of the War also saw the return of many refugees and Internally Displaced People. Their plight remains very serious.

Additionally, the failure of Khartoum to fulfil some of the CPA requirements has undermined confidence in its commitment to peace. The blatant  refusal by Khartoum to be transparent about oil revenues causes doubts about the fairness of allocation of resources due to the south.

And Khartoum’s hand has also been seen in some of the episodic outbreaks of violence instigated by ‘militias’. There are concerns that some of these outbreaks of conflict are instigated directly or indirectly by Khartoum.

Some observers believe that Khartoum has encouraged the resurgence of activity by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the region. This rebel army, originating in northern Uganda, was responsible for widespread death and destruction in a 20-year war, until Peace Talks brokered by southern Sudan brought some respite.

During that war, 500,000 perished, 95% of the local people were driven into overcrowded camps and at least 25,000 children were abducted and forced to become child soldiers. Khartoum was manifestly complicit, allowing some of the training camps, where the children were brutalised and trained to become soldiers, to be based in southern Sudan. In recent weeks, the LRA has renewed its activities, causing serious security problems in northern Congo and southern Sudan.

There is also a fear that, in the event of a renewed conflict, the LRA may be used by Khartoum in ways similar to their use of the Janjaweed in Darfur. In that region of Sudan 400,000 have died, 2.2 million have been displaced and 90% of the homes destroyed.

In the East of the country the dire plight of the Beja people is said to be even worse than that of the people of Southern Sudan.

And nothing has been done to free the thousands who disappeared from the South into slavery.

So Sudan’s plight is critical. The collapse of the CPA and the outbreak of another War would be an unmitigated disaster.

The Victorian Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, once referred to the rule of Khartoum as, “barbarous, cruel, unscrupulous, inconsistent with any idea of civilization which one can entertain.” He described it as “the worst and cruellest Government in the world.”

Not a lot has changed – and that is why Sudan’s proud, dignified and suffering people need  our practical help and prayers:

Lady Cox’s march commences at 11.00am on Thursday next at The London Eye and June 21st is the Day of Prayer for Sudan.