By David Alton
For some years the Jubilee Campaign has been championing the cause of the Christians of Southern Sudan. All being well this weekend I am due to visit the region to meet some of those who have suffered so grievously.
The summer months have been a time of raised and dashed hopes. On July 20th the Sudan People’s liberation Army (SPLA) and the Islamic government of Sudan signed a framework peace agreement. This followed talks in Machakos, Kenya. By August the Sudanese authorities had walked away, threatening a new aerial bombardment of the region. The prospect of new violence and bloodshed now hangs in the balance.
The head of the Sudanese Council of Churches, the Reverend Enoch Tombe, greeted the July breakthrough realistically: There is a chance but what worries us is whether the parties will implement the agreement, given that previous agreements have not been implemented.” The agreement would have led to two key gains.
First, the SPLA have been fighting for self-determination for Southern Sudan and that would have been tackled by a referendum, with the option of secession. This would take place after a six-year period.
Secondly, during the interim period a federal set-up would guarantee that the mostly Christian and animist groups in the south would be exempt from Sharia law.
This formula still remains the best hope for peace in a region that has been ravaged and wracked by one of Africa’s nose debilitating and brutal wars. Over 2 million Sudanese have died and there are over 4 million internally displaced people. Add to this the 92% who live in poverty and you can readily see why Sudan desperately needs peace in order to build an ordered and prosperous society.
Decades of warfare combined with the cessation of development have made many in the south wholly dependent on emergency relief aid. The UN’s Operation Lifeline in Southern Sudan is now the world’s largest relief operation (about $180 million per annum). To impede aid and access the Sudanese government have sealed off vast swathes of the south, condemning hundreds of thousands of Sudanese people to a life devoid of external contact or help. Overwhelmingly, Sudanese people have no access to education or health opportunities.
In southern Sudan – equal in size to Western Europe – there are just 20 secondary schools. Life expectancy is 56 years and 10% of children die before they are five.
Another factor is the greed that since 1998 has accompanied the extraction of oil. Government troops have been attacking areas around oilfields in order to depopulate them. Oil companies have turned a blind eye and happily poured revenues into the coffers of the government instead of using their muscle to broker peace. Since oil began to flow Sudan has been able to increase its military spending from $US162 million to US327 million. Sudan has a military-technical pact with Russia.
There is also a desperate need to cultivate a civil society. In the century before the birth of Christ Cicero wrote “Laws are silent in times of war,” and nothing much has changed. Creating a law-abiding climate is impossible whilst the din of bombardment continues. While the world’s eyes focus on Iraq don’t forget the suffering in Sudan.