Sudan at the Crossroads - Dec 2009

by Graham Kings

Date added: 09/12/2009

History leapt to life for me a couple of weeks ago, while I was sitting under a tree in Rumbek, Southern Sudan. I was reading about the first black bishop of Sudan, Elinana Ngalamu, who was consecrated in 1974 and became archbishop two years later. The chapter on his life, by Samuel Kayanga, in Announcing the Light: Sudanese Witnesses to the Gospel (1998) edited by Andrew Wheeler, related the retirement of the previous bishop, a missionary. It was widely believed that he thought he should be succeeded by another missionary, who was serving in South Africa, rather than by Ngalamu.

A group of three Sudanese clergy in exile from the civil war signed a document in protest: Sudan was ready for its own bishop. I said to my Sudanese neighbour under the tree, who had just arrived, ‘This must have been a pivotal moment in the history of Sudan – the writing and signing of that document.’ He agreed and, after a pause, went on, ‘By the way, he did not want to bring him from South Africa but from Uganda.’ I asked, ‘How do you know?’ He replied, ‘I drafted the document’.

I was conscious during the following week’s deliberations that I was witnessing another pivotal moment in the life of Sudan, and another key document. From 23-27 November the Provincial Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church of Sudan was meeting to discuss renewing the life of the church and of the nation. It is less than five months before the National Elections and just one year before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) expires: a dangerous vacuum may ensue. In 2011 the southern Sudanese are due to vote in a referendum on self-determination. The communiqué, headed ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, stated bluntly, ‘The CPA is on the brink of collapse due to the contentions over the referendum law, the demarcation of the 1st January 1956 borders, and violence recently perpetrated by other armed groups.’

Gareth Thomas MP, Africa Minister at the Department for International Development, visited Juba in October and his Church Times article was headlined ‘Poised between War and Peace’. In November, David Stancliffe, the Bishop of Salisbury, initiated a key debate in the House of Lords. This was followed up with written answers by Lord Brett, Government Spokesperson for the Foreign Office. He wrote that ‘the UK, as a witness and guarantor of the CPA, is absolutely committed to the Referendum. The Machakos Protocol that defines the right to self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan is the keystone for the CPA and it must take place as defined in the Agreement. We will respect the outcome of the Referendum, whatever it may be.’

In October, Sudanese Churches issued a significant joint statement, signed by leaders of the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, African Inland, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Presbyterian Evangelical and Christian Brotherhood churches. They stated, ‘If the CPA is renegotiated or is allowed to fall apart, war or oppressive unity will be the outcome.’

Gareth Thomas, Lord Brett and the Episcopal Church of Sudan have all referred repeatedly to the importance of ‘post referendum planning’. At the Rumbek Provincial Standing Committee, in spite of the approaching shadow of famine and the recent violence between Southern ethnic groups, incited by the Lord’s Resistance Army and others, I was encouraged by the extraordinary faith and seriousness of purpose manifested in the discussions as the future was considered.

The new Archbishop, Daniel Deng, is a strategic leader of great strength and insight with wide support nationally and internationally. The Governor of Lakes State, Lt Gen Daniel Awet Akot, generously provided his air conditioned conference centre. When living in Kenya for seven years, I was used to the modern proverb ‘Europeans have the watches and Africans have the time’. In Rumbek, every session began on time and an ambitious agenda was covered in depth. The preparation was impressive. The Archbishop is committed to reshaping the Province in terms of accountability and transparency and had gathered a small group of Sudanese scholarly experts. Prior to the meeting, they analysed and published comments on the written reports from the dioceses. The Church is growing in depth and in numbers. Its message and position in the country are weighty and it is becoming an increasingly powerful force in negotiations.

The communiqué stated: ‘Tribal differences must be put aside at this crucial time in history and the government must provide security for their citizens. God will sit in judgement on those who are working against the rights of their own people.’ The fifth anniversary of the CPA falls on 9th January 2010 and Archbishop Daniel Deng will be visiting London for the occasion, meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and with the Prime Minister. Sudan is situated at a pivotal point: the international community and the world-wide Church need to focus on the pregnant possibilities of tragic war, oppressive unity or the birth of a nation.

Graham Kings

Graham Kings

Wood panel

A bronze


Wood panel