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Sudan -- U.S. Policy and New Hope (2)

By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
2 February 2010

Two missioners returned to the Diocese of Bethlehem from the Diocese of Kajo-Keji a few days ago. Dean Anthony R. Pompa and Senior Warden Raymond Arcario of the Cathedral Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem have seen and heard first-hand what life is like for our brothers and sisters in our companion diocese.

Seeing, in fact, is believing. Just reading or hearing the words about Sudan cannot alone convey the grim circumstances in which the Christians in Kajo-Keji remain faithful and even optimistic. Their lives write a story more of faith and hope than of poverty and war though poverty and war touch each of their lives. From Bishop Paul and Diana’s visit to Kajo-Keji in January, 2005, until now, the faith of the people in Sudan has inspired and encouraged us to support them with the means we have and to draw from them something of their exceptional example. The consistent report of all the missioners to Kajo-Keji from Bethlehem has been that their faith is remarkable, enviable, and deeply moving.

In January several relief organizations published “Rescuing the Peace in Southern Sudan.” (Read the report here.) It states unequivocally the depravity of the impoverishment in which our sisters and brothers live and remain faithful:

“The region’s development indicators are at the bottom of the scale. A pregnant woman in southern Sudan has a greater chance of dying from pregnancy-related complications than a woman almost anywhere else in the world. Around 90 per cent of southern Sudanese women cannot read or write. Half the population does not have access to safe drinking water. Southern Sudan suffers a crippling disease burden with hyper-endemic malaria, meningitis, cholera, and haemorrhagic fever. In many rural locations, children lack schools, people are chronically malnourished, and it takes days to walk to the nearest health centre.”

Moreover alongside poverty the people of Sudan continue to absorb the consequences of war. In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) brought to a conclusion the longest running war in Africa. The CPA brought together Sudan’s central government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and ended a brutal civil war that killed two million people and displaced four million others. The CPA brought gains for Southern Sudan including the establishment of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), improvements in security, the return of many displaced persons, and the expansion of commerce, markets, and trade.

January 9 was the fifth anniversary of the CPA. Marking the occasion the day before, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “Since 2005, the ceasefire has, for the most part, held. Northern troops have pulled out of the South and a new government of national unity was formed in Khartoum. A regional government of Southern Sudan was created in Juba. Oil wealth has been shared with the South. The parties have made progress on some of the disputed border areas of Abyei and have passed legislation to prepare for elections and the 2011 referenda of self-determination.”

By referring to the national elections in April and the referendum in January, 2011, Secretary Clinton points to the significance of the next twelve months to the people of Sudan. Indeed, the next year without question is extremely important. The CPA calls for a number of key accomplishments in the six-year interim period before the referendum. By many reports this implementation is far behind schedule. The North and South enter the final year with a number of points of controversy on the horizon.

In April Sudan will hold the first free general election since 1986. The Sudanese will elect a president of the republic and the federal parliament as well as governors for the regional states and members of their chambers. The South will elect a president for GOSS and members of the regional parliament that sits in Juba.

In January of next year, the South will vote on whether to remain part of a united Sudan or secede. The demarcation of the oil-rich North-South border and the exact division of oil and other revenues between the North and South still escape agreement. They are to draw the thirteen hundred mile border between their regions this year, a most delicate issue because of the significant oil reserves in the area.

Alongside Secretary Clinton, Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration said, “We’re also very concerned about the security in the South. You’ve all seen the numbers. The trend is up, and we’re very concerned that the security issues, the tribal fighting, the inter-community conflicts that are taking place, could be factors that make it more difficult to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and, if the South chooses to secede, will make it more difficult to birth that nation.”

General Gration’s comments are instructive. Not every attack, not every act of violence raises the specter of the breakdown of the CPA. Much violence is tribal, and much violence is between southerners unprovoked by outsiders. Much of the violence would probably occur if the issues surrounding the CPA, the national elections, and the referendum were settled. A lack of security, however, for whatever reason remains a lack of security.

By several reports the National Security Council Deputies Committee met in Washington on January 22 for the first of its quarterly meetings to review the progress of the new policy of the United States toward Sudan, announced in October. Members of the group are Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Advisor; Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; Stuart Levy, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence; Erica Barks-Ruggles, Deputy to the Permanent Representative of the U. S. to the United Nations; and Jim Steinberg, Deputy Secretary of State. The meeting to discuss next steps in the policy toward Sudan was confidential. Widespread, however, are hopes that President Obama will increase pressure on Sudan to produce meaningful progress toward peace. Observers in Sudan and the United States ask how firm the United States will be toward Sudan should the plans for elections in April or for the referendum early next year stall.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Bethlehem pursues its mission in Kajo-Keji. New Hope’s construction continues at a good pace. The Gaderu Primary School, the second of five primary schools to be built by New Hope, consisting of two four-classroom blocks, has been substantially completed. Remaining only are the final coat of paint and the cleaning of the construction site. The expected date of completion is February 15, according to Stephen Tomor Kenyi who coördinates New Hope projects in Kajo-Keji for the Diocese of Bethlehem.

Materials began arriving at the construction site of the Liwolo School on January 25. Liwolo, the third of the five primary schools, like Gaderu, will be constructed of two four-classroom blocks.

Phase 4 of the Canon Benaiah Poggo College, construction of the Kitchen and Dining Hall, has progressed to the point of the pouring of the slab.

The Diocese of Bethlehem has taken as its proper share of our relationship with the Diocese of Kajo-Keji the construction of the College and five primary schools. New Hope is our best answer to the material impoverishment of Kajo-Keji. I have no answer for the steadfast faith of the people of Kajo-Keji except to pray that mine will be able one day to match it.

’Twas ever thus. From my first visit in 2006 until now, the faith of the Sudanese has moved me very deeply. In January, 2007, while in Kajo-Keji, I was given the grace to write in my diary:

“Thou I noticed it first, the economic and infrastructural situation, however, fails to be the chief characteristic of the people. That honor belongs to their deep and yet (in every positive way) superficial faith in Jesus Christ. Every meeting begins with earnest spontaneous prayer, and every small speech and word of welcome begins with ‘Praise the Lord!’ They mean it: by their own report Jesus Christ has saved them from so many things other than merely existential ones. They have been saved from war and the remnants of war, brief incursions and hostilities from their enemies, and land mines that are still being decommissioned by the United Nations. Every day’s activities conclude with a Scriptural reflection that invariably sews a credible connection between God’s revelation and the dusty duties each person cannot but undertake to survive.

“The people of Kajo-Keji proudly identify themselves as your and my brothers and sisters, united as one family, as Canon Henry Leju said in greeting us, ‘by the sacred blood of Jesus Christ.’ He and others could find, if they wished, so many things to distinguish us. Instead, he chose the Thing that unites us for time and for eternity.”


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