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Sudan: Fragile peace between North, South

NewsNotes, January-February 2009

In early November a small Pax Christi delegation visited Sudan to express support for the post- violent conflict process of reconstruction there following the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and to observe the early stages of a Pax Christi-related integrated peacebuilding project in South Sudan. Marie Dennis, director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and co-president of Pax Christi International, participated in the delegation. Her reflections follow.

We arrived in Nimule, Eastern Equatoria in the middle of a peacebuilding conference organized by the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) that brought together about 250 people from Magwi County to promote harmonious co-existence; to deepen understanding of the CPA; and to identify core issues for common action, including land and security, law and order, and human rights.

There we interviewed many different people including women, religious leaders, youth, elders in Madi communities originally from Nimule who had been living in refuge outside of Sudan for over 15 years and elders in communities displaced - also for over 15 years - from elsewhere in Sudan to Nimule. Many of the people with whom we spoke were still waiting for a “peace dividend” from the CPA to be evident in improved health, education or infrastructure. They told us about the dangerous proliferation of guns in civilian hands, but also about the risk of making one community vulnerable to another by disarming one without disarming the other. They spoke about tensions between herders and farmers and about the huge need for voter education in advance of the coming general elections (July 2009) and referendum (2011).

The elders from communities of internally displaced persons (IDPs) were particularly poignant in their remarks: We are tired, they said, and want to rest. There were no problems among us (between IDPs and those original inhabitants of Nimule who are now returning from refugee camps in Uganda and elsewhere), except for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA - from northern Uganda that used to cross the border into Sudan regularly). Sometimes we have differences because we are from different cultures, but that’s why we have chiefs and community leaders. A big concern for us is how to go – how to move our cows.  We won’t stay here – our gardens are there; our cows have no place to graze here; but also there are no schools there. Our children are in universities in Uganda. We have accepted some of the Madi customs; our children have intermarried. Even when we go we will always be related.

Officials we met later in Juba identified many of the same challenges, emphasizing in particular their concerns about the Multi Donor Trust Fund managed by the World Bank, which one described as “worthless,” and their belief that free and fair general elections by July 2009 will be impossible. The Electoral Commission was just named in November, yet it needs to set the process, produce election materials, oversee voter education, etc. – and all for a country that has never voted.  Media laws and national security laws will also be needed before the elections. The recently taken census and North/South border issues remain contentious.

While we were in Juba, the Sudanese Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a strong statement about the slow implementation of the CPA, calling on the international community to re-engage. The bishops’ letter, which analyses the political situation in the Sudan, calls for genuine elections and emphasizes the need for a change of attitude in order to enact the principles of democracy and good governance. Bishop Rudolph Deng Majak, president of the Sudan Catholic Bishops Conference, asked Christians and Muslims to refocus on the CPA and urged leaders to mobilize the faithful to walk together, reconciled and united, to implement the peace agreement. (Catholic Information Service for Africa- CISA)

In Khartoum we heard again that the CPA is still waiting to be implemented. When people refer to “the government,” they mean the radical Islamist National Congress Party (NCP), not the government of national unity established by the CPA. The NCP would prefer to delay implementation of the CPA and has itself managed to morph from a terrorist-harboring regime to a U.S. ally in the war on terror. The coming general elections are critical. Youth have never experienced voting – no vote has taken place for 20 years. Again we were told that voter education and preparations for election monitoring are extremely important and that churches and religious groups with regular gatherings and already developed means of communication could be very important in this regard. People need education about the importance of voting and they need preparation for the complicated vote scheduled in 2009, which will elect many officials. If the NCP is legitimized by “winning” elections, even because of a poor process, inadequate preparation or graft, there will be no excuse for Sudan or for the international community. On the other hand, if the regime does not accept the results of the elections, they will be violating an international agreement and will also lose the South.

Actually, one person said, opposition parties in the North may be more interested in the CPA and in a united Sudan than the regime. The regime is not doing anything to keep the country united. The regime tried to empty South Sudan and is now trying to empty Darfur. The referendum in 2011 will be for secession unless there is a miracle or fraud. Only those who are politically aware would see any reason to vote against secession. If the South secedes, the regime will tighten its grip on the North.

Faith in action:

Go here to read the Sudanese Catholic bishops’ letter.

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