The newly elected Moderator of the World Council of Churches' Central Committee has called on the government of South Sudan to have a “Mandela moment” as it confronts the aftermath of an attempted coup on Monday 16 December.
Speaking from Geneva where she was at the WCC headquarters for weekend meetings and to attend a Monday morning Mandela memorial, Dr Agnes Abuom, a Kenyan, said “this is really a Mandela moment” for South Sudan.
“Just when we have laid Mandela to rest and we are celebrating his life of forgiveness and reconciliation, of justice, of freedom, of the capacity to be content and to be inclusive: this is really a lesson for South Sudan”, she said.
The WCC General Secretary, the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, has sent a letter to South Sudanese president Salva Kiir Mayardit, expressing profound concern for the people of the nation.
He wrote in part: “The people of South Sudan have suffered for several decades and are now longing for peace and justice. We pray that the situation will quickly normalise and that peace will prevail again soon.”
According to news reports, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir announced Monday that an attempted coup by soldiers loyal to his former deputy, Riek Machar, had been quashed. Machar and others involved have apparently fled to the UN Mission in the capital Juba.
The struggle is seen to reflect emerging concerns and differences between ethnic groups in Sudan.
Abuom stressed concern for the churches in South Sudan which through the Sudan Council of Churches and the WCC were deeply involved in reaching a peace agreement between Sudan and South Sudan, and in helping to facilitate the formation of South Sudan as the youngest nation in the world.
She said the churches there have already responded and called for calm. She added that South Sudan, as a young nation, “needs a lot of latitude for different voices given its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious composition.”
“It is unfortunate that there has been an attempted coup, and we would want to say to those people that there is no space again in Africa for armed rebellion,” she said. “We believe in dialogue, in the power of the vote and election to change leadership peacefully and to transit from one leadership to another.”
Echoing Abuom's comments, WCC General Secretary the Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit also called on the government of South Sudan to reach out to all within the country in a way that reflects the highest ideals of Mandela.
“Mandela has helped us see the worst and best in humanity,” Tveit said, restating his comments from the Mandela memorial held at the Ecumenical Centre Monday, 16 December. “He helped us to be realistic; even more important, he helped us believe in the one humanity and to love that one humanity.”
Tveit met with Kiir in April 2013, when Kiir said “After the independence of South Sudan, it is the churches that have the capability to bring people together and help rebuild the country.”
“South Sudan is a state where all religious communities, including Christians, can work freely, and their contributions for the social betterment, regardless of their religious associations, are welcomed,” Kiir told Tveit.
“South Sudan needs now, and it is called, to develop a culture of democracy that supports different opinions even when they are not congruent with what the leadership expects, because that is a democracy,” Abuom said.