Amid ongoing fighting and humanitarian crises in several regions of Sudan, and risks of failure in implementing the 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of civil war between north and south, the Sudanese people and churches face "tremendous tasks and challenges", an international ecumenical team of church representatives was told at the beginning of an eight-day solidarity visit to the country.
Representatives of the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) met the delegation led by the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary the Rev Samuel Kobia in Khartoum on Wednesday 26 March. The group visiting the capital is one of four teams travelling to different regions, including Darfur, Rumbek and Yambio (see participants list below). All of them will join Sudanese church leaders, women and youth for a three-day conference in Juba on Monday 31 March.
Taking place nearly half-way through the interim period established by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the ecumenical visit "comes at the right time in the history of Sudan", said the SCC’s statement welcoming the delegation.
"We are grateful for the moral support of the ecumenical family which helped us to stand the slaughter and trauma during the war", said Bishop Rudolph Deng Majak, chairman of the SCC board of trustees and president of the Sudan Catholic Bishops' Conference.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has ended the war between north and south and established a government of national unity. According to the SCC statement, it "provides the basis for a just and sustainable peace" in the country. However, its full implementation remains one of the biggest concerns of the Sudanese churches.
The Rev Musa Koda Jura of the Sudanese Church of Christ, chair of the SCC executive committee, explained that several indicators, including lack of transparency in the work of some commissions established by the agreement as well as in the sharing of oil revenues, point to a "slow implementation and possible derailing of the agreement". In addition, he added that "there is a lack of understanding of the CPA at the grassroots".
Among the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises weighing down the country, the one ravaging the Darfur region has a prominent place. Armed conflict there is "a tragedy in itself", but also a threat to the CPA implementation, the SCC statement says. Without solving all such conflicts, "there will be no just peace for anybody".
Even where the arms have been silenced, the "peace dividends" are "yet to be seen". Lack of health facilities, schools and clean water are among the most pressing issues. Among those particularly affected are the "returnees", people internally displaced by the war, sometimes for many years, who are now coming back to their former home regions.
"The conditions in the areas of resettlement can be quite horrible, to the extent that some of the returnees are considering going back where they had been displaced", said Rev. Peter Tibi of the Africa Inland Church, the SCC’s general secretary.
The SCC statement recognizes the churches' "lack of capacity in many places" to fulfil their "manifold tasks". It also acknowledges the fact that churches are not immune to the problems of tribalism that affect the country.
WCC general secretary Samuel Kobia encouraged the churches to think of an "ecumenical strategic plan to contribute to rebuilding the country". Civic education on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement could be part of it, as churches play a "very important role in that regard" and make of it a "major process of mobilization", Kobia suggested.