Independence will not divide the Sudanese church, bishops say: The Church of England Newspaper, March 4, 2011 p 7. March 5, 2011Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
A divided nation will not lead to a divided church, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan said last month in a statement released at the close of their Feb 11-12 meeting in Juba.
Official results of Southern Sudan’s January independence referendum showed that 98.83 per cent of the South voted for secession from the Khartoum government. The vote means that Africa’s newest nation will receive its formal independence on July 9, 2011. However, key issues remain unresolved, and must be negotiated between the north’s National Congress Party (NCP) and the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
In their first meeting since the independence vote, the Sudanese Bishops outlined the challenges facing the two nations and their church. South Sudan risked becoming a “failed state,” the bishops said, unless reforms promoting free markets and open government were implemented, and the border disputes with the north were settled.
They also assured Sudanese Anglicans they would “remain as one united church.”
“The church is one body; God has no borders. We will not abandon each other regardless of the political geographical boundaries,” the bishops said.
The bishops urged a speedy resolution to the disputes over the contested border region of Abyei, which was to have participated in the January referendum. However, voting was suspended after negotiations broke down over who would be entitled to vote. The northern-backed Misseriya community, pastoralists who travel through the region annually to graze their cattle, had demanded the right to vote in Abyei. However, the local Dinka Ngok people—supporters of southern independence—rejected the demand, saying only permanent residents should be allowed to vote.
Two key battleground states in the civil war, Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile, were not included in the referendum, and incorporated into the north, despite strong local support for the south’s ruling SPLM. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) promised “local consultations” over the future of the region, but like Abyei, negotiations have become bogged down.
The bishops called upon the NCP and SPLM to “expeditiously work” on resolving the border disputes and bring the “popular consultations” to their “logical conclusions,” as well as finding an equitable solution to questions of “citizenship, Sudan’s foreign debt, and oil.”
The allocation of revenues from Sudan’s oil fields has yet to be negotiated. Over 98 per cent of the south’s government budget is funded by oil revenue and the reserves lie mainly in the south and in the disputed border regions. However, all of the Sudan’s oil pipelines run north, giving the Khartoum government the power to turn off the south’s income spigot at will.
Sudan’s $38 billion foreign debt, amassed by Khartoum to fund the 1983-2005 civil war, divides north and south. The north is seeking forgiveness of its debt from international lenders, but no accord has been reached, while southern leaders object to having to pay for the costs of the war waged against them.
The citizenship rights of Sudanese living in the border areas, as well as southerners and northerners living on the wrong side of the demarcation line have yet to be resolved. Hundreds of thousands of southerners remain in Khartoum, but the north has balked at granting them dual citizenship. The uncertainty has led to over 180,000 refugees leaving the north in the past three months, the United Nations reports.
They called on “the Sudanese people to reject tribalism, nepotism and corruption,” and urged the appointment of government ministers based on “merit and work ethic” rather than tribe or clan affiliation.
“We pray that Almighty God will help us foster unity, peace and democracy as exhibited by all Sudanese and witnessed by the whole world during this referendum process,” the bishops said.
“We must all embrace the spirit of self-sacrifice, hard work, respect for one another, tolerance, and honesty as we endeavour to build the two new nations,” they said.