Help for Sudan's Christians
From the editorialby Everett J. Thomas
The revolution in Egypt and social turmoil across the Arab world may have provided unexpected help for African Christians in a poor country to the south: Sudan.
On Jan. 25, the world learned that the citizens of southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly to secede from the north and create their own country. On Feb. 7, Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir said he would accept the south's secession. Such aquiescence seemed improbable just three months ago. But al-Bashir may be eyeing the revolutions in Arab countries to the north and deciding he has more pressing concerns than southern Sudan.
The struggle in Sudan, the largest country in Africa, centers around the Arab Muslim north vs. the south with its African Christians and animist religions. For years, al-Bashir and his forces attempted to suppress Christianity and "Arabize" the south. In doing so, tens of thousands were killed or died of starvation in the Darfur region, and others became victims of forced immigration.
But now, some Arab regimes are disintegrating. This should allow the Republic of South Sudan, as its leaders plan to name the new country in July, some breathing space as it attempts to create its own national identity.
There are significant challenges ahead. Southern Sudan is rich in oil. But the new country is landlocked, and pipelines that carry the oil to markets run through the north. Ultimately, oil may require both countries to collaborate since it is the primary resource for both.
A second challenge relates to the Abyei region. Two rival ethnic groups claim the right to belong there, and both north and south Sudan claim the region. Ultimately, the fate of Abyei may be decided by its own referendum.
It will also be difficult to modernize southern Sudan, since it has been under the grip of al-Bashir's government in the capital city of Khartoum. Here is how Mennonite Central Committee described the situation in a Feb. 15 release:
"From 1983 to 2005, during the nation's most recent civil war, more than 4 million people fled southern Sudan. Through years of neglect and fighting, much of the area was left without running water, electricity, paved roads, schools or health clinics. Since a peace agreement in 2005, some 2 million people have come back to southern Sudan, straining what infrastructure does exist. Approximately 180,000 have returned to the area since October 2010."
But at least now this impoverished country can begin a new chapter, and the forces from the north that exploited and oppressed it will need to leave them alone.
According to the Church of the Brethren, which has had mission workers in the Sudan for years, 95 percent of southern Sudan has been exposed to Christianity and has access to indigenous churches. Our church's reach into these Christian churches is through Mennonite Central Committee. MCC asks us to pray for an open, transparent process to form a new constitution and for an inclusive government that meets the needs of all people. Let's do that.
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