Bracing Independence in South Sudan

Praying for Independence in the Southern Sudan

After half a century of civil wars and oppression, the people of South Sudan can finally rejoice in their independence as the world’s newest country on July 9 2011.

The new nation will be recognized as the Republic of South Sudan with Juba as its capital, sworn in on a day filled with celebrations, bells, music and parades.

Citizens are encouraged to make way to churches and public squares on the eve of independence to light candles and pray for their new nation. At the stroke of midnight bells will be rung across the country marking it’s hard-fought birth.

The way to their independence was made successful when nearly 50 years of conflict finally ended under the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The agreement ensured the south would have regional autonomy and a referendum on independence on January 2011, in which 99% of southern Sudanese voted to split from the north.

Though this landmark on Saturday brings South Sudan the needed hope, they will still have to face the countless struggles as an inexperienced government to one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world.

With a population of approximately eight million in one of the world’s poorest regions, only 15 per cent can read and there are hardly any roads or schools or health services to provide.

They will have to deal with the issue of political power, borders, currency, teams, symbols, debt, rights, providence and relations between the north and south. Though several peace deals have been signed, years of resentment and blood have kept the tensions between the countries war-fearing high.

However, since the 2005 peace accord, South Sudan has seen an economic revival with Juba, originally a small outpost, becoming on of Africa’s fastest growing towns.

History:

The road to independence began with harsh footing in 1956 when Sudan sought freedom from joint British and Egyptian rule establishing a government in the Muslim populated north. The southern people, who follow traditional religions and Christianity, did not agree with the discrimination they were facing and the Arabic and Islamic identity the north were imposing, thus sparking a civil war.

A peace agreement giving the south a measure of autonomy was signed in 1972 ending the conflict only briefly. When the Sudanese government canceled the autonomy agreements, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army rose again in 1983.

At least nearly 2 million lives were lost in the years of guerrilla warfare.

The conflict was once again ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which then lead to the independence movement to today.

What is life like in war-torn Sudan?

A war child in SudanThere are some things of which we cannot conceive, that our brains can’t fathom unless we see it first hand.

Many people can imagine what Sudan’s living conditions are, but they would never fully understand.

Those lucky enough to live in the Western world cannot conceive of what life is like in the country that is in the middle of a ‘holy war’ that has pitted Muslims and Christians against each other since 1958.

That’s the reason Rev. of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Abbotsford went to Sudan as a part of a fact-finding mission — to see, feel, taste, touch, smell and hear how the people of Sudan are suffering. And he has come back a changed man.

Walters, along with parishioner Enk Hoogenraad, left for Sudan January 10 and arrived home February 4. They spent three weeks in northern Sudan, which is occupied for the most part by Muslims.

They went in conjunction with the Mennonite Central Committee. While there, the two Canadians toured refugee camps and prisons — places which thousands of Christians call home.

The Christians, who live in the poor region of southern Sudan, are being persecuted by the Muslims because they cannot afford to protect themselves.

Although organizations such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which fights Muslim groups, do exist, they are still no match against northern resources.

“The reality is that the Muslims have the power, money and the weapons,” Walters said. “That power struggle has left millions of Christians stuck in the middle, imprisoned or forced to leave. And where they go is no better than where they’re from.”

According to Walters, one of the men’s prisons had five latrine holes and two water taps for 1,000 men. Twenty percent of those men had bedding, and all of them slept outdoors.

“It’s the worst squalor I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said. The women’s prison was only marginally better, having a tin roof over 50 percent of the women. Along with 780 women, there were nearly 200 babies under the age of three, most nursing.

“There was extraordinary poverty, but phenomenal spirit. The people’s spirit was amazing,” Walters said.

Many people he spoke with told him how glad they were that he was there, seeing what the world was choosing not to see.

Two million people have died in the war, and four million people are fleeing the country as refugees.

While the United States has imposed sanctions against trade with the northern part of Sudan, Canada has yet to take a stand.

Canada’s Lloyd Axworthy, minister of foreign affairs, sent assistant John Harker to Sudan to investigate the situation and decide whether the Canadian government should become involved.

What Harker investigated, as did Walters while he was there on his fact-finding mission, was the involvement of the Calgary-based oil company, Talisman Energy Inc., which is working out of southern Sudan.

Harker found that oil revenues were going to the Muslims, who would then buy weapons to kill more people in the south. He wrote that in his report to Axworthy. Nothing has been done to this date.

Walters said Canada should do the right thing and put a stop to Talisman’s involvement. “When I talked to people over there, they all said, ‘Take Talisman out.’ It was very emphatic,” he said.

Over and over, he heard their frustrations, but could offer no explanation or words of encouragement.

“There’s nothing I could have said that could have been of some help, other than ‘I will try to be your voice when I get back,’” Walters said.

And that’s what he attempted to do during a forum called Close the Gap, Between Rich and Poor when he returned.

Along with comparing prisons in Sudan and Canada, Walters shared what he saw, heard and felt in Sudan to anyone interested in hearing and understanding the situation just a bit better.