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Signs of hope in a young country

15 February 2013

South Sudan is struggling amid various conflicts, but is making progress, says Daniel Deng


Independent: Archbishop Deng with his flock in South Sudan

Independent: Archbishop Deng with his flock in South Sudan

AFTER many years of struggle, bloodshed, heartache, and what seemed at times like an impossible dream, when the birth of the new country of South Sudan finally took place on 9 July 2011, we knew that, like any new child coming into the world, it would have some teething problems. You would not expect a new baby to get up suddenly and walk on its own: it needs time to assimilate to a new environment before it becomes strong and confident enough to grow.

Changing our former rebels into a fully functioning army is one of the most difficult challenges that we have faced so far. These men were used for years to living in the bush, surviving in whatever way they could manage - and now they are suddenly members of a new and legitimate army. Despite this, I think that the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has done a great deal in the difficult year-and-a-half since independence.

Extreme economic difficulties are strangling governments in both Khartoum and Juba, making it difficult for our politicians and army to get on their feet. There is still little movement towards settling the dispute about oil shipments and ownership. Relations with our former governor in the north have been exceptionally difficult, because, sadly, not everyone comes to the negotiating table with a sincere heart.

There is also an inability within the government of South Sudan to articulate its questions and gain enough allies to make things move its way at international level, especially on vital questions such as the resolution on the status of Abyei, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile states, as well as the transhipment of its oil.

In the contested oil region of Abyei, there has, I believe, been a fundamental betrayal by the United Nations, which said that it was there to protect the people, but, as soon as the first shots were fired after independence, abandoned the very individuals it had been sent to help.

This is also reflected by the rest of the international community, in that nobody has paid any attention to a ruling by the International Chamber of Commerce's International Court of Arbitration that Abyei belongs to the Dinka Ngok tribe, of South Sudan. (The court, based in Paris, comprises members from about 90 countries, and is one of the most experienced and re- spected institutions for the resolution of international commercial disputes.)

Nevertheless, notwithstanding a few tiny droplets of help from the international community, no one seems to care about the people of South Sudan. Instead, it seems that it is all about the politics and economics of the oil underneath our feet, and who controls it. This saddens me.

The inter-ethnic violence that erupted in Jonglei last year was a shock ( News, 27 January, 18 May, 2012). Initially, everyone seemed to have lost hope for the area, which is the largest, poorest, and least developed in South Sudan. The Church stepped in quickly, however, and we managed to get the Murle and the Lou Nuer people talking to each other.

The President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, then came in, and supported preparations for an inclusive conference for the six tribes of Jonglei. The hundreds of brutal attacks before the peace conference were halted. I was involved in these reconciliation efforts, and I am proud to say that there is a lasting and tangible improvement between the two tribes, now that the rogue elements in both communities have been removed.

Nevertheless, the recent resurgence of rebel activity as a result of David Yau Yau in Murle areas has interfered with the stabilisation of the state; but the SPLA seems to be working hard to get things under control. Mr Yau Yau is a self-styled rebel leader from the Murle tribe, a minority that lives in Pibor county, which borders Ethiopia. Unlike other insurgent leaders, Mr Yau Yau was a civilian before he launched his armed revolt after the elections in April 2010.

He is viewed by Murle elders and the tribe's élite as having support only among youths in the area, and is resented for not having sought the consent of Murle leaders before running in the elections. Unfor- tunately, Mr Yau Yau has not stated what he wants, which makes it difficult for talks to take place.

The Church will never abandon the Murle people: the fact that Mr Yau Yau comes from among them does not make them a rebel community. The Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) is not only continuing its trauma-healing ministry, but also building a health facility in Gumuruk, one of the most populated places on Murle land, although one that is currently without medical services of any kind.

ECS is also running a sports programme for the youth of the diocese of Twic East, where much of last year's violence was played out. The idea is to help promote social cohesion and peaceful coexistence among the communities that have suffered the impact of the fatal clashes that have erupted over the past two years.

This, in addition to regular community-consultation meetings, held under the auspices of the Presidential Committee for Peace, Reconciliation, and Tolerance, is having a positive impact on society there. For instance, the chiefs have al- ready resolved land-disputes in Wangulei.

Providing the basics for our people so that they are self-sufficient and are able to fend for themselves is crucial. Independence means nothing to a hungry person, and we cannot depend on hand-outs perpetually; neither do we want to. We are a proud people, and, of course, we want to look after ourselves - this is what independence is all about; but the road is a long one, and we are only at the very beginning.

The Most Revd Dr Daniel Deng is the Archbishop of Sudan. He was speaking to Emma Pomfret, Africa Editor at Christian Aid.

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