SOUTH SUDANESE bishops have urged their political leaders to put the country before their political fortunes, as they mark four years of a conflict that wreaked devastation, leaving two-thirds of the population in need of aid, and creating the largest exodus in Africa since the Rwandan genocide.
The Bishop of Rokon, the Rt Revd Francis Loyo Mori, described this week how, instead of building the world’s youngest nation, politicians were “using the ignorant community to support a negative cause” and “encouraging tribal feelings”.
The Bishop of Wau, the Rt Revd Moses Deng Bol, said that he was praying for leaders, “that they will put the interest of their people first instead of their own political survival; that they will embrace the rule of law instead of the current military mindset; that they be willing to hold those who have committed atrocities against innocent civilians accountable; that they will hold those who have stolen, and continue to steal, hundreds of millions of public funds accountable; that they will allow South Sudanese their basic rights and democratic principles: the freedom of speech and expression.”
Since 2015 (News, 21 August 2015), things had got worse economically, he said: inflation was at 900 per cent, and civil servants had not been paid for ten months. The security situation in Wau, where the cathedral had to shelter people last year (News, 8 July 2016), had begun to improve, however. These internally displaced people had been “shocked when we warmly received and cared for them without any sign of discrimination based on tribal or political affiliation”, and trust was being rebuilt. With the support of partners including HART, and the Anglican Relief and Development Fund, the Church has been able to provide food and other goods to more than 5000 displaced families this year.
Bishop Deng Bol believes that, “given the number of people who have suffered atrocities”, both traditional and international justice systems will need to be deployed, and the Church “needs to embark on a massive campaign for forgiveness, healing and reconciliation as a court alone cannot heal the wounds which have been inflicted on innocent civilians”.
International agencies are making grim forecasts for 2018. In an address to the UN Security Council this month, the UN’s head of relief, Mark Locock, warned that 1.25 million people were “just one step away from famine”, which was expected to reappear in “several locations” next year. UNICEF reports that one million children are severly malnourished.
In a letter last week urging the Foreign Secretary to “redouble” his efforts to secure peace, 32 British MPs and peers noted that an adolescent girl in South Sudan was now three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school. The letter says that churches are among the groups that “must be empowered to influence the implementation of the peace agreement and shape the vital accountable mechanisms that will ensure South Sudanese people see justice for the atrocities that they have experienced”.
The UK is one of three countries supporting peace talks led by Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development, due to resume this week. It is also the world’s second largest donor to the crisis response: an additional £52 million was announced last week. The Department for International Development has promised to match donations raised by Christian Aid, which has launched a dedicated Christmas Christmas appeal. “The scale and severity of this crisis is beyond imagination,” the charity’s country manager for South Sudan, Jolly Kemigabo, said last week.
‘We pray that the God of mercy will change their hearts’ The Bishop of Rokon, Francis Loyo Mori, reflects on a worsening situation in South Sudan
WHEN the civil conflict started, it was seen as remote, because the warring factions were concentrated in Upper Nile region. But slowly it has engulfed many areas. Insecurity has become a challenge, even in towns. People are afraid of attacks by night, with many deaths occurring and killings at night.
On several occasions, there has been fighting in our diocese, resulting in the loss of life. Two of my archdeaconries are cut off, in areas controlled by rebels, but the people and our pastors there are still helping do the work of God. Many people have left the area to go to the refugee camps in Uganda. Medical care is completely zero. Children are dying, and there is no time to cultivate crops, as they are on the run.
The Church is working hard to give encouragement to those who have lost their dear ones. We will not tire to preach and speak to those who are carrying weapons against their own innocent civilians, particularly against rape cases, murders, and acts of violence. But it has become difficult for the Church to give help, since Christians have been displaced and families are divided. Some churches are destroyed, and clergy and their bishops have been displaced.
It is important to continue advocating and praying for peace. It seems that the leaders have failed the nations, and focus on power and petty politics. Politicians use the ignorant community to support a negative cause, encouraging tribal feelings to help them stay in power, contrary to the need for national integrity and nationhood. Justice is no longer obeyed, considering the atrocities going on with impunity. However, when the leaders repent and respect justice in the national interest, then the maturity of the South Sudanese people will lead to a total peace.
We pray that the God of mercy will change their hearts in a special way. That they may see what is going on wrong in their own nation and repent, for the Kingdom is at hand. That the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation remains a mark in their hearts to love.