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Bodies pile up on streets of Sudan

26 April 2023

Vigil at Bradford Cathedral calls for prayers as public health catastrophe unfolds

Bradford Cathedral

The Revd Ludia Shukai prays at the vigil on Tuesday

The Revd Ludia Shukai prays at the vigil on Tuesday

PEOPLE trapped in their homes without water or electricity are unable to leave to buy food, and fear a “public health catastrophe” as bodies amass in the streets of Khartoum, a vigil for Sudan at Bradford Cathedral heard on Tuesday.

The Revd Ludia Shukai, NSM of Great Horton and Lidget Green, who is thought to be the first Sudanese woman ordained in the Church of England, told the gathering that, while it had been difficult to speak to people in Sudan owing to the lack of electricity, and cuts to the internet, she had managed to speak to her sister in Khartoum. “She is all the time on the floor,” she reported. While her sister had food in the house, others did not, but feared being killed if they left their homes.

Sudan is currently in the second week of clashes between rival security forces (News, 21 April), in power since a military coup in 2021. Mrs Shukai reported that she had also spoken to the Archbishop of Sudan, the Most Revd Ezekiel Kondo. In the wake of the raid on the Anglican cathedral in Khartoum, which she understood had been carried out by the Janjaweed militia, he and others from the cathedral had walked for two hours to reach a place outside Khartoum.

They had asked for prayers, particularly for those lacking food and for those in hospital. “A lot of people are dying in hospitals because there is no electricity. . . There is no way of treatments.” No emergency services were operating, so dead bodies were accumulating, and people feared a “public health catastrophe”. In another area, rebels were killing residents before occupying their houses.

Archbishop Kondo has reported that the Rapid Support Forces destroyed cars and buildings in the cathedral compound; there were fears that they would move on to family homes. In total, 42 people have evacuated the compound, including children.

Mrs Shukai is from the Nuba Mountains, and she spoke of the long-lasting war in the region, which had been subject to bombardment from the air by the government (News, 1 April 2016). Many of her relatives, she said, had died in this war. In 2011, when South Sudan gained its independence, the attacks on the Nuba Mountains had escalated. At the time, she was working as a nurse in the UK, but had felt the urge to move back home, and even take up arms.

She had felt “angry and sad” learning of the atrocities. But, she said, the Lord had spoken to her from Ephesians 6, telling her to “wear the armour of God . . . and give people the word of God,; to be strong in your faith”. It had changed her life, she said. “I can cry, I can weep, but continue the journey. . . I know that I am walking with the Lord.

“We need to know the Lord is with us, and is walking with us in all these difficulties, and he is going to give us the comfort, and the light is going to come because Christ is risen from the dead,” she said. She spoke of the “long history” between Bradford and Sudan, and thanked those gathered for their solidarity: “We are all the body of Christ.”

The vigil, led by the Bishop of Bradford, Dr Toby Howarth, included songs by a choir of Sudanese women. Testimony was also given by a Sudanese Muslim woman, Ali Mahgoub. The situation was “horrible”, she said, but people were pulling together. “We have seen this situation in other counties, like Ukraine and Syria. . . Killing people, destroying the country; it’s not right.”

Dr Howarth noted that the latest ceasefire, which started at midnight on Monday and was set to last for 72 hours, appeared to be holding. But he also regretted that Sudan had been failed by the international community. A process of mediation had been under way involving the Troika (the UK, the United States and Norway), but there had been “moments that the international community has just not been there”.

Sanctions had not been lifted after the coming to power of the civilian government (News, 18 April 2019), he said, and the two generals now in charge had never been held to account for the violence committed in Darfur and against pro-democracy demonstrators.

On Monday, the secretary-general of the UN, António Guterres, warned that the fighting risked “a catastrophic conflagration within Sudan that could engulf the whole region and beyond”. Addressing the Security Council, he condemned the “indiscriminate” bombing of civilian areas and facilities. According to figures from the Sudanese Health Ministry quoted by the World Health Organisation on Tuesday, 459 people had been killed in the fighting, and more than 4000 injured. Many hospitals have had to close, and there are reports of outbreaks of dengue and malaria, as well as “a looming cholera alert amid damage to water infrastructure”.

On Sunday, Christian Aid warned that clashes were spreading into regions bordering South Sudan — South Darfur and Blue Nile — “raising fears of a return to all-out-war in a country with a history of armed conflict”.

James Wani, the charity’s South Sudan country director, said: “South Sudan is already facing a severe food emergency. There is a significant shortfall in humanitarian funding. If this conflict in Sudan doesn’t stop soon, and refugees start crossing the border in large numbers, then this will exacerbate an existing humanitarian crisis.”

During an online prayer event for Sudan on Saturday, the director of programmes at the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Revd Dr Gibson Ezekiel Lesmore, said: “We are not ignorant of the fact that human greed drives war in our world today. It is in the quest for power that we are today experiencing bombardment.”

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