2003: Sudan, Africa - Healing and Reconciliation

For the year 2003, the annual theme for the Decade to Overcome Violence was "Healing and Reconciliation"; the geographical focus was on Africa, and Sudan in particular.
After five decades of war, peace is coming slowly to this deeply divided society, where people long for healing. This page brings you a brief update on the situation in Sudan, a glimpse of the hopes of its people and Sudan's churches' ministry in healing and reconciliation. It also highlights current efforts of churches to address issues of healing and reconciliation.

Note: this page has been created during the 2003 annual focus year. Some of the information has not been updated.

Sudan overview

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Sudan is the largest and one of the most diverse countries in Africa, home to deserts, mountain ranges, swamps and rain forests. The country's name comes from the Arabic bilad al-sudan, or land of the blacks. Arabic is the official language, and Islam the religion of the state, but the country has a large non-Arabic speaking and non-Muslim population, with over 100 languages spoken. From early nineteenth century until independence in 1956, Egypt and Britain ruled Sudan, leaving a colonialist heritage and a divided country.

Apart from an 11-year period of peace (1971 - 1982), Sudan has been torn apart by civil war since its independence. Among the world's longest and most destructive civil wars, those in Sudan have caused over two million deaths and over four million displaced. While there is conflict between the government in the North and the various independence movements in the South, devastating armed conflicts among warring parties have left the country in an extremely precarious state, with a population becoming increasingly dependent on outside assistance.

Peace process

Many attempts have been made in the past to bring an end to the civil war in Sudan. Negotiations being held in Kenya under the auspices of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are seen by many as offering the best chance of bringing peace since the current phase of conflicts began in 1983.

Under pressure from the US, Britain, and Norway, the so-called "troika", a framework peace deal was signed in July 2002 in Machakos, Kenya - the Machakos Protocol. It provided the foundation for further peace talks by giving two main assurances: that there would be no sharia in the Southern part, and that a peace agreement would grant a six-year transition period of national unity, after which self-determination would decide on the issue of unity and independence.

A major humanitarian breakthrough came in October 2002 when both the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which they agreed to allow "unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas and for people in need, in accordance with the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) Agreement". The cease-fire was to last from March 2003 until summer.

Current issues under negotiation include power-sharing (government, presidency), wealth-sharing (oil, land), religion and state, boundaries, and security.

There is a general sense that the peace talks are on the right track, in spite of some difficult issues still ahead. Human rights abuses and the breaking of the cease-fire are recurring concerns. However, there appears to be strong determination, both by top leaders of the government and the rebel movements on the one hand, and by the grassroots on the other, to make peace become a reality after so many years of suffering.

Churches in Sudan

Yirol, South Sudan

Christianity was present in Sudan by the 6th century - well over a thousand years before the coming of European missionaries. From the 1890s on, missionary efforts brought European and North American denominations to Sudan. At that time, the (Egyptian-British) colonial government prohibited evangelization in the North, inhabited mostly by an Arab Muslim population, but missions worked in the fields of education and health. Three missionary societies worked in the divided South, where circumstances were difficult because of the climate, lack of infrastructure, and rebellion against the government in the North.

Today, about a dozen churches are members of the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC), which was founded in 1967. The SCC includes the Roman Catholic Church, but not the Seventh-Day Adventists. For a list of churches in Sudan, see http://www.eglisesoudan.org/english/churches.htm

Beginning in 1956, Sudan's five-decades-long civil war blurred the once-geographically-distinct ethnic groups - Arabs in the North, Africans in the South - but it deeply divided the country. In order to serve the people and churches in the areas not controlled by the government, the New Sudan Council of Churches was formed in 1990; it is based in Kenya for easier access to the South.



Churches working together for peace

The churches in Sudan are active players in the search for peace, although they represent only a small minority of the population. The Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) and the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) work together with ecumenical partners in the Sudan Ecumenical Forum (SEF). The Forum was set up in the early 1990's under the auspices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) to provide opportunities for dialogue between Sudanese church representatives and their external friends and partners. The SEF held annual meetings in the Geneva area, met in London in March 2002, and in Johannesburg in February 2003.

A Sudan Focal Point, set up in the mid-nineties and working on behalf of ecumenical partners in Europe, USA and Canada (and, since 1999, also from Africa) is another ecumenical instrument for promoting peace and international solidarity through information, analysis and advocacy.

These ecumenical networks have worked for decades with church, civic and government leaders, to bring the parties together to agree on a peace process.

The WCC has been involved with churches in Sudan for many years. It has long supported the churches in their courageous and energetic work for peace on the ground. Together with the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK), it has encouraged the unity of the churches and their witness for human rights and peace. The AACC and the WCC played key mediation roles in the negotiations leading up to the Addis Ababa Peace Accord in 1972. More recently, the Sudan Ecumenical Forum appointed an ecumenical envoy to participate in the peace talks. WCC director Rev. Samuel Kobia, who has served as the general secretary's special representative for Africa, participated in several meetings around the peace talks, and met with representatives of Kenya, Britain and Norway - the three lead countries in the peace talks.

Action of Churches Together (ACT), the joint ecumenical emergency relief agency, has been responding to the needs of Sudan's population for many years. The agency recently issued an appeal for a de-mining project in non-government-controlled areas of Sudan. For information see http://www.act-intl.org

Other actors in long-term peace efforts, especially since war broke out again in 1983, include Operation Lifeline Sudan, the Nairobi Peace Initiative, the Carter Center in Washington, DC, the St Egidio Community in Rome, and Peoples of Peace, Nairobi.

Church voices

Enock Tombe, secretary general of the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC)

We all need justice, we all need peace and we all fear God. Besides this, SCC has been working since 1994 in peace advocacy. […] That is why we now have the Sudan Ecumenical Forum (SEF), where we meet with our partners. SCC used to be alone; now we have the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC). We have to do this peace advocacy together.
In 1996, we issued a joint paper called "Together we remain in action for peace". The churches themselves are saying that, despite the divisions, they are going to work together for peace. [...] We also want the parties involved to end the conflict in a non-violent way instead of fighting. No party can win this war, since it has lasted such a long time.
With regard to SCC's plans when peace comes, we are very clear: a document entitled "Post-conflict reconstruction and development of Southern Sudan" was prepared after the Abuja peace talks in 1992. [...] If a peace agreement is signed, the SCC focus may change to emphasize relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction during the first few years of the agreement. And of course, that doesn't mean peace is achieved, since real peace comes after a referendum, when people vote for either unity or secession.

Rev Dr Haruun L. Ruun, executive secretary, New Sudan Council of Churches

The Sudanese people have paid dearly with their blood in this war. It is therefore high time that they should reap the benefits of peace and tranquility in their lifetime. May the grace of God almighty be upon the peace negotiators, so that as they discuss peace, they should put humanity first before anything else.

Justice Africa in its March, 2003 briefing on the peace process:

The chance of an agreement in the second quarter of this year hangs in the balance, with further brinkmanship on the three marginalized areas and more cease-fire violations. There are further uncertainties brought about by the probable US war on Iraq. There are strong forces in Khartoum in favour of peace, and President Bashir made a strongly optimistic speech in Paris late February. There is a lack of awareness among the civilian grassroots and the parties rank-and-file about the steps towards agreement.
The main IGAD peace talks are due to resume on 22 March following discussion on the three marginalized areas. But the failure thus far of the discussions on the marginalized areas may disrupt this schedule. Progress on the marginalized areas and the following round will be critical to the chances of peace, not least because the US administration needs to report to its Congressional critics in accordance with the Sudan Peace Act.

Arise newsletter, January 2003 editorial

The growing role of civil society means that people-to-people peace-making is taking precedence over the other peace moves. Women's peace efforts have focussed on grassroots peace-building, which doesn't often make headlines anywhere. Thus, because their work largely goes unreported, they appear to have achieved nothing. But if we give visibility to some of the little things that are happening in our localities, we will realize how much we owe women for the "peace" we live. [...] In effect women are deconstructing our mindsets from war to peace.[...]Should Machakos [the peace talks] bring about peace with justice in Sudan, shall we not promote the role of women so that it becomes a permanent peace? [...] Planning should be gender-sensitive, women should be placed in decision-making positions, and above all, placed at the heart of all post-war reconciliation programmes.

Links on Healing and Reconciliation

WCC press releases on Sudan (2003-2005)

  • 18 January 2005: WCC salutes Sudan's peace agreement and proposes steps for reconstruction
    Calling it a "significant event in contemporary Africa," World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia hailed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed on 9 January 2005 by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SLPA/SPLM). Read more...
  • 2 December 2004: "We deserve to live a life in dignity". Sudan's women struggling against violence in a war-torn country
    "Where is God? He created us in his image. Why then is the image of God violated in women?" wonders Joy Kwaje, a Christian woman from Sudan, a country that "has been at war for three generations" and where violence is an existential issue for the women. "We want people to hear the cry of pain of the women of Sudan," she says. read more...

  • 26 August 2004: WCC executive committee calls for international peace-keeping force and investigation of war crimes in Darfur
    The WCC executive committee meeting in Seoul from 24-27 August has deplored the ongoing humanitarian disaster and forced displacement of civilians in Western Sudan, and has urged the African Union and the United Nations to provide for an international peace-keeping force, the investigation of war crimes, and the full deployment of independent observers to monitor the ceasefire and human rights in the region. read more...
  • 9 August 2004: Peace is at the gate, say Sudanese women - WCC-AACC Women's solidarity visit to Khartoum, Sudan
    "Peace is coming. We will be able to go back home." This hope was voiced again and again by the internally displaced women we visited in camps and church communities in Khartoum and nearby Medani. It is this voice of hope that sustains the church and the people of Sudan as they wait eagerly for lasting peace. read more...
  • 28 May 2004: WCC general secretary praises Sudan's peace agreement
    Calling the recent peace agreement "an important step towards national reconciliation and healing" and "a turning point for the people of Sudan", the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia congratulated the parties involved and voiced the "joy and happiness" of the WCC member churches "on this momentous and historic occasion of the signing of the peace protocols, after 21 years of bitter conflict". Click here for more information.
  • 19 May 2004 : WCC urges Sudan government to end hostilities and human rights violations in Darfur
    Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary, commented today on the situation in Sudan's Darfur region:
    "We have urged the president of Sudan to work for an immediate end to hostilities and to take steps to resolve the conflict through a negotiated settlement so that much needed humanitarian relief is able to reach those in desperate need of such assistance.
    "We also urged the president to take steps to put an end to human rights violations in the region and to ensure that those guilty of committing acts of violence and human rights abuses are brought to justice."
    Click here for more information.
  • 26 April - 9 May 2004 : Photo exhibit displays Sudan struggle
    The WCC will host a photo exhibit marking the daily lives and conflicts faced by the people driven from Sudan's oil-rich and war-torn Western Upper Nile. The exhibit, which originally opened in London's St Paul's Cathedral in May 2003, was created by Danish writer and photographer Nicholas Strand and Italian architect and set-designer Luca Ruzza and produced by DanChurch Aid. It will be on public display at the Ecumenical Centre, 150 Route de Ferney from 26 April to 9 May 2004; viewing hours 8h30-17h00, Monday-Friday. An opening ceremony will take place Monday, 26 April. All are welcome.

    For more information about this travelling exhibit:
  • 17-20 February 2004 : Executive Committee meeting : Minute on Sudan
    The Executive Committee meeting in Geneva February 2004 welcomed the progress made by the Peace Process in Sudan and appreciated the work done by the Sudan Ecumenical Forum in support thereof. It however, noted with concern that some intricate issues like sharing of political power, integration of armed forces of government of Sudan and Sudan People's Liberation Movement, and application of Sharia law, given the provisions of the Machakos Protocol, still need to be addressed. Also, the status of the so-called "marginalised areas" - the Nuba Mountains, Southern Blue Nile, and Abyei need to be resolved soon to prevent the situation from becoming an obstacle in search of just and lasting peace. The recent reports of international agencies not being able to deliver much needed aid and assistance to people of Darfur are greatly disturbing. The situation in this area is troubling and explosive. There is a risk that if the fighting continue between the Government of Sudan and the two rebel groups, the whole peace process may be jeopardised. Click here for more information.
  • 14 November 2003 : Following long civil war, hope for peace is growing in Sudan
    Following decades of violence and civil war in the Sudan, peace may be just around the corner, according to panelists who spoke at a 12 November public forum entitled "Peace in Sudan" during the World Council of Churches (WCC) International Affairs and Advocacy Week in New York.
    "I do believe that the Sudan is positively heading towards a peace which is not likely to be reversed," said Dr Francis Deng, director of the Centre for Displacement Studies, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, USA. "Significant progress is being made and we are heading in the right direction," he said.
    Deng said that his assessment was tempered by his own experience in the Sudan, and by the long history of conflict that has plagued the east African nation. "My vision for a peaceful Sudan is not based on blind expectations," he claimed. Click here for more information