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At the Sudan Church Leaders Conference

by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

02 April 2008

Juba, 2 April 2008

 

by Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia

General Secretary

World Council of Churches

I wish to start by expressing my pleasure that this ecumenical solidarity visit to Sudan has been successful. There are many who have contributed to the success, including the planners who worked in four different places: the local planning committee, one each in Khartoum and in Juba; the preparatory committees each in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Geneva, Switzerland. I wish to thank all those who were involved without necessarily mentioning them here by name, something we shall do at the very end of the next session. I wish also to express my appreciation to all the participants: the church leaders, the women leaders, the youth leaders, as well as all those who have participated in the seminars and eventually this conference. Our hosts have shown warm hospitality wherever we have gone. That was the case in Rumbek, in Yambio, in Darfur, in Khartoum and of course now here in Juba. I would also like to thank the government and civic leaders who have assisted and facilitated our visit in one way or another in all the places we have visited.

Normally, a keynote address is given at the start, not at the end of a conference. So, although on the programme I am scheduled to give a keynote speech, this is not going to be a classic or traditional keynote speech. Rather, it is my reflections which I hope will help us as we engage each other during this session and the next.

I.

 

First of all, I would like to outline the way the international ecumenical family has engaged the churches of Sudan. Over the years, there has been a really deep engagement led by the World Council of Churches (WCC), but also with the very strong participation of the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC). I start in 1972 with the very well known Addis Ababa Peace Agreement. This agreement was reached between the government of Sudan and Anyanya 1, the liberation movement which the people of Southern Sudan had initiated in order to try and bring about justice and the participation of all the people of Sudan. The Addis Ababa agreement was brokered by the WCC and the AACC. There is not very much that has been written about this agreement, and therefore there are many people who do not know much about it. I would like to refer to at least two publications which give a good account of the process leading to the signing of the Addis Ababa agreement. The first is Mediation of Civil Wars, by Isaias Asefa, and the other is a much more recent book, written by Abel Alyia on So Many Agreements Dishonoured. There could be other books, but at least these two give a full account of the process of the Addis Ababa agreement. It is thanks to that agreement that there was a lull of ten years of peace in Sudan during which time there was some measure of autonomy in Southern Sudan. But as we know, in 1983 the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) launched another liberation process through armed conflict.

1973 was an important milestone also because it was the year in which the WCC initiated and helped the formation of the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC). I am pleased to say that one of those who were sent by the WCC to participate in the process leading to the founding of the SCC is Harold Miller who is with us at this conference.

In 1990, there were the first peace talks between the two factions of the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement. This was after the Nasir action led by Riak Machal and Lam Akol which led to the split between what was then called mainstream SPLM/SPLA led by the late John Garang and what emerged as the SPLM/SPLA United led by Riak Machal. The churches in Kenya were approached by both the Sudan church leaders and the leadership of the two factions to try to bring about the unity of the two factions. I happened to be the one who chaired those peace talks which lasted for about half a year and were sponsored by the National Council of Churches of Kenya and the People for Peace of the Catholic Church in Kenya, with technical assistance given by the Nairobi Peace Initiative-Africa. Although we did not succeed in having the two factions fully united, there were some very important achievements, including the release of no less than 600 prisoners of war who had been held by the two factions, an agreement on the democratization of the movement part of SPLM/SPLA and the recognition of the ethnic leaders who would eventually be involved in helping to bring about future reconciliation, and finally that the churches would have a very big role in order to also monitor any human rights violations by the liberation movement.

In 1995, the WCC initiated and helped to form the Sudan Ecumenical Forum (SEF). The SEF was to become the main platform and framework through which the major ecumenical partners, now referred to basically as Specialized Ministries, would accompany the SCC and the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC). The basic ethos of the SEF was to have the Sudan churches occupy the centre of whatever was being done by the local and international ecumenical organizations, and that the Sudan churches, through the SCC and the NSCC, would determine the agenda of SEF. Caritas International has also been deeply involved in the SEF from its inception. Through the framework of the SEF, the Sudan churches, led by the NSCC and the SCC, embarked on a peace process which no doubt paved the way for the eventual signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), because through their involvement the churches created the atmosphere through the people-to-people grass-roots peace processes. I was pleased to hear from none other than the President of Southern Sudan, H.E. Salva Kiir, who told us that were it not for the churches, the CPA could not have been signed at the time it was. He clearly acknowledges the pivotal role of the churches of Sudan and the support of international ecumenical organizations, like the WCC and AACC.

Here I would like to list briefly what I consider as the milestones for the churches which led to the full-blown peace talks which eventually culminated in the signing of the CPA in Nairobi, Kenya.

  • 1996 was the year when the NSCC and the SCC through the SEF came up with the celebrated document "Here we stand united in action for peace". It is to be remembered that this was the document that spelt out in very clear terms what the churches saw as the vision for a new Sudan after the civil war. It also laid down a clear programme and indeed a project which had all the main ingredients of what it would take for the churches to contribute meaningfully to the peace processes in Sudan.

  • 1997 was the year of the first Kejiko Conference which took place at the Kejiko church in Yei. The Kejiko Conference is considered an important milestone because it was the first time that a platform was promoted to engage the SPLM/SPLA in a very frank and open way, challenging the ways in which some of the practices of the leadership of SPLM/SPLA were making it difficult for many people to participate in the peace talks.

  • 1999 was the year of the signing of the Wunlit Agreement. This was important because it was a truce between the Dinka and Nuer ethnic communities. In one sense what we had not achieved in 1990 in Nairobi through the peace talks I referred to earlier on, was pretty much achieved through the Wunlit Agreement. This means, therefore, that it took no less than eight years to have the two factions of SPLM/SPLA come together and begin to join forces in order to struggle together in the last laps of the process towards a peace agreement.

  • From 2000 to 2002, there were a number of strategic linkages conferences which were held in various localities in Southern Sudan as well as in Kisumu, Kenya, and Entebbe, Uganda. These conferences clearly prepared the churches to begin to be acknowledged as key players in what would eventually be the peace process leading to the signing of the CPA.

These are what I consider to have been the main milestones leading up to the signing of the CPA. Here I would want to make an observation before I continue. After the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement, the WCC and to a large extent also the AACC were criticized by the Sudan churches and people for abandoning them after the signing of the agreement and that the two ecumenical organizations were not involved in at least monitoring the implementation of the agreement. I think this is a fair criticism because it is true that, at least on our side as WCC, we were not that much involved in the monitoring of the implementation of the peace agreement.

II.

 

In the second part of my reflections, I would now like to look at the insights gained and lessons learned from our engagement in solidarity with the churches and people of Sudan in their liberation struggle.

One of the very first insights that I say we have gained is that clarity of vision is critical to the process for transformation. When the document "Here we stand united in action for peace" was formulated, it became not just a manifesto, but it was the equivalent of the Kairos document of the churches of South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle. The document henceforth became the master piece for the churches and the main reference point for the people of Southern Sudan in general. It indeed firmly anchored the SCC and NSCC in the ground from where they could henceforth not be swayed this way or the other way.

The second insight gained is that unity pays. Without unity, the Sudan churches under the SCC and NSCC could not have been as successful as they became in their contribution to the search for peace, justice and human rights in Southern Sudan and in Sudan in general. Of course, there were many obstacles and draw-backs of different types, sometimes even coming from the liberation movements themselves. There were times of tension as, for example, during the strategic linkages conferences as well as in other people-based peace initiatives of the churches. If they had not been united, it could have been very easy for both the government of Sudan and even the SPLM/SPLA to control what the churches were doing. The strength of the churches was clearly based on their unity.

The third insight has to do with the significance of solidarity and support. The international ecumenical partners played a very important role in their solidarity with the people and churches of Sudan. This reminds us of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In the case of Sudan, the SEF became an instrument that made it possible for the WCC and the Specialized Ministries to be involved not only in giving direct support to the SCC and NSCC, but in raising consciousness and awareness in Africa, Europe and North America. This was done especially through the focal points. The European focal point especially has been one of the most active platforms through which the churches and even governments, as well as the people of Europe were made to understand the nature of the struggle in Southern Sudan.

Then there is, of course, the humanitarian aid provided by the Specialized Ministries. Without such aid the churches and their councils in Sudan could clearly not have provided the kind of services that were required, both inside Sudan, particularly in what were called the liberated areas, but also in the Sudanese refugee camps in the neighbouring countries. The educational support was a very important component of the humanitarian aid. Many young Sudanese were able to go to school in the neighbouring countries, but also went for professional training in colleges and universities in Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Here it is important to mention other ecumenical instruments, such as the CEAS, as well as particular individual Specialized Ministries, like Norwegian Church Aid, who have been in Sudan for many, many years, spanning different stages of the liberation struggles.

The fourth insight has to do with the realization that the gospel is the greatest source of strength in whatever we do as churches and as Christians. There is no doubt that the liberation movements as well as other organizations in Sudan were sophisticated in their own ideologies and visions, but it was when we based our faith in the gospel and had a biblically based vision that we had a unique contribution to make, one that could not be easily compromised or absorbed in other people's visions and ideologies. The prophetic vision summarized by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 provided the guide for the ecumenical engagement. This could be considered also as an important lesson because there are many other struggles in which we will continue to be involved, and it shows that we have to be very clear in our vision and motivation for engagement.

The fifth insight is that the churches gained tremendous social capital in their involvement in the search for peace and justice. There is no doubt that more than any other organization the churches in Sudan were closest to the people. They knew the people, and the people knew them. The churches had the capacity to gage the pulse of the heartbeat of the community. This is part of what I see as social capital which the churches gained in their involvement in the struggle for peace, justice and human dignity. In many places in Southern Sudan the churches were the only organizations providing humanitarian aid and social services to the people. The government based in Khartoum had neglected the communities in the South, and of course the liberation movements were too busy fighting and were themselves resources-starved and so were not able to provide such services. It is the churches, it is the ecumenical organizations and a few organizations of the very limited civil society who catered for the needs of the people. With all this, therefore, the churches in Sudan endeared themselves very much to the people, and the people trusted them more than they trusted the government or any other organization.

The main lesson learned is that there is no quick fix when it comes to dealing with protracted problems, such as civil war. Once involved in addressing a protracted struggle, you immediately realize how complex that problem is, and staying the long haul becomes critical to the effectiveness of your involvement. It is also interesting that by being involved over a long period of time you begin to see that there are ambiguities in liberation movements that might not become apparent otherwise. It is to be remembered that more than once the churches in Sudan stepped in to stop the factions of the liberation movements from tearing each other apart. The liberation movements are led by people with political and other ambitions, and there are struggles within the liberation movements themselves. Therefore, the complexity of the kind of struggle that Sudan went through led particularly the SCC and NSCC as well as their ecumenical partners to discern the way forward in an equally complex way.

III.

 

In the third part of my reflections, I will look at the Sudanese churches and their relationships with the international ecumenical family. The insights gained and lessons learned which I have enumerated above should inform the relationship in times of relative peace, such as Sudan finds itself in today. The formation of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum was motivated by the desire to strengthen the capacity of the Sudanese churches so that they could play the role that was expected of them in the difficult times of the civil war in Sudan. But it is important for us to ask whether there are similarities to what is happening today when the Sudan Council of Churches is being criticized for lacking the capacity to do what it must do. When the WCC formed the SEF, it was in order that the churches of Sudan could find their own voice and not depend on others to be their voice. Of course at that point - in 1995 - the churches were not strong. They lacked capacity, and it would have been easy for others to step in and assume the role that clearly should have been reserved for the churches of Sudan. That is why the ethos of the SEF was discerned and over the years remained that of putting the churches at the centre of what the ecumenical family would do in Sudan. If the SCC lacks capacity, what we are challenged to do - just as what we did at the formation of the SEF - is to enable the churches to gain capacity, not to take over, although the temptation to do so is of course very great. Here we clearly need to revisit the whole idea of the ecumenical discipline which we all need to respect in order to have complementary roles to play when it comes to the current situation in Sudan.

All this is not to say, however, that the SCC and the Sudanese churches should just sit back and expect the rest of us to hand them anything they may ask of us - by no means. The churches of Sudan and the SCC should show that they have what it takes to do what is expected of them today. You, the churches of Sudan, and the SCC have to earn the confidence and trust of the rest of us in the ecumenical family. In this respect you have quite a way to go, I must admit. Of course this is not to unduly criticize the Council and the churches, but I would say that your predecessors, the SCC and NSCC, had to earn the confidence and trust of the rest of the ecumenical movement, and therefore this is also a factor in the partnership that needs to be developed and nurtured during what I call the CPA era in Sudan today.

I am referring to the issue of earning confidence and trust here because I must say that from the meetings we have had with the church leadership and the Council's leadership it is not immediately evident that you demonstrate that you have what it takes to provide insightful leadership in the country today. Following the merger of the two Councils, i.e. NSCC and SCC, you inevitably face new challenges. Any restructuring comes with a new set of problems. You have a new mandate, you have a new governance, you have advisory bodies and you have management of the Council. Add to that the programmes you are expected to put in place, and it becomes clear that you are faced with an enormous challenge here. We still have to find out to what extent the new governance in terms of the executive committee and the board of trustees have reflected on these new challenges. I know these remarks may sound rather harsh, but we have to be honest if we are going to have a meaningful engagement between the international ecumenical family and the Sudan churches and their Council of Churches.

Partnership necessarily involves vulnerability. You will have to be exposed to each other, and we as the international ecumenical family should be prepared to listen to and be challenged by you as to where we fall short of what is expected of us. Needless to say, there also has to be reciprocity on the part of the Sudanese churches and the Council of Churches. Let us continue to engage each other on this in a very honest way because I think it is healthy to do so, and it is through such a process that mutual trust and confidence will evolve.

I would like now to reflect very briefly on the fact that after all our involvement with regard to Sudan, as well as in other situations where we have had to show ecumenical solidarity as in the case of Southern Africa, the ecumenical movement as a whole has a lot of memory and experience. My concern is that this experience and memory has not been told. There is a whole area of ecumenical narrative that has as yet to be told. It is my very strong conviction that the ecumenical legacy in Africa is very rich and is a story to be told. Now, do we leave this to others? My answer is "no". We are the ones who are best placed to tell our own story, and here we will certainly need to be prepared to tell the story of the ecumenical engagement with Africa. Needless to say, if we do not tell it, there are many others who will be prepared to do so, either in dissertations for doctoral degrees in universities, or historians who of course are observers of the situation. But the perspective from which others tell such a story could be a way that might not be fully reflective of what exactly happened. There is no one better placed to tell this story than ourselves. And I hope that we will face this challenge following this ecumenical solidarity visit to Sudan.

I hope that we can in fact formulate this into a project, and on the part of the WCC I will ensure that we play our role. Since there have been many players in these endeavours I would expect that this kind of project will be a concerted effort of all those who have been involved especially within the framework of the Sudan Ecumenical Forum.

IV.

 

In the fourth part of my reflections, I would like to affirm the significance of Sudan, historically, geographically, politically and religiously. It is to be recognized that Sudan does have an ancient civilization which, although not very well known, goes back to the time of the Ethiopian and Egyptian civilizations. Christianity thrived in Sudan during the early centuries. As far back as the 6th century, Christianity had been planted in Sudan. Particularly of note is how Christianity thrived from the mid-6th century. This was very much to be accredited to the work of Julian who was a very active missionary in what at that time was the Nobatia region. Christianity had spread all the way to Assuan by the end of the 6th century. Cathedrals and churches had been built, and this was the case by the time Islam reached Egypt during the 7th century. By the time both Christianity and Islam reached Sudan, there were already well established kingdoms with rulers who were quite wealthy, and it was in most cases through them that the new religions - Christianity and Islam - were spread.

Without going into detail, it is quite correct to see Sudan as the point in Africa where Christianity meets Islam and where Arabs meet Black Africans. This is significant because while what is referred to as Africa south of the Sahara is basically Black Africa and predominantly Christian, Africa north of the Sudan could be considered as Arab Africa and predominantly Muslim. At a time when we are emphasizing our priority on interreligious dialogue, especially Christian-Muslim dialogue, Sudan could play a very important role. Sudan is also the first country to become independent from modern times colonialism. Although normally Ghana is referred to as the first country to gain political independence in 1957, Sudan actually attained independence already in 1956.

From the geographical point of view, again Sudan is very significant. It is a country that is strategically located, bordering nine African countries, but also spreading all the way to the Red Sea in which case one could say that it borders on the Gulf as well. Sudan is geographically the biggest country in Africa, although one wonders whether this will remain the case following the referendum in 2012. All this could change of course, but nevertheless it is the largest country in Africa, the size of Western Europe. Sudan could also be considered as frontline for Islam knowing, as we do, that there have been long-term grand plans for the Islamization of Africa using Sudan as springboard. It is therefore significant that when we talk of Christian-Muslim dialogue, we are not just talking of tolerance and cooperation, but of possible confrontation if such plans of Islamization of Africa southwards from Sudan were to become a real project. For all these reasons, Sudan could play a very special role here in helping the understanding of Islam and Christianity in Africa as well as understanding Arab Africa and Black Africa.

Politically speaking, Sudan is very pivotal for Africa. In many respects the success of Sudan will be the success of Africa. Today Sudan receives the greatest attention, especially because of the situation in Darfur. But it is also a country that has attracted a lot of attention because of the longest civil war in Africa before the signing of the CPA. The CPA provides a possibility through a referendum to come in three years' time of Sudan splitting into two countries, and that is of great political interest for African leaders. However, Sudan also is a place where we have a number of new types of conflicts happening all at once and on a large scale. The way Sudan will deal with these new types of conflicts is critical, not only for Sudan itself, but for Africa as a whole. Darfur, while it is very much in the news today, does not seem to be understood as the first major ecologically based conflict. It is to be expected that possibly there will be other such conflicts based on the fighting over resources, especially water and land, and so the way the Darfur issue is resolved could shed some light on how such conflicts will be dealt with in the rest of the continent.

The new types of conflicts I am referring to have to do with what is happening between Chad and Sudan, between the Central African Republic and Sudan, and in a different way, between Uganda and Sudan because of the Lord's Resistance Army which has been supported over many years by the Sudan government. Here we see the phenomenon of child soldiers and self-financing civil wars being replaced by new types of conflicts which are characterized by the proliferation of militia groups and the easy availability of weapons. The proliferation of militia groups seems to occur based on the belief that it is through such groups that power is gained, but also that the militia groups get rewarded because one has to deal with them and eventually make deals. This new development in conflicts in the region is likely to be copied elsewhere in the continent, and that is why it becomes so dangerous.

As a frontline of Islam, Sudan will continue to attract the Western world (Europe and America), but also Israel. This is because, as we know, Sudan at one point was very much the centre of recruitment and training of Al Qaida and therefore the fight against terrorism will obviously want to keep a very close eye on what happens in Sudan. Finally, the growing relationship between Sudan and China becomes significant here because it has implications for the way China is likely to relate to the rest of the African countries.

The religious significance of Sudan has a lot to do with what we have said above. At a time when we begin to see a major shift of the centre of gravity of Christianity from the North to the South, and at a time when there is obviously a decline of Christianity in Europe and North America, a lot of attention is paid to the growth of Christianity in Africa and what is generally referred to as Global South. With the transformation - socially, economically, politically - that Sudan is expected to go through we are likely to see this country becoming a fertile ground for enthusiastic charismatic groups which would want to undertake 21st century missionary endeavours. In fact, some such groups, especially from the USA, have already begun to "invade" Sudan. If, as it is expected, the democratic space in Sudan will expand, new opportunities will be created for many activities, including religious activities. Freedom of religion is expected not only to be guaranteed, but to be seen to be the case in new Sudan, and so will be the freedom of expression.

All these, of course, augur very well for the transformation of the country, but the question to ask is, "Are the churches of Sudan prepared for what might be an avalanche of missionary work in the country?" This might appear like an alarmist statement, but if one observes closely how non-denominational congregations have already been growing, particularly in Southern Sudan, one realizes that once the situation stabilizes even more and the democratic space, as I have mentioned, expands, there is a lot more that will happen in this regard. It is for this reason that I would say that the Sudan Council of Churches needs to provide leadership to the churches in the country to go through a discernment period where you look at the mission and calling of the church in Sudan today, including an important reflection on the role of the church and Christianity in the new Sudan.

V.

 

In the fifth part of my reflections, I would like to look at the challenge of the transition from the liberation process to nation-building. We cannot over-emphasize the fact that nation-building calls for a different ethos from that imbibed and practised in the liberation process. It also calls for different values because, again, the values that have been in place during the liberation process will not be exactly the same as those needed for nation-building. It is becoming increasingly clear in Africa that protracted struggles like civil wars - and Sudan has had one of the longest civil wars - disrupt the social order. During the discussions I have had in the last couple of days since coming to Sudan on this ecumenical solidarity visit, I have heard again and again that the social cohesion of the society has been very much disrupted. The values of some of the younger men who have been in the bush fighting for a number of years are completely different from those of the society generally. You have a whole generation that has not been brought up within an ordinary family situation. This means that it will be necessary to re-educate people as they are being rehabilitated and to instill the values and norms in society that are necessary to promote the new ways of life in the country.

Looking at the situation in Sudan today, when it comes to the transition period, one identifies the CPA as being at the centre of this transition. The CPA holds Sudan together in way that nothing else does. Without the CPA, Sudan would not be able to function as a nation state today. But this is only an interim situation. In fact, what the CPA has done is to reduce all institutions and instruments of government to an interim status. The unity government is interim, the arrangement of the government in the South is interim, and whatever is being done now is understood simply as a preparation for the referendum that will be coming, according to the CPA, within three years' time.

My observation is that the national unity government in Khartoum is not very keen to see the CPA succeed. There are many shortcomings that have been mentioned, including the lack of implementation of a number of protocols that were agreed within the CPA. That means, for the CPA to succeed, the government of Southern Sudan has an enormous responsibility. But we know that the GOSS itself is beset with other heavily pressing responsibilities of putting together a functioning government. Southern Sudan was neglected for many, many years; it has no institutions of civil society, no infrastructure to talk of. In fact, I understand that the first tarmac road in the whole of Southern Sudan is the one that has been constructed a couple of months ago, leading to the office of the President in down-town Juba - if indeed we can talk of Juba in terms of a down-town. This means the GOSS has a daunting task ahead of it, which in turn places a heavy burden on the shoulders of the Sudan churches and the Sudan Council of Churches. In fact, I would say that what you have is nothing less than a burden of history. This is because of, for example, the social capital we talked about earlier in my reflections, as well as the potential capacity the churches have in terms of social service delivery, humanitarian aid as well as mobilization of the people.

In the last three years the Sudanese churches have been giving top priority to the merger of SCC and NSCC, and of course this is as it should have been. Now the task of this merger has been completed, and I am pleased that as WCC we have facilitated this process quite significantly. Given that the churches had to do first things first, as it were, it is no surprise that not much attention has been paid by the churches to monitoring the implementation of the CPA. Much less, the churches of course have not participated in the implementation as such, but now it is timely for the SCC to step in in a really substantial way and do at least two things, in my understanding: (1) to monitor closely the implementation of the CPA, and (2) to facilitate the implementation process especially through a comprehensive civic education programme. I say this because, unless the Sudanese are well versed with what the CPA means for the country, for themselves and for the future, a great opportunity is missed of making people participants in what is obviously the most important instrument for the future of the country.

Here I wish to repeat what I said a couple of days ago in Khartoum when I addressed the leadership of the SCC, i.e. that the ecumenical movement in general and definitely the WCC is prepared to accompany the SCC and the churches in mobilizing or mounting a very ambitious comprehensive civic education programme around the CPA. My proposal is to come up with what, if you will, could be called a road map for the CPA for the next three years. For me this is crucial, and it is indeed as essential as it is urgent.

I see at least two aspects of such a programme: (1) This being the mid-term of the CPA, i.e. three years since the CPA was signed and another three years until the referendum, it is important to have a mid-term audit, look closely at what has worked and what has not worked and why. Here it is necessary to see who is to be held accountable for the lack of implementation of the CPA, and I think the churches are well placed to carry out such an exercise. (2) I would suggest that during this year a major consultation on the CPA should be organized. Obviously, the SCC will have a very important role to play in this, but I would also evoke the SEF which remains the most coherent ecumenical instrument through which many actors can cooperate. Again, as I said, we in the WCC are prepared to facilitate such a consultation because we need to have it if we are to be seen as churches and as ecumenical movement locally, regionally and globally to be doing something about the CPA, which will obviously determine the future of Sudan.

The idea of having a major consultation that brings together all those who participate within the framework of the SEF could be the main outcome of this ecumenical solidarity visit. In my view, what is needed is an urgent and concerted effort to save the CPA from suffering the fate of previous agreements which were dishonoured. Here I borrow the concept from Abel Alyia who I referred to earlier and whose book of the same title is important for us to re-read, because it seems what he feared in some sections of his book is now happening. It could be that the CPA will end up being dishonoured. In order for us to move forward in a concerted manner, then, I suggest that we consider proposing a tri-partite arrangement that would involve the government, the churches and the civil society. These need to work together because there is not any one particular organization or institution that by itself is able to do all that is necessary in order to ensure that the transition period which the country is going through will be successful.

Yesterday at the meeting between the Sudan church leaders, WCC and AACC, we identified other issues and challenges around which ecumenical solidarity is required. These issues and challenges will be presented at the closing session later this afternoon along with the findings and recommendations from the visit to the specific regions which preceded this church leaders conference.

Let me now reflect briefly on the church/state relationship, particularly in Southern Sudan. To me, it is ironical that the relationship of the SCC and of the churches in general with the GOSS leaves a lot to be desired. We have heard many complaints from the leadership of SCC that the Council is not being listened to by the government and that it has also become very difficult to actually access government leadership. After the history of the deep partnership in the peace process which I have articulated above, one would have expected a much better relationship between the churches and their Council and the government in Southern Sudan. I think it is extremely important that at the end of this visit a very clear message be sent by the SCC to the government of Southern Sudan, not least sharing with them what the international ecumenical family and the churches in Sudan are planning to do in order to contribute to the implementation of the CPA and the transition period. Quite honestly, I would have expected that there would be regular contacts between the SCC leadership and top government leadership as a matter of course. There is no doubt that during the last six to seven years the churches have engaged the SPLM at a very deep level. There have been strategic ways of working together, especially, as I mentioned earlier, in mobilizing the people to participate in and contribute to the resolution of the civil conflict.

I am well aware, of course, that now we are not talking about a liberation movement, but a well established government. Within the ecumenical family we have always insisted that there has to be a critical distance between the churches and their government. I am sure this obtains also as far as the churches in Sudan are concerned. However, the point at which you are historically requires a strategic relationship and partnership with the government. As in the case of the peace processes mentioned earlier, the churches and the government have complementary roles in many ways. I am quite convinced that a well articulated and argued programme of what the churches and their Council could do as a contribution to the transformation of the society will be well received by the government. Moreover, I feel that areas such as civic education, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing are themselves the domain of the churches, and the government could consider having important allies if the churches were to take the lead in this aspect of the transition period.

VI.

 

This leads me to my sixth and final reflection which I will do very briefly. It concerns the challenges to reconciliation and the healing of memories. I do not have to belabour the fact that healed and reconciled communities are a prerequisite to the fullness of life and life in dignity for all people of Sudan and especially Southern Sudan. The question we face here is how we as churches help in building healed and reconciled communities. After listening to many voices, church leaders, the SCC leadership, members of the civil society and government officials, I am left with the chilling feeling that this country sits on a social time bomb. The trauma is deep and so is the bitterness. The inflicted wounds cut very deep. These wounds have been inflicted by, if you will, brother upon brother, son upon father, and vice versa, ethnic group upon ethnic group. All these, one could say, are the consequences of a protracted civil war, but the fact is that the hatred, the bitterness, the pain are still there and one cannot wish them away or ignore them.

The churches are best placed to deal with such spiritual and social needs. If there is any clear niche for the churches in the transformation of society, then it is the way they help this country to develop healed and reconciled communities. Because without the country coming together again in a way that does not overlook the spiritual and social damage done by the civil war, the social transformation will be achieved only partially. Nation-building is not just a matter of political and economic development, it has a lot to do with the spiritual and social emancipation as well. We need to ask ourselves the question as Christians and as church leaders, how to recover the soul of the nation. This should clearly be at the centre of the churches' agenda in Sudan today. It should also include questions such as how to repair the distorted values, as we have mentioned above. I think it is once again pertinent for the Sudan churches and the SCC to take leadership in a journey of discernment towards articulating the concept of the Sudan we want and the Sudanese we want.

You have my best wishes in this crucial aspect of your mission and ministry, and my assurance of the full and deep solidarity of the World Council of Churches and, I believe, the ecumenical family in general. Thank you.