Sunday 31 July 2017

Yesterday the Archbishop of Canterbury led the four hour service that inaugurated the new (39th) Province of Sudan. Packed, joyful, chaotic (in the best and most enjoyable sense), it also saw the wonderful Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo installed as the first Primate of the new province. There are loads of photos and videos on Twitter, but I simply post here a photo I took – possibly the worst ever taken of an Archbishop of Canterbury at work.

Although the Inauguration was the primary reason for coming to Sudan, we did a lot of other stuff. We started off staying with the UK Ambassador who, despite being an excellent ambassador, turns out disappointingly to be an Arsenal fan. However, he is a fluent Arabic speaker, so the odd weirdness is forgivable.

The four-day trip also saw us flying down to Kadugli in South Kordofan on Saturday after only two hours sleep. With a serious security accompaniment into town, we met with the Governor before engaging with religious leaders about the realities behind the rhetoric of religious harmony. Two things emerged: (a) Christians and Muslims really do live side by side here, despite the recent history of violence and civil war – which is not to do with religious identity, but with ethnic and political claims; (b) Sudan has been remarkably generous in welcoming refugees from South Sudan and (in Kadugli) from the Nuba Mountains regardless of religious identity. Discussions were frank and informative.

This set the tone for what followed. Having returned to Khartoum in the evening, we got some sleep ahead of the great Inauguration on Sunday which was attended by government and Muslim leaders.

Sunday, however, did not only see loud and lively worship (visually obscured by unrestrained media and security men). In the early evening a small group of us went to visit the President of Sudan. We spent just under an hour in respectful but frank conversation about Sudan, its international reputation, the challenges faced by Christian churches, and other matters. It was good-humoured, but open. The demolition of churches was just one of the issues addressed, but so was the challenge to Sudan of continuing US sanctions.

So far, so interesting. And the Archbishop demonstrated both stamina and diplomacy in a succession of demanding engagements. Even the celebration dinner at a Khartoum hotel meant talking relentlessly to a wide range of people. It was all hugely enjoyable.

So, today continued the rounds. A Sudan roundtable meeting this morning raised questions about how the new Province should be supported – and how that support should be prioritised and coordinated – by external partner dioceses and agencies. I had to leave with Archbishop Ezekiel after two hours as we had to join the Archbishop of Canterbury’s group at a series of meetings with government ministers.

At each of these meetings – with the Governor of Khartoum State, then the Foreign Minister, and finally with the Minister of Guidance and Endowment (religious affairs) – the Archbishop raised matters of concern alongside discussing wider political and economic issues. It was both wide-ranging and focused, and questions of religious discrimination, demolition of churches, freedom of religion, etc. were all discussed honestly and respectfully.

The trip basically concluded with a dinner laid on by the UK ambassador at his residence. A number of ambassadors and diplomats joined in a serious discussion about Sudan, its challenges and gifts, and its potential futures. A big question haunting most conversations during the trip emerged again: the need for the United States to lift sanctions against Sudan on 12 October. The UK Government supports this, believing the three-month extension from 12 July must be the last. Interestingly, it wasn’t just the economic cost (or political pressure) that dominated the discussion; rather, it was the potential loss of hope by ordinary Sudanese that would prove most damaging. Of course, it is easier to measure economic impact than psycho-social despair.

This probably doesn’t read as very exciting. I write it mainly in order to keep a record of it. But, I also need to demonstrate that the agenda of the Church runs wider than the issues it is normally associated with in the media. Poverty, reconciliation, economics and politics go to the heart of the Christian gospel, and there can be no abstract discussion of such matters without an intelligent, informed, questioning and serious engagement with the people involved – both the powerless and the powerful.

The Archbishop moves on to Uganda tomorrow morning. I return to the UK on Wednesday, flying out of Khartoum late tomorrow night.

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On Sunday the new Province of Sudan will be inaugurated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Khartoum. This brings the total of autonomous provinces in the Anglican Communion to 39.

The Diocese of Leeds has had a partnership link with Sudan for nearly forty years, and Archbishop Ezekiel Kondo was over with us in Leeds in March/April this year. That’s why I am going.

The reason for the creation of the new Province is this. The Episcopal Church of Sudan covered the whole of the original country. When South Sudan separated just a few years ago (2011), the single Church eventually created an internal province for Sudan. What is happening on Sunday is the natural (and necessary) consequence of the creation of separate countries.

Given Sudan’s drive to have one nation, one faith and one language – Sudan, Islam and Arabic – and to guard its own integrity over against the seceded South Sudan, relations between church and state might actually become clearer and better: a church for Sudan.

More anon. We leave Heathrow soon.

When Sudan went to the referendum polls last year, it seemed that partition was the only way this divided nation could move forward in relative peace. I look back and accuse myself of both ignorance and romanticism.

It looks obvious on paper. The Muslim north could live with their own integrity and a new nation of Southern Sudan would be shaped by it’s Christian character. That would clear it up, wouldn’t it?

Well, no, actually.

As we know, not from media reports alone, but also from personal contacts on the ground in the communities affected, what has been unleashed in the north (South Kordofan) amounts to ethnic cleansing or genocide – choose your own word. Bashir has already reneged on the agreements reached with mediators recently and seems unabashed about declaring open war on those in the north who aren’t ‘his people’. Conflict seems not only frighteningly likely, but also enthusiastically wanted by the Bashir government.

This is serious. And it isn’t just about conflict between north and south. The Nubans, who comprise Muslims, Christians and others, are being wiped out on purely ethnic grounds – northerners being attacked militarily because they refuse to move south where they have never lived.

The Episcopal Church of Sudan wants to remain a single church after partition. Given the ‘cleansing’ going on in the north, this is going to pose formidable challenges.

The General Synod will see a video during Evening Prayer tomorrow (Saturday 9 July) in which Archbishop Daniel Deng pleads with great urgency and dignity for intervention now in order to avoid genocide that otherwise looks inevitable. The Archbishop of Canterbury will ask the Synod to endorse his strong appeal to the British Foreign Secretary to act on behalf of Sudan now.

The celebration of independence in the south should not hide the cost of such independence in the north.

This stuff even puts the News of the World stuff into perspective. It also demonstrates why (a) democracy should never be taken for granted and (b) why journalists who get news out of places like this deserve massive respect.

Pray for the people of Sudan.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:York

The momentum on Northern Sudan is growing at last. This week (among other  things) the following have been said or done:

The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said:

I remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect civilians and call on all parties to cease hostilities immediately… I am deeply concerned at the continuing violence in the Abyei and Southern Kordofan regions of Sudan. Reports of ongoing attacks on civilians and aerial bombardments are shocking and I condemn all such actions.  Equally disturbing is the denial of access to humanitarian agencies. It is essential that these agencies are allowed to provide assistance to the thousands of people affected by the recent violence. I remind the Government of Sudan of their obligation to protect civilians and call on all parties to cease hostilities immediately.

The talks ongoing in Addis Ababa, facilitated by the AU High Level Implementation Panel, present an opportunity for all parties to deliver the peace that their people deserve. To squander this opportunity would put in danger the achievements of the last five years and further increase the suffering of civilians in Abyei and Southern Kordofan.  I strongly urge all parties to work together to seek an early peaceful solution.

The Archbishop of Sudan, Daniel Deng issued a statement which included:

Without a doubt then, the most worrying aspect of this recent conflict is the way in which fighting that originated between the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) has now transformed into what can only be described as a deliberate strategy to rid Kadugli of its indigenous African and Christian population by the SAF, in short a policy of ethnic cleansing. This is not the first time a government policy of ethnic cleansing has been applied in Sudan; the genocide in Western Darfur is very well known. Moreover, activities of a similar nature occurred just a few weeks ago when the Dinka Ngok, indigenous to Abyei, were slaughtered and displaced from their homes within Abyei Town in mass numbers.

We categorically condemn the use of force by the Government of Sudan towards its own people. We condemn the use of aerial bombardments on civilians and the arbitrary arrest of citizens in Southern Kordofan. No one is willing to return to war, therefore, we insist that the Government of Sudan releases those who have been arbitrarily arrested and return to the negotiating table with the Government of South Sudan on its consultation framework.

We appeal to the international community, particularly the signatories of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, to unite and do everything in their power to intervene quickly to stop the fighting and the killing of innocent people, and to protect those residents of Southern Kordofan and Abyei who are Christian and African and, as a result, are suffering persecution. Genocide is highly likely without international mediation. Therefore, we implore you all, especially the Troika (the United States of America, The United Kingdom and Norway), the African Union and the United Nations to endeavour to prevent genocide and the deliberate killing of certain groups by others before it is too late.

We appeal to both indigenous and international Non-Government Organisations who can assist with aid and relief to coordinate their efforts and work together with local and trusted organisations such as the churches, to address the physical needs of the sick and needy in Southern Kordofan. The ECS is ready to facilitate in the distribution of medicines, food and non-food items using our extensive network in Southern Kordofan and Abyei. We request for food and-non-items as well as donations to support their purchase. We strongly urge the United Nations Mission In Sudan and NGOs within Sudan to make use of the ECS as a well-placed partner to help with efficient distribution of relief items.

Finally, we appeal to members of the Anglican Communion around the world and those of other denominations to intercede on our behalf to Almighty God so that the people of Southern Kordofan and Abyei may be delivered from this trauma and distress.

As the Archbishop for all of Sudan, I write this statement with great sorrow and commiseration for my brothers and sisters in Southern Kordofan. Despite the country’s divide, the clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan believe they serve a living God unimpeded by political boundaries. We strive to remain one church, united in the Body of Christ and steadfast in the midst of this current tribulation.

Questions have also been asked in Parliament and answers can be found in Hansard.

The Diocese of Bradford is sending someone out this week who knows the territory and will bring back to us first-hand news and experience. So far the diocese has raised over £6,000 from our appeal.

South Kordofan must not be allowed to become another Darfur.