Sudan's stability, future central to American Friends' gathering

April 15, 2007

Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), ending the atrocities in Darfur, and building infrastructure in the war-torn country were priorities emphasized at the third annual gathering of the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (AFRECS).

 

Meeting at Christ Church Cathedral April 13-15 in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, the 100 or so participants included Sudanese bishops and members of the Lost Boys of Sudan program that has resettled more than 4,000 refugees in the United States.

Guest speakers included Andrew Natsios, the President's special envoy to Sudan; Brian D'Silva, USAID senior advisor on Sudan programs; John Prendergast, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group; and Canon Margaret Larom, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Anglican and Global Relations.

"All of us are heirs of the missionaries," Missouri Bishop George Wayne Smith said in welcoming the participants to his diocese, which has a companion relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Lui in Sudan.

"In recent years God has given us to one another," said Smith. "The relationship with our brothers and sisters in the Lui diocese has been a tremendous gift."

Founded in 2005, AFRECS describes itself as "an organization of U.S. churches, non-governmental organizations, and individuals who care deeply about the struggles of the Sudanese people."

A country's freedom

Sudan's 20-year civil war claimed more than 2 million lives and displaced more than 7 million people, according to recent United Nations statistics.

In July 2002, the two warring parties -- the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) -- signed an agreement known as the Machakos Peace Protocol, stating that "a peaceful and just resolution based on the unity of the Sudan is [their] common objective, and that a military solution is neither viable nor desirable."

This was further bolstered in January 2004 when another agreement stipulated conditions of wealth sharing, and in January 2005 a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, agreeing to a permanent ceasefire.

Despite the peace process, a separate conflict lingers in the Darfur region of southern Sudan where Arab militias, known as Janjaweed, casually attack civilians and refugee camps.

Sudan Bishop Bullen Dolli of the Episcopal Diocese of Lui told Episcopal News Service April 14 that he is grateful for the "great love" that AFRECS has shown to the Episcopal Church in Sudan (ECS). "There is a unity in this gathering and if we continue in this spirit we will enjoy the freedom of our country," said Dolli, who also serves as ECS' development officer.

The annual gathering provides a good opportunity for mutual support and networking, said AFRECS executive director Nancy Frank, who has visited Sudan four times.

Frank's interest in Sudan began in 1998 when she became impassioned with the Sudanese refugees who were visiting her congregation at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester, New York. She describes her work with AFRECS as "a marvelous mix of helping people in need, understanding a different culture and experiencing the faith."

"It is the faith part that is the most captivating. There is nothing like being in Sudan and worshiping with six or seven thousand fellow brother and sister Episcopalians," she said. "It has strengthened my faith and I have grown. I'm a lifetime Episcopalian, but the faith has come alive through this work."

Throughout the coming year, Frank hopes that AFRECS members will be more intentional about letting the "pockets" of the US know that the province of Sudan is in great need of financial support. She would also like to see the organization forge a closer working relationship with the UK-based Sudan Church Association, whose chairman, the Venerable Michael Paget-Wilkes, attended the St. Louis meeting.

'People of hope'

Larom, who with her husband served as a missionary in Uganda from 1981-85, delivered the conference's opening address April 13. She described her missionary years as "probably some of the happiest in our lives."

Larom has visited Sudan twice, once in December 1984 and again in March 1998. During her last visit, she spent five days living in the infamous Kakuma refugee camp in northeastern Kenya, an experience she says she'll never forget. The camp serves more than 70,000 refugees from neighboring countries, including Sudan.

Larom said that the Episcopal Church owes a debt of gratitude to the leaders of ECS for visiting the US. "The very fact that they have come at these times is noteworthy," she said, citing some of the tensions in the Anglican Communion regarding human sexuality issues and noting that some Anglican archbishops have forbid their bishops to visit the US.

"The Anglican Communion survives under the strain of relationships," she said. "And you, as a network and a group that has friendship as your mandate, signify the limitless importance of reaching out in love to each other with respect."

Larom offered thanks to ECS for accepting funding from the Episcopal Church since some Anglican provinces have refused financial assistance in the past three years. "We are learning a lot in these days about what it is to give and receive and have gifts rejected and have doors and windows closed where they were once opened," she said. "That is why our relationship with Sudan is so precious ... The fact that Sudan and the Episcopal Church can work together for the sake of God's people at this time is a true gift and privilege for us here."

But, Larom continued, "mission takes a lot more than money. It takes hands, it takes hearts, it takes body, mind and soul. Mission takes blood and sweat and tears. Mission takes intelligence, shrewdness, creativity ... Most of all mission takes love and hope."

Love and hope conquer all, Larom added. "We couldn't live without hope. People in Uganda taught me about hope. People in Sudan taught me about hope."

While in Africa, Larom said she was amazed to witness people in the most desperate situations saying that God had not abandoned them.

She noted that throughout the AFRECS conference, participants would hear horrific stories about Sudan, but asked people not to get discouraged, "partly because we are people of hope."

Speaking about the Towards Effective Anglican Mission conference that drew more than 400 Anglicans to Boksburg, South Africa in March to focus on the church's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, Larom said participants spent eight days listening to horrifying statistics about disease, poverty, war and disaster.

"In some ways it was truly terrifying to listen to the litany of horrors, yet those days were so inspiring because of the people in the room," she said. "Four hundred people absolutely determined not to give up, absolutely convinced that we could do something."

She recalled a large banner in the main hall that read: Anglicans United in Hope. "It was the people of God saying: we can do it. Nothing will turn us away from serving the people of God."

Larom told the AFRECS gathering not to forget the gift of hope. "It's our job here, those of us who are safe, well fed, have every resource we could possibly need ... have freedom of speech, worship," she said. "It's up to us to go the extra mile and then again and again on behalf of our friends in Sudan and the Diaspora, so thank you for everything you have done so far. The gifts you have given make a difference."

President's envoy

In his address about the political and diplomatic aspects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Natsios said the West often sees the political situation in Sudan in too simplistic terms, adding that the people of southern Sudan are not very receptive to being told what is best for them. "They are very careful in the south and shrewd about what is needed," he said.

Referring to the Black Book, authored by Sudanese rebels to identify a pattern of political control by people in the north of the country and document the imbalance of power and wealth, Natsios said, "Everyone knows that a little group has controlled the country for too long."

He said that Sudan's president, Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir, acknowledged recently that he may be the last Muslim and Arab president in the country as a result of the Black Book. "The government realizes they are under severe stress internally; they know their neighbors are fed up with them, as well as the rest of the world," he said. "Even the Arab states are quietly telling them they are an embarrassment and even Al Qaeda admits crimes were committed in Darfur and that people need to be brought to justice. So they are under severe stress."

Natsios said that the provisions of the CPA -- in particular the border demarcation, the census and the election -- are not being implemented because they would be destabilizing to the government. "If you are holding onto power by a thread you will not take risks," he said.

The Sudanese government constantly makes agreements but they don't keep them, he said. "Pieces of paper are useless; the only thing that counts is action. So we won't announce the agreements anymore. We don't give them credit until they have done what they agree to."

He identified a recurring strategy of the Sudanese government in order for them to retain power. It includes forcing displacement, paying one tribe to fight another tribe, and arming Arab militias and turning them against African tribes, he said.

"We are seeing exactly the same strategy being used in Darfur as was used between the north and south," he said.

The church has been the most important element of dissolving the tensions in the south, he said, because it is not based on ethnicity. "There has been a massive Christianization in southern Sudan. The priests and the pastors are the ones who are saying 'no more tribal fighting.'"

Natsios said that the institutions of governance in southern Sudan are very new and that building schools, for example, is not enough. "You need properly trained teachers," with regularized traditions and customs to make sure grades are passed and in good time, he said, noting that it is unrealistic to expect institutions to be developed in three years. "It took us 300 years in the US," he said. "It's going to take a few years to develop this.

"Do not confuse the building with the institution," he added. "The southern systems are fragile and new. The most common problem in the developing world after civil war is high expectations and little results."

Rebuilding lives

With a population of 30 million, Sudan claims 597 tribes and subtribes and more than 115 languages are spoken in the country that is 1 million square miles -- larger than Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda combined.

Pauline Walker, the Church Mission Society's regional manager for East Africa, projected images of Sudan and presented an overview of the country and its current challenges. "It is a country surrounded by conflict," she said, noting that Sudan borders nine other countries, some of which are at war.

Landmines are prevalent, roads and infrastructure are missing, clean water is a rarity, guns are everywhere and many churches are in ruins, she explained.

"Sudan is rich in resources but they are not being utilized," she said. "Many former school buildings are in ruins. Some don't have schools and often pupils meet under trees."

People look to the church for leadership, yet 80 percent of the pastors have no training. "The church plays a huge role in transforming the outlook of people and rebuilding lives," she said.

Juba roundtable

In a panel discussion, AFRECS participants heard from representatives who had attended the Juba roundtable in November 2006.

The Venerable Michael Paget-Wilkes, from the Diocese of Coventry in England, explained that one of the key things that emerged from the roundtable was partners agreeing to work with ECS in order to develop its potential for a sustainable future.

"We looked at how to enable and equip the church to be the church," he said. "It's to do with mission, evangelism, service, ecumenical relationships, building up civil society. It's a very wholesome thing. How can we undergird this work?"

Sustainability runs at three levels, he said: parochial, diocesan and provincial. He noted that at the parochial level the church is effective. "There may only be a tree under which to meet, but the worship and faith is happening and is vibrant and is impacting the lives of the people," he said.

The structure of the dioceses is also reasonably sustainable, he said. "Not every diocese has money or an administration. Sometimes the bishop does not have an office or a telephone. But the diocese gets funded constructively from partners."

The increased difficulties, he said, come at the provincial level, because the archbishop is called to lead the province and have an overarching responsibility for the dioceses and bishops. "The province doesn't have the funds to enable him to do its work," he said. The Juba roundtable agreed that the archbishop needs to be better equipped and resourced and the province needs funding to pay arrears of bills and staff who have not been compensated for their work.

"We need to upgrade the quality of the finance department," he said, suggesting that financial expertise and advice is much needed in the province so that the fiscal administration can work effectively.

The province also needs to increase its internal and external revenue streams and explore ways to use its land and buildings more effectively. "The amount received from partners' contributions is nothing like enough," he said. "The development of the province is constrained by the fact that there is not enough funding."

Dolli said that the roundtable is bearing fruits in some areas, such as the implementation of workshops for capacity building. "We are trying to revive," he said, "but we need to encourage stewardship. Most of all we need your prayers and support."

Mama Darias Kwaje, ECS' provincial Mothers' Union coordinator, shared encouraging examples of interfaith relations. "We don't just train Mothers' Union members, but also the community," she said. "We come together with our Muslim sisters because we want reconciliation. We want to be together with them."

She described three successful workshops that brought together Christian and Muslim women in Juba. "We came to the conclusion that we should not be fighting among ourselves," she said. "As women we have to handle things together to overcome all of our problems."

Bishop Peter Amidi of the Diocese of Lainya said that an important outcome of the Juba roundtable was identifying the need for a commission that would oversee the financial aspects of ECS to support mission and evangelism. "We are discussing financial policies to ensure the work of the province can be carried out," he said. "How can we take what God has given us? How can we make use of what is available?"

Amidi also acknowledged the need for the church to identify its land and properties. "During the war, most of the dioceses have lost their property title deeds ... We need to see how, with the local and national government, we can establish those records once again."

Increased stability

D'Silva spoke about the socio-economic aspects of implementing and preserving the CPA. He opened and closed his presentation by showing a video of Dr. John Garang, former leader of the SPLA and former vice president of Sudan, speaking about his vision for the peace agreement in an address to the Economic Governance Workshop in 1999.

Garang, considered instrumental in ending Sudan's civil war, died in July 2005 in a helicopter crash.

D'Silva explained that kick-starting the economy in Sudan would largely rely on increased stability, money, improvements in infrastructure, and providing mobility to the population.

"The transition to peace and economic development requires setting up structures of governance and establishing the capacity within the civil service and training the SPLA to become governors of Sudan," he said.

He identified some of the programs and projects that have helped to rebuild infrastructure and stimulate the economy since the 1990s, including providing grants to community groups and the rehabilitation of road linkages. "Roads have stimulated commercial activity and self-sufficiency," he said.

Ending genocide

Human rights activist Prendergast spoke passionately about the genocide in Darfur, which he said has claimed at least 200,000 lives and perhaps as many as half a million.

An adviser to the White House and the State Department from 1996-2001, Prendergast is currently a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, whose mission is to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts throughout the world. He has authored or co-authored seven books on Africa.

Prendergast told a chilling story about a Sudanese woman who ran carrying her four children to escape militiamen. "One horseman caught up with her and pulled her two-year-old child from her arms and threw him into a burning hut," he said. "She could hear him screaming for her from inside. She carried on running and her seven-year-old was dragged from her arms and shot dead instantly."

Prendergast recalled that the last time he saw her she said: you must do something. "She didn't mean me specifically; she meant us, us who care. It's our responsibility to protect her," he said. "Sadly we have no idea and probably never will about how many people have perished in Sudan since the 1980s -- perhaps 2.7 million people or more."

"We do somewhat know the number of people rendered homeless," he added. "Roughly seven million displaced people."

Calling it "draining the pool to catch the fish," he said that the tactics used in Darfur are the same as in the war in southern Sudan -- using militias to divide and destroy. "This has worked in some instances throughout history, but it didn't work in southern Sudan, largely because of Dr. John [Garang]," he said. "The regime in Khartoum is trying to maintain power by any means possible. It cannot maintain power democratically; it has to use force. It has been willing to commit genocide and enforce slavery. Now it is willing to commit genocide again in Darfur."

"They are getting away with it," he lamented, but noted that at times when significant international pressures have been imposed, their behavior has changed.

Prendergast insisted that Africa is full of hope and possibilities "contrary to the images we see on our screens."

"There is ample evidence for change of countries which were once at war and are now democratizing and growing economically," he said, using Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda as examples.

He identified peacemaking, protection and punishment as key to producing a positive outcome in Sudan.

"We need a whole battery of full-time diplomats working for peace and we need to deal with this preemptively," he said. "We also need to make the administration live up to its word and employ the CPA."

"Punishment -- we cannot have 18 years of a government committing these atrocities and no one pays the price for it," he added. "The Sudanese now know not to take us seriously when we say: if you don't change your behavior, we will do something about it."
He identified some strategies that might effect change in the government's tactics.

"Going after the Sudanese companies that are associated with these individuals and who become rich off this. This network has skyrocketed since oil started to become exploited," he said. "They are the same leaders who are responsible for the killing in Southern Sudan and the atrocities in Darfur. These companies are trading and doing business in Asia, Africa and Europe ... Spotlight them and say these people are war criminals."

"Go to international banks and say: if you want to continue to do business with Sudan you cannot do business with the US anymore," he added. "They might grumble a lot but they will choose the US over Sudan. We have the economic and political leverage to bring the government of Sudan to justice."

The US has not applied a pressure-based policy on the government of Sudan "because it cooperates on terrorism with the US and shares intelligence," he said. "Is it any surprise to you that the US is giving the Sudan government a free pass to do what it wants to do?"

"It's up to us to increase the noise," he said. "Join an organization, send letters as constituents. Call the White House; write to your local paper; contact the media. Make the wheels squeak as that is what will get the attention from our representatives. There will be no referendum or end to genocide unless the US takes the lead on this. We need to stop this government and this slaughterhouse it has created."

Several workshops were offered throughout the AFRECS meeting. The Rev. Robert Frankin, Archdeacon of the Missouri diocese, which is composed of 14,000 Episcopalians worshiping in 46 parishes, spoke in a workshop about mutual accountability as being critical to the companion diocese relationship with Lui.

Last year, the diocese facilitated the drilling of three wells in the region and Frankin helped install a satellite e-mail system.

"Phones and emails are wonderful things," he said, "but we build relationships shaking hands across the world ... We believe [this relationship] will be the lifeline of the Diocese of Missouri."

In his sermon at the closing Eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral April 15, Dolli spoke on the theme "Jesus is alive," noting that the resurrection is at the center of Christians' lives. "We have to be proud of our faith and share that faith with others," he said. "We in the Sudan are dead in war, but in spite of all this we are alive because our Lord has victory over the death."

Further information about AFRECS is available here.