Religion & Politics

South Sudan needs hope, not just ‘life-support’

The Archbishop of Canterbury today welcomed the ecumenical delegation of the South Sudan Council of Churches, following their visit to Pope Francis in Rome

Bishops from South Sudan visited the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of November to share the plight of their country. The Pope may visit this new and troubled country next year.

But many are asking, what can the church do? South Sudan has probably the highest rate of Church attendance in the world. A South Sudanese source, who cannot be identified due to security concerns,  said recently that people go to church all the time since everyone is traumatized. This is indeed the response of the desperate. Meanwhile South Sudanese police and soldiers rape women with impunity and ask them why they cry afterwards.

“The concept of humanity does not exist,” he said.

Regrettably, the tragedy in South Sudan is kept going by money — both from the international agencies and from the forward sales of oil to the UK and US. Both President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riek Machar, who now opposes him, are illegitimate leaders.

Observers say that after the death of John Garang, who had inspired the vision for South Sudan, they hijacked the instruments of power to access this money. which is mainly used to pay government salaries, for teachers, soldiers and civil servants. Foreign money has created a dependency welfare culture that these illegitimate leaders exploit. This money keeps them in power and the west continues to deal with them as though they are leaders the people want and follow. They are not.

DfID are worried that, if they do not continue to provide some support, encourage dialogue between the two leaders, the Russians or Chinese will step into the void and the UK would lose influence. Other countries in the region have little appetite for change since the region benefits economically from the instability in South Sudan.

But, according to well-informed South Sudanese sources, the current leadership with which DfID has to deal cannot resolve the situation, so dialogue with and between them is unlikely to bring the radical change needed.

Further, the failed peace agreement between Kiir and Machar is no basis for the future. The international community is keeping it on life-support.

A UN arms embargo would do little to bring any change though it might save a few lives. A UN trusteeship of the country would not be acceptable to the South Sudanese who fought for independence and will not give it over to others. There might be some place for an external international ‘fixer’ as happened in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile 3,000 people a day leave South Sudan. Uganda is overrun by refugees. Support for refugees and Internally Displaced Persons to develop their own food resources is vitally important. It is also crucial to develop the next generation of leaders. Twenty five young South Sudanese leaders will meet in Nairobi on 9-10 January to kick off a three-year programme for developing leaders who can build the framework and institutions needed for a stable state.

The UK and US must stop propping up President Kiir through their funds and oil money and tell him to go. South Sudanese leaders regard the UK as having most influence here. An international fixer may have a role; the solution must be internal; a new generation of leaders must be trained to run a state and refugees and IDPs must be assisted.