Wednesday, December 1, 2010

084. Sudan: referendum soon and war looms

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 084 | Wed 01 Dec 2010


-- a necessarily longer informative posting

Voter registration commenced on 15 November for Sudan's Southern Self-Determination Referendum (SSDR) to be held on 9 January 2011. In this referendum Southerners, who are black African and mostly Christian, will vote either to remain part of a united Sudan or to secede and become an independent state. The SSDR is mandated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed by North and South on 9 January 2005. However, it was always the vision of Dr John Garang -- leader of the South Sudan-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) -- that free and fair elections (also mandated in the CPA) would oust the repressive and abusive Arab-Islamist regime in Khartoum and give Sudan's long-suffering, marginalised peoples a voice in a truly representative democracy that could make unity attractive. This, however, was always going to be the most difficult path, and after Dr Garang's untimely death, support for unity waned, exacerbated by the regime's belligerence and reluctance to implement the CPA. Ultimately unity has not been made attractive and sources estimate that more than 90 percent of Southerners will vote for secession, even though this could trigger a return to war according to most analysts.

After several postponements, elections were held in April 2010. While the regime worked to ensure that the elections would be irredeemably compromised, the SPLM managed to unite most opposition parties in an alliance called the 'National Consensus' whose presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, would pose a significant threat to President Omar el-Bashir. An Arab from the north, Yasir Arman has long been an SPLM/A member/fighter. He was also a close friend and aide to Dr John Garang. However, in the weeks prior to the elections, the SPLM leadership abandoned the 'National Consensus' and brokered a deal with the National Congress Party (NCP; formerly the National Islamic Front) of President Omar el-Bashir. The SPLM leadership agreed to withdraw their presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and support the presidency of Omar el-Bashir in exchange for guarantees of a peaceful referendum. They did this though el-Bashir -- a pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, pro-Arab Islamic hardliner -- has proved to be a liar, a traitor and an absolute master at 'divide and conquer'.

Numerous Christian groups are calling for prayer for a peaceful referendum, but that is only the start of what is required. Even if the referendum is held, it is virtually certain the NCP will reject the results and refuse to recognise an independent South Sudan. Eighty percent of Sudan's oil reserves are in the South and the oil pipelines run through the North to Port Sudan on the Red Sea. All efforts to establish post-referendum wealth-sharing arrangements have failed and no Western state can offer the North anything that would approach compensation for loss of oil revenue. Lacking leverage, the US is merely offering to reward Sudan if it co-operates by removing it from its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Meanwhile, Sudan's allies -- particularly Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran -- are all opposed to secession and are warning that the referendum may trigger war. Iran is ratcheting up its anti-Western, anti-Zionist, anti-'interference' rhetoric, saying that while Western-'Zionist' states would not tolerate secessionist referenda in their own countries, they have no qualms about destabilising and dividing states such as Sudan (Iran's PressTV 7 November).

Southerners living in the North are imminently imperilled. The NCP has stated that if South Sudan votes to secede, Southerners in the North may lose their citizenship rights, jobs, benefits, access to markets, hospitals and the like. The National Assembly speaker said that Southerners in the North will be 'second class citizens'. Some Islamic Councils have reportedly issued fatwas against Southerners living in the North. It seems increasingly that a vote for secession may trigger an outbreak of ethnic-religious cleansing in the North and a massive humanitarian and refugee crisis.

Both sides have been arming for war for some time and reports are emerging of the recent build up of troops in the North-South border regions. On 24 November government-controlled Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) helicopter gunships attacked SPLA positions at Kiirabem, in North Bahr al-Ghazal, South Sudan, wounding four SPLA soldiers and two civilians and displacing thousands. (The SAF denies this.) Furthermore, NCP MP Dr Mohammad Mandour Al-Mahdi has accused the SPLM of aiding rebels in Darfur. (The SPLM denies this.) Al-Mahdi is provocatively calling this 'a declaration of war against the north of the country'. He has also accused the SPLM of obstructing the registration process by terrorising Southerners, so preparing the way for the results to be rejected.

Sudan is in this diabolical situation primarily because years of diplomatic and international pressure to get the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed have been followed by years of abject neglect, appeasement and loss of leverage. When the CPA was signed in January 2005 the regional hegemon (power / influence / leader) was Sudan's nemesis, the USA. Today the regional hegemon is Sudan's close ally, Iran. The Southern leadership's decision to abandon the 'National Consensus', destroying opposition unity and forfeiting the moral high ground in order to invest their hopes in the liar-traitor el-Bashir, was (in the opinion of this writer) a massive strategic blunder and failure of faith. While the Southern leadership was brokering a 'covenant with death' (Isaiah 28:15-19), el-Bashir was busy shattering the opposition ahead of a profound betrayal. The Church in Sudan desperately needs our prayers.


* be known and experienced in the midst of his Church that the faithful may have security in the midst of the storm.

* draw his people close, delivering and preserving them, empowering their faith and witness, and giving them his profound peace that passes understanding. 'You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.' (Isaiah 26:3 ESV)

* intervene for justice and righteousness, watching over the helpless and bringing the way of the wicked to ruin (Psalm 146:9); may YHWH Sabaoth (the 'Lord of Hosts' / the commander of heaven's armies) interpose himself and his forces into this situation for the sake of the Church in Sudan, and for the sake of Sudan, a nation in desperate need of the gospel (Jonah 4:11).



War looms over Sudan as Southern Sudanese prepare to vote on 9 Jan 2011 in a referendum on independence. Years of neglect and failure to implement the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement make unity unattractive to the mostly African-Christian Southerners who will almost certainly vote to secede. However, 80 percent of Sudan's oil lies in the South and Sudan's neighbouring allies oppose Southern secession. The Arab-Islamist regime in the North is highly likely to reject a referendum result that recognises an independent South Sudan. Government forces recently bombed Southern army positions in Kiirabem, displacing thousands of people. Northern MPs are accusing the Southern leadership of supporting Darfur rebels which they assert is akin to declaring war against the North. Please pray for the long-suffering Church in Sudan.