By Brad Phillips
On July 9, South Sudan celebrated its first anniversary as the world’s newest nation.
For those of us who have been involved in Sudan for any length of time, this achievement is itself a miracle. For South Sudanese, who have survived a lifetime of war and injustice, this event is a source of great pride– evidence of answered prayer and a vision realized. It eclipses whatever economic hardship South Sudan now faces as a developing country emerging from 21 years of war.
During the negotiations leading to the signing of the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), I remember some wonderful visits with the late Dr. John Garang at his favorite Simba Lodge in Lake Naivasha, Kenya, where he took time to share his vision for the “New Sudan” and the significance of each of the various agreements within the CPA.
Dr. John understood the signing of the CPA in January 2005 (which contained separate protocols addressing wealth sharing, religious freedom, an end to Sharia law in South Sudan, the recognition of the SPLA as a legitimate army, semi-autonomous status for the South, and the promised Referendum for Self-Determination) was the first crack in Sudan’s “Berlin Wall.” It was a milestone event that would lead to the crumbling of the National Islamic Front’s Islamo-fascist regime.
Many believed the untimely death of Dr. John in July 2005, and the South’s vote for independence, would be the death knell of his vision for a New Sudan.
During the first year of Southern independence, Omar al-Bashir attempted to rebuild his Islamic base in the North through the unity of jihad.
While his own grip on power has continued to falter and his economy has been in collapse, Bashir has worked to undermine the new government in the South, unravel what remained of the CPA, and launch wars in each of the “contested areas.”
With the loss of the South, and 80 percent of the oil revenue, Bashir returned to his pre-CPA jihadist rhetoric. He assured his Islamist base that territories lost to the South would be recaptured. The forces of secularism would be defeated. Sharia law would be strictly enforced throughout Sudan. He called upon the faithful to mobilize their communities and enlist in the Popular Defense Forces to crush the “rebellion” in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, the Blue Nile, and Heglig.
In spite of its best efforts, the Sudan Armed Forces have received a thrashing on the battlefield. It was only due to pressure from the U.S. and International Community that the SPLA retreated from the contested Heglig Oil area, known as Panthou by the South Sudanese.
Bashir is losing ground on all fronts. His economy is in total collapse — the result of almost three decades of kleptocratic behavior. A broad consensus of Muslim, non-Muslim, Christian and secular groups have emerged calling for regime change in Khartoum. The success of the SPLM-N on the ground in Southern Kordofan state and the Blue Nile has emboldened the Sudanese people to launch protests against Bashir and the NCP. Government crackdowns and the detention of more than 3,000 protestors are drawing international attention to the illegitimacy of the NCP and hastening the day that regime change will occur.
John Garang’s vision for the New Sudan may be coming to fruition. The world is now witnessing an “Arab Spring” in Khartoum and throughout north Sudan.
Of course, South Sudan is also facing big challenges. Although no one doubts that life is better for most people in the South under the new regime– compared to the brutal dictatorship in Khartoum– the new country has failed to escape the stereotypical problems associated with poor African countries: crippling poverty, bad infrastructure, rampant political corruption, and a predatory bureaucracy seeking to strangle much of the private investment trying to help develop the new nation.
In January, angered by Bashir’s theft of Southern oil, South Sudan President Salva Kiir ordered all wells to cease production. This put the squeeze on the North– but also the South, as Kiir’s government depended on oil revenue for 99 percent of its budget.
Today, the South’s economy is crippled, its currency severely devalued, its politicians accused of looting the public treasury for their own private benefit, and its limited resources stretched to the breaking point by a flood of new refugees pouring in from the North to escape the humanitarian crisis caused by Omar al-Bashir’s policies of genocide and ethnic cleansing.
It’s hard to say what the future holds for the two Sudans. The region is definitely at a tipping point. Things could either get much better or much worse really quickly. Regardless of the future geopolitical situation, PPF will continue to stand alongside our Sudanese brethren. We will continue to work in the field where God has placed us. We will continue to fellowship with our brothers and sisters as we attempt to demonstrate the love of Christ and engage in active compassion for the persecuted.
Thank you for standing with us and for your steadfast support. Your compassion towards our brothers and sisters is a comfort and encouragement to them and a reminder that they have not been abandoned or forgotten.
“You see all that my enemies are doing. Their insults have broken my heart, and I am in despair. If only one person would show some pity; if only one would turn and comfort me… I am suffering and in pain. Rescue me, O God, by your saving power. Then I will praise God’s name with singing. And I will honor him with thanksgiving.”
Psalm 69:19-20, 29-30