Saturday, January 08, 2011

African Secession

English: A village in South Sudan
English: A village in South Sudan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The South is voting to secede -- in South Sudan, that is. 

January 9-15, 2011, are the dates for the largely Christian and animist peoples of South Sudan to vote in referendum on whether to secede from Sudan after civil war and ethnic and religious cleansing since 1959. The war ended in 2005, and this referendum is part of the peace agreement. We pray for fair voting and a referendum that is marked by the lack of violence and a victory for independence and self-determination.

What will an independent South Sudan look like? South Sudan, with a capital at Juba,  will have ten states, covering a land area of 640 000 square kilometers, or just over a quarter of Sudan's current area. Its population will total around 10 million from more than 200 ethnic groups. 

It will be almost wholly reliant on oil: oil revenues constitute more than 98% of its current government's budget. It has some of the worst development indicators in the world, with very high infant and mother mortality rates, few doctors and thousands of people living in refugee camps. 

Village in South Sudan
More secession?
The question for many is whether this referendum will lead to more secession votes on the African continent. Does there need to be a North Ivory Coast? Or a South Nigeria? 

The continent's infamously arbitrary borders – blind to ethnic, cultural and political realities – were drawn up by European powers at the Berlin conference of 1884-85. 

When the colonies gained independence 50 years ago, the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) declared the borders immutable – because the alternative would look like a smashed window pane of thousands of warring states

There are real fears in Nigeria, where an eastern Biafra secession movement was quashed in 1967 and led to civil war, and in Nigeria, independence-minded secessionists are watching this South Sudan vote. The UN-run election to divide Africa's biggest nation, Sudan, would represent an unprecedented challenge to the historical status quo.

Some say there will not be a rush to secession in Africa. Eritrea finally gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, but no pan-continental secession movement ensued. Eritrea, however, had already been a separate entity since colonial times.

Several African regions are already clamoring for independence. Somaliland is seeking international recognition of its breakaway from Somalia, rebels in the Cabinda enclave demand separation from Angola, and Morocco has resisted proposals for a referendum on the independence of Western Sahara.

But is changing the 1885 colonial borders such a bad thing?

Flag of South Sudan
Why not let the African people have self-determination and self-government? It is exactly what the American Colonies wanted in 1776 and the American South wanted in 1860-61. 

The pressure to keep the sometimes illogical 1885 African national borders has given corruption and wicked dictators permission to continue unchecked, leaving Africans no choice for change except armed rebellion and war. More importantly, the status quo keeps the continent poor because international companies are wary of doing business there. 

South Sudan will be an oil-rich country. That was the reason for the long civil war as Khartoum wanted control of that resource, but it appears the Khartoum government may give up and let South Sudan go. 

Perhaps with self-determination, South Sudan will have the motivation to be a nation worth having for their people. 
Franklin Graham with pastors in (South) Sudan
More Doors for Missions
South Sudan will likely be more open for mission work, and its 200 ethnic groups need a witness in their own language and culture of Jesus Christ, the only hope of glory. 

Since the 2005 Peace Agreement, Samaritan's Purse has rebuilt 285 church buildings destroyed in the religious cleansing of the Sudanese Civil War which lasted 58 years.

During the war years in Wuji, the church and the village were burned to the ground twice, and many people were murdered by invading troops. Survivors escaped to the rugged bush country, hiding from soldiers and surviving on leaves and roots. Today the new church in Wuji stands as a symbol of renewed hope and unity. “We now have a church that cannot be destroyed easily,” Pastor Moses said. “We are one in Christ.”

Heart surgeon Dr. Bill Frist, former Majority Leader in the US Senate and now a medical missionary, traveled with Franklin Graham to South Sudan to visit Lizira Church in the town of Yei.

North & South Sudan's ethnic map
“What I realized is that the rebuilding of these churches is much more than rebuilding a facility in which to worship, as important as that is,” Dr. Frist said. “It is a restoration of hope, a rebirth, not just for the congregation but for the entire community.”

Samaritan's Purse has also established a Bible school in the Nuba Mountains, where students are trained to preach the Gospel and plant churches in Arabic-speaking communities.

They also worked with churches in southern Sudan to distribute 260,000 Bibles in six languages and to set up more than 10,000 Bible-reading groups.

The ethnic mix is more complicated both for politics and missions in South Sudan. In northern Sudan, Muslim Arabs make an ethnic majority and do not allow Christian missionaries, but in South Sudan, no ethnic majority exists, and Christianity has thrived in the war-torn region.

A church leader who spoke at the dedication of a rebuilt sanctuary in Yei defined the mission of Sudanese believers when he said: “We now have a beautiful building, but we bring people not to a building, but to Jesus Christ. When we die, let’s leave behind more than a nice building. Let’s leave behind a legacy that makes people say, ‘Surely, that person knew Jesus Christ!’” 

We welcome South Sudan into the family of nation states of the earth.