"Please don't abandon us!" - Sudanese Churches

In a January 9, 2011 referendum nearly 99 percent of voters in southern Sudan – which is predominantly Christian and animist – chose to secede from the Islamic State of Sudan based in the northern capital of Khartoum.  In doing so they created the world's newest nation.

From left to right: Rev. James Lagos Alexander, Rev. Samuel Kobia and Bishop Robert Aboagye-Mensah.That the referendum came off peacefully and as scheduled is widely attributed to African religious leaders and ecumenical organizations in the region and throughout Africa, and the World Council of Churches. The referendum was mandated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the north and south that churches were instrumental in brokering.  

The referendum ends nearly 60 years of intractable conflict in the country – which gained its independence from the British and Egyptian governments in 1956 – including two civil wars that consumed more than three decades (1963-1972 and 1983-2005). During those years more than 2 million Sudanese died and 4 million were displaced.

According to the CPA, the official independence from Sudan comes on July 9, 2011, at which time the nation is expected to be named the Republic of South Sudan.

Church leaders warned, however, that "the journey is still long" and continuing efforts by the ecumenical community will be needed for some time into the future.

"It is important to understand the important role of the church in making these changes possible," said Samuel Kobia, former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches and a key player in the process. Churches dispatched 350 observers, said Kobia.

The universal conclusion that the balloting process was valid, Kobia said, means "there was no one to dispute the results. The first to acknowledge this was Omar al-Bashir," he added, referring to the Sudanese president who had stubbornly resisted the referendum.

"If the church had not accompanied the Sudanese, the CPA would not have been possible and the referendum would not have happened. Now, as this new nation is built, the message of the Sudanese to the church is 'Please don't abandon us!'"

Photo: From left to right: Rev. James Lagos Alexander, Rev. Samuel Kobia and Bishop Robert Aboagye-Mensah.

- from a WCC release